The Case of the Umbrella Stand Pan: Was Gus Guilty?

As you know from reading last week’s article, I had received an email from an Arts & Crafts collector who has a Gustav Stickley oak umbrella stand missing its metal drip tray in the bottom. “Some years ago,” Andrew wrote, “I purchased from a local antiques ship an umbrella stand with an original dark finish, but minus the pan.” He then asked for help in getting “a good picture of what the copper pan would look like in and out of the stand… in my effort to have a new pan fabricated.”

As it happened, I had the same style of umbrella stand here in my office. Mine, however, had been refinished when I bought it, but it did have its metal drip pan. It was a simple matter to pop it out, place it on the railing on my deck and snap a couple of pictures to email to him. In my email I did indicate, however, that my tray, which appeared to be original, was not copper. Instead, it was constructed from a thin sheet of steel and painted a color that looked somewhat copper-ish. Just to make sure, I pulled a magnet off my frig and held it against the metal pan. It stuck, confirming that beneath the paint there was steel, not copper.

Andrew replied, “I am surprised to find that the pan itself is painted to look like copper. If indeed the paint is original, it would seem to run counter to a ‘truth of materials’ philosophy. I actually find fascinating these sorts of examples of how Stickley and other Arts and Crafts manufacturers, designers and architects navigated between the ideals of the movement and the contrary realities of getting things made to a budget.”

Andrew’s email prompted me to grab one of my Turn Of The Century reprint catalogs Gustav Stickley had published in 1904 and again in 1912. There I found the original description for umbrella stand model #55, including the “copper pan.”

So, I posed the question: did Gustav Stickley knowingly substitute a less-expensive painted sheet metal pan for what his catalog advertised as being a copper pan?

While we cannot state that every Gustav Stickley umbrella stand had a painted steel drip pan rather than the copper pan he advertised, enough of you reported that your drip pan is, indeed, painted steel to render a guilty verdict to the charge of false advertising.

Anyone familiar with the Arts & Crafts movement knows that such incongruities have existed since the reign of King William Morris and were perpetrated by such leading disciples as Gustav Stickley, Elbert Hubbard and Leopold Stickley under the rationalization of keeping their products affordable for the middle class for whom they were designed.

Is it enough to prompt us to sell our collections?

Of course not, but it just might help us remember that these men whom we have placed on pedestals were first and foremost men with businesses to run, staffs to keep employed, competitors to worry about and families to feed.

And I have to wonder if any of them ever could have envisioned the day when adults would have seminars, columns, books and websites devoted to their every decision….

Could any of us withstand the same scrutiny?

– Bruce