The Furniture of Charles Limbert
Charles Limbert was — and remains — an enigma.
He never sought the spotlight, never stood center stage like Elbert Hubbard.
He never published a magazine, or wrote columns and books like Gustav Stickley.
More than any other Arts & Crafts manufacturer, his furniture casts a larger shadow than does he.
If you could have asked, I am sure he would have replied that he was just a furniture salesman. Wire-rimmed glasses, a full, Van Dyke beard and hair parted neatly to one side, he remained a modest man, even in light of his success, content to live at home with his sister, due in part by his life-long suffering with painful bouts of rheumatism.
The designers working for Charles Limbert were given amazing leeway to experiment with a variety of styles, ranging from classic designs influenced by Charles Rennie Macintosh, Frank Lloyd Wright and Gustav Stickley to experimental forms with metal and ebony inlay, cane seats and backs, and table tops with either dramatic overhangs or those trimmed flush with the sides of the case.
The oak Arts & Crafts furniture manufactured in his sprawling, three-story Grand Rapids factory generally falls into one of three categories.
At the bottom is a line of dark, outdoor oak furniture intended for covered porches. In place of keyed tenons and pegged joints, you’ll find exposed bolts and countersunk screws. Rather than quartersawn flake and a hand-rubbed finish, you’ll find straight grain oak and a glossy, exterior varnish. Practical, but uninspired, and remains so today.
Moving up, his line of standard Arts & Crafts furniture ranges from mediocre plank seat dining chairs and spindly, poorly-proportioned Morris chairs to respectable sideboards, bookcases and china cupboards with arches, keyed tenons and pegged joints. When similar to the best designs of Gustav Stickley and L. & J.G. Stickley, the values are comparable.
For the best of Limbert’s furniture, the rule is simple: the heavier, the better.
His most sought after work are the massive forms, often with dramatic features: square and rectangular cutouts in the bases of Morris chairs and tables; sweeping arches; overhanging tops influenced by the Prairie School designers; wide boards and heavy, thick legs featuring prominent quartersawn flaking; and, my personal favorite — dramatic corbels stretching nearly to the floor, not just under the arms of chairs, but on sideboards and bookcases as well.
Charles Limbert died in 1921 at the age of 67, but his furniture continued to be manufactured in large quantities in a variety of styles until 1944. As a result, today you are more apt to find a Charles Limbert dining room chair than you are any other signed piece of Arts & Crafts furniture.
But watch for those early, heavier forms that are far more rare — and far more valuable.
For additional information, seek out a copy of these out of print, limited edition exhibition catalogues:
Kindred Styles: The Arts and Crafts Furniture of Charles Limbert by A. Patricia Bartinique.
Arts and Crafts Furniture: The Grand Rapids Contribution by Don Marek.