History of the creation of ‘free-edge’ furniture

Farm Forum

George Nakashima created a special type of modern furniture sometimes called “free-edge.” He designed very simple legs and other furniture parts and created the famous tables topped by a slab of wood with original edges that often include the tree’s bark. Parts of the top were held together with butterfly joints. Nakashima was born in 1905, earned an architecture degree by 1929, then an M.I.T. master’s degree in 1931. He went to Japan, worked for a famous architect and studied design. In 1937, while in India, he made his first furniture and in 1940 he returned to the United States to make furniture and teach woodworking. In 1942, after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, he was interned like others of Japanese descent. At the camp, he met a traditional Japanese carpenter and learned traditional Japanese ways of working with traditional tools and wood. Nakashima was released from the camp in 1943 and moved to Pennsylvania, where he designed and made furniture. Some of his designs were used by famous furniture firms like Knoll and Widdicomb. His chairs and tables are well known, but he also designed a few lamps. A favorite is a lamp made of rings of bent holly and walnut with a fiberglass shade. Each lamp is different, because the base is created from a piece of wood in its natural shape. One of these lamps made in 1977 sold for $6,875 at a 2013 Rago Arts auction. It is 29 inches high, with a small base and a tall cylindrical shade. Nakashima received numerous awards and was even honored with the Order of the Sacred Treasure by the Emperor of Japan. Nakashima died in 1990 and his daughter Mira Nakashima – Yarnall has continued the business using his designs.

Q I recently purchased a dessert set of Susie Cooper china. The set includes 10 cups and saucers, cake plates, a sugar bowl and a milk pitcher. It’s marked “Susie Cooper, Spiral Fern, C823.” What is the set worth?

A Susie Cooper (1902-1995) was a British ceramics designer whose career started in the 1920s and went on for decades. She opened her own earthenware business in 1929, and added bone china in 1950. Her Spiral Fern pattern, introduced in the 1950s, came in blue or green and was used on her Quail shape. The pattern was reworked and rereleased by Wedgwood in 1987 (Wedgwood acquired Cooper’s business in 1966). If you recently purchased your dessert set, you can assume it’s worth what you paid. If you’re worried you paid too much, we can tell you that a single cup and saucer sells for about $50. The 1950s pattern is not easy to find.

Q I’d like to know the age and value of a neon Blatz Beer sign. It lights up in orange and red on a black background. The back is marked “Designed and Produced for the G. Heileman Brewing Co. by Embosograph Display Mfg. Co., Chicago, IL 60614.” The sign is 15 inches high by 22 inches long by 4 inches deep.

A Your sign is not neon. The Embosograph Display Manufacturing Co. of Chicago made neon-like signs of plastic backed by fluorescent lighting. Blatz Beer was owned by G. Heileman Brewing Co. from 1969 to 1996. But Embosograph’s patents for its “simulated neon sign display” weren’t issued until the early 1980s. So your sign is no more than 35 years old. It might sell for $25 or more because it’s so large.

Q I have an old compass that belonged to my late husband. I think he inherited it from his parents. The compass is in a small wooden box with a hinged cover. Stamped on top of the box is “U.S. Engineer Department, W. & L.E. Gurley, Troy, N.Y., 1918.” I’d like to know its history and current value.

A Your compass was made for the U.S. Engineer Department (now the Army Corps of Engineers) during World War I. William Gurley and his brother, Lewis, began working together as W. & L.E. Gurley in 1852. The company made surveyor’s compasses, leveling instruments, transits and other precision instruments. It was bought by Teledyne Corp. in 1968, sold again in 1993, and is now doing business as Gurley Precision Instruments. We found one like yours online selling for $125.

Q My late mother-in-law collected antique silver, mostly serving pieces. We inherited a Reed & Barton pitcher with a porcelain lining. It’s about 10 inches high. It’s marked “Reed & Barton” on the bottom with three patent dates, Aug. 4, 1868; Nov. 17, 1868; and April 6, 1872. After that it says, “Extended 7 years.” Is this a true antique? What is it worth?

A You have a silver-plated ice-water pitcher. According to the patent, the porcelain lining works like a thermos to keep the water cold and prevents condensation of moisture on the outside of the pitcher. The name “Reed & Barton” has been in use since 1840. The company started out as Babbitt & Crossman in Taunton, Mass., in 1824 and has operated under various partnerships and names. It is still in business. Recently a Reed & Barton ice-water pitcher with a ceramic lining sold for $180.

Tip: When replacing lost hardware with matching new pieces, put the new handles on the lowest drawers. The difference in patina will be less visible.

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