Liberty and company (1875-2022) | BIFMO (2023)

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Regent Street, London; Furniture Manufacturers and Dealers (1875-2022)

Arthur Lasenby Liberty was born on 13 August 1843 in Chesham, Buckinghamshire, the son of a town draper. From 1862 he worked for the Farmer and Robert's Great Shawl Emporium, 171-5 Regent Street, and rose to the rank of manager. In 1875, at the age of 30, he rented part of a shop at 218a Regent Street.

To open the new "oriental shop", Liberty had raised money through his fiancée, Emma Louise Blackmore; His father, a Brook Street tailor, and another tailor, Henry Hill of Bond Street, jointly provided £1,500 and acted as guarantor for a further £1,000. The store opened on May 15, 1875, and in 1876 Liberty acquired the other half of the number. 218 to expand his business, originally Arthur Lasenby Liberty Ltd. was called and became Liberty & Co. within a few years. In 1878 he acquired 42 and 43 Kingly Streets.

Designer E.W. Godwin and artist Rex Whistler collaborated with Liberty to produce a stand for theParis World Fair of 1878, which exhibited furniture designed and manufactured by GodwinGuillermo Watt, with Liberty fabrics and porcelain. Whistler was invited by furniture maker William Watt (at Godwin's suggestion) to do the decorating of the stand.

In 1879 Liberty acquired additional premises at 7 Argyll Street and Regent Street and in 1882 142 and 144 Regent Street were added to the real estate portfolio. At this time the upholstery workshops and 'atelier' were established in East India House (the original building at 218 Regent Street). The furniture and furnishings business moved to Chesham House, 142-144 Regent Street, in 1883 with a furnishings and decoration studio headed by designer Leonard Wyburd. The studio provided a place in which to study oriental arts and designs and, as described in a Yuletide Gifts catalogue, "the studio proved of great use in the maturation and production of designs...".

In 1887 EP Roberts joined the furniture and decorating studio team and in the same year opened the Liberty Cabinet Works, probably in Beak Street, owned by Mr James Thallon, a Scot, "who did work by appointment on our behalf". . It was possible that Liberty & Co. bought Thallon's workshop. The joinery later moved to Little Marlborough Street, where George Wolfe was foreman. In 1889 the furniture and cupboard factory Liberty & Co. was established in Newman Street, and in 1892 it followed suit Newman Yard, Newman Street.In 1898 the workshop moved to Dufours Place, Soho;Mr Thallon retired and was succeeded as manager by his son.The 1913 telephone directory listed Liberty & Co.'s joinery and joinery in Pauntley Street, Archway Road, Highgate, where they remained until about 1940. Arthur Lasenby Liberty died in 1917 but the company he founded is still in business.

Originally stocking only imported furniture, in 1883 Liberty hired eighteen-year-old Leonard Wyburd as chief designer for Liberty & Co. Wyburd's furniture designs were first published in hisart furnitureCatalog from 1884 and included 'Oriental' style items such as the Kharan corner chair and the Kharan Liberty chair with rattan seat, available in stained wood, oak, walnut or mahogany. Also shown was the 'Thebes' stool, which would forever be associated with the name Liberty (fig. Bennett (2012), pp. 25-26). The Thebes stool was originally part of the Art Furnishers' Alliance portfolio, but after its failure in 1883, Liberty had it registered with the Patent Office (#16673, 1884) along with the three-legged version of it (#16674).

In 1884 a new range of 'cottage' or country style furniture was launched with the Argyll, Dudley and Kenilworth chairs, available in the same woods as the Kharan range.the sketchbook (approx. 1895-1900) illustrated plans and furnishings for a "summer country house" and Moorish or Saracen rooms. The country style included a Shakespearean chair, an example of which was made of mahogany, with an inlaid heart-shaped design carved into the back and an ivory label (fig. Bennettt (2012) p. 130). The Argyll range sofa, which comes in black-stained beech, was similar to a Morris & Co. range but was twice the price of the Morris example at £3.18 6p. Arundel's popular 'Solid Oak Furniture of Old English Character' set (fig. Bennett (2012), p. 102) continued to appear in later catalogs and was copied by other designers such as T. Moyr Smith.

The Liberty Handbook(s) of Sketches series (1889-1900) illustrated Wyburd's furniture designs as individual objects, sections and partial settings. During the 1880s and 1890s, Ursin Fortier of 65 Charlotte Street made bamboo furniture for the shop and also produced bamboo and Moorish accessories such as flower pots. Liberty became his only customer. Variations on the standard design were also available: Ayner Vallance recalled in 1892 that he had a chair 'MADE FOR ME by Messrs. Liberty & Co., on the understanding that it should have no ruffles or buttons. ...'.

George Walton's chair design for Miss Cranston's Glasgow Tea Rooms was manufactured or copied by Liberty. The mottos displayed on Wyburd's furniture for Liberty were often copied; the most famous slogans of usedShapland and Petter, such as "Welcome ever Smiles, Reading maketh a Full Man" and "Port after Storm", were originally coined by Wyburd. Other Wyburd mottos were in print at the same time or earlier than those of architects C.F.A. Voysey and H.M. Baillie Scott. Plant motifs were also used by Wyburd for Liberty and Shapland and Petter, while the medieval symbols of the lion and griffin continued in Liberty designs for decades.

