Immigrants to America have continually "refreshed" our country—its culture, its food and its gene pool. Many of those immigrants have conceived new ideas, creating business opportunities for themselves, their employees and their communities. One such immigrant was Adolph M. Holstein, a German Jew who moved from Warsaw, Poland, to Syracuse, New York, where he founded the Syracuse Ornamental Company in 1890.
Adolph was an accomplished, European-trained woodcarver. Once settled in Upstate New York, he invented a new product, "SyrocoWood," which revolutionized the home-building trade of the late Victorian Era. Prior to his invention, high-quality carved wooden items required slow processing in the hands of a highly-skilled woodcarver. It was slow and expensive (and prone to occasional "accidents"). Holtein's new product was made of wood pulp from Adirondack trees (plus other binders, including flour)—a "soft putty"—which could be pressed-into intricately carved moulds. These moulds were finely-detailed, made from original, beautifully hand-carved models. Because Holstein was a master woodcarver, he insisted that the original models exhibit excellence of carving. Thus, SyrocoWood items always exhibit fine artistic woodworking. And the product's uniformity of appearance was assured from batch-to-batch. Once the casting had cured, it could be painted or stained for a convincing wood appearance.
Much of SyrocoWood's initial production was cast decorative elements for Victorian home interiors: moulding, capitals, brackets, ceiling rondels, and bas relief ornamentation to be applied to walls or ceilings. Instead of being laboriously hand-carved, these elements could now be cast (in wood) and mounted (then painted or stained to suit the project). Holstein also supplied decorative trim to casket manufacturers. In the 1920's, he expanded his line to include a large catalog of small, consumer products for the home. Bookends, boxes, even objects like the little "Sailor Scottie" brush caddy, shown above.
Founded in 1890, larger premises were soon required. In 1905, Holstein leased a portion of the Smith-Corona typewriter factory. In 1919, he bought the entire building! After World War II, the company added a line of moulded plastic items—which it continues to make to this day—and the wood pulp line began to taper off. (Post-war architecture and interior design used significantly less ornamental decoration.)
When Adolph Holstein died in 1938, he was proud of the company he built, a company which would be run by successive generations of descendants. He was also a pillar of Syracuse's philanthropic establishment, supporting and serving on the boards of many charitable organizations (including Jewish charities).
The "brush caddy," shown above, exhibits the fine, original carving detail for which SyrocoWood is highly respected. A "Sailor Scottie" stands at-the-ready—guarding a pair of walnut and horsehair brushes. This caddy, made in the Twenties or Thirties, is intended to be placed on a dresser (or near the front door) where one may "brush-off" one's jacket before leaving the house. Even the brushes themselves display excellence of manufacture. Click on the photo above to learn more about it.
Though our Greenwich Village store is now permanently closed, LEO Design is still alive and well! Please visit our on-line store where we continue to sell Handsome Gifts (www.LEOdesignNYC.com).
We also can be found in Pittsburgh's historic "Strip District" at Mahla & Co. Antiques (www.mahlaantiques.com) or in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania at The Antique Center of Strabane (www.antiquecenterofstrabane.com).
Or call to arrange to visit our Pittsburgh showroom (by private appointment only). 917-446-4248