Since Wyburd's appointment, there has been a gradual addition to Liberty's inventory of new furniture. Within ten years, no doubt referring to Morris & Co. and to the published sources of E. W. Godwin, Bruce Talbert and Charles Eastlake, interpretations of Tudor, Jacobean and Elizabethan furniture evolved into a robust vernacular style with armored metalwork, heavy oak and medieval character often with carved friezes and painted decorations.

inside1890 arts and crafts exhibitionLiberty's featured a "matte leather" upholstered chair designed by a Wyburd and executed by E. Robinson. A special commission from around 1890 was the oak Lochleven Buffet, now in the Austrian Museum of Applied Arts, Vienna. Big newspapers likeThe carpenter and art decoratorand theart magazineHe praised Liberty's simple "art furniture" in the 1890s, noting the Flemish hinges and hammered iron fittings that harmonized well with tones of oak and other woods.

The 1901 Yuletide Gifts catalog featured the distinctly modern Kentigern armchair, as was the Bryda plant stand with a sled base and pierced hearts, a design which also appeared in the Norman and Stacy catalog of a similar date and in the William Birch archive. . In 1903 Liberty made the decision to make their own rugs, either to Wyburd's designs or to commissioned designers including C.F.A. Voysey and made by Donegal Rug Workshops. Among his various home decor guides,The British home todayHe submitted two room configurations in 1904 and in each case Liberty & Co. was named as the executive firm with Leonard Wyburd as the designer in association with E. P. Roberts and A. Denington. Roberts was an employee of Liberty, starting as Wyburd's assistant in the furniture department in 1887 and taking over management of the furniture and decorating studio when Wyburd retired between 1903 and 1905.

The 1902 Furniture for Town and Country Houses catalog was followed by the 1906 Simple and Durable Furniture catalog : examples of furniture for the townhouse, apartment and weekend house. This catalog featured mostly country-style furniture in oak with a small quantity in mahogany cabinets, perforated heart and small leaded glasses. theacademic yearbookfrom 1906 featured various Jacobean and Elizabethan Liberty styles, as well as more modern designs, often displayed in room settings. The 1907 Studio Yearbook illustrated two oak chairs with parallel twisted columns and was described as "Two chairs by Messrs Liberty & Co... at first glance seem to indicate Chippendale design, but on closer inspection the lack of the cabriolet shape of the legs is a departure." from... prototype and a return to a rather simple design standard.'


Christmas presents',Liberty Christmas catalogue, 1910. Museum of Design and Domestic Architecture, London (MoDA)

Christmas catalogs from 1900-1915 continued to show the popularity of the small selection of oriental products, particularly inlaid and Theban stools. Regular furniture catalogs also included firewood and coal boxes, mirrors, artificial stove screens, and a catalog entitled Solid Oak Panels (1911) showed that Arts and Crafts-style oak doors and paneling were still available. No new pieces appear to have been added to the 1912 catalogue, nor to the revised format of the 1915 Small Pieces of Furniture catalogue. For a complete listing of Liberty furniture designs and ranges from 1883 to 1914 see Bennett (2012 ). . 327. Liberty & Co. catalogs of furniture and furnishings from 1881 to 1904 are held at the National Art Library, the V&A and the City of Westminster Archives.

Early authentic Liberty objects typically had a rectangular red or white paper label with Gothic script. A diamond-shaped label on orange card stocked with a pin and bearing a registered design number is also known as a "Liberty & Co." trademark stamp printed on the underside of wooden items. However, the most common form of identification was a small diamond-shaped plaque made of ivory or enamelled brass. Occasionally numbers were stamped into the wood under or on the back of the pieces. Example stamps and labels for Liberty & Co. furniture and stamped locks are shown. Bennett (2012), pp. 299 and 301-3.

William was a tree, the High Wycombe furniture maker, was known for designing for Liberty. These were believed to have been commissioned by Leonard Wyburd and included the Ethelbert and Athelstan chairs of 1899 and 1901 respectively. The contractual arrangements between Birch and Liberty are unknown, but the Ethelbert chair is not. 871, was published by Birch in 1901 and took 40 years to polish. The same design had been advertised in the 1899 Liberty Christmas catalog for £3.7s.6p. A number of chairs by William Birch can be identified from the Liberty Archives in Westminster and a collection of notes and sketches by Barbara Morris. Some pieces supplied to Liberty were designed by E. G. Punnett, and William Birch said in 1901 "We made several of their models with a wax finish, e.g. Walnut for Liberty." The Punnett designs sold to Liberty appeared to date between 1901 and 1904 and contained two small picture panels. Bennett (2012), p. 317. An example of a Thebes stool made by William Birch or B. North & Sons, also of High Wycombe, is in theVIRGINIA.

Liberty's designs for bedroom furniture, wardrobes, desks, different types of chairs and sofas, clothes racks, mirrors, screens, hanging shelves are illusory. Joy (1977).

Sources: Ashlin,19theCentury English furniture(1962); comfortable,British Furniture 1880-1915(1978); Happiness,19th Century British Picture DictionarytheFurniture design of the century(1977); go,antique bamboo furniture(1979); Gere and Whiteway,19th Century Design from Pugin to Mackintosh(1993);Soft,You sit down. The Parker-Knoll Story 1834-1994(1995);Bennett,Liberty Furniture 1875-1915. The birth of modern interior design(2012).

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