We have spent the last few days of August celebrating the "Dog Days of Summer." We end our "Parade of Dogs" with this handsome cast iron doorstop, made in the Teens or Twenties, by Hubley (founded in 1894 in Lancaster, Pennsylvania).
There was a time, in the late 19th Century or early 20th Century, when the benefits of "the new industrial production" overlapped with an old-time insistence upon good taste and high quality. "In the old days," useful objects had to be produced by hand, one-by-one. Skilled artisans made wrought iron gates, mantelpieces, manhole covers. These items, before the Industrial Revolution, could only be purchased as bespoke, hand-crafted objects. Production was slow and, usually, expensive. Then came modernization—in the second half of the 19th Century—when new industrial methods were used to make these same objects more quickly and less expensively. Factories, with modern production lines and new sources of power, found that they could produce their items at a larger scale which reduced costs for the producer and consumer. People could buy quality goods without paying for artisanal labor costs. But, even though costs were coming down, there was still a culture of quality in the air; good taste, quality materials and fine craftsmanship still ruled the market. In this way, the Industrial Revolution did much to raise the living standards for people in industrialized nations—especially for those in the growing Middle Class. (The grinding effects of industrialism on the poor can be the subject of a whole different essay.)
A walk around New York (or any large city) will reveal endless examples of good taste and quality produced via mass production. The metal air vent grates on the Empire State building or Radio City Music Hall: cast bronze, patinated and hand-rubbed. The original sculptor's model was crafted (laboriously) after which a thousand could be reproduced. Or take lamp posts in Central Park. Again, a beautifully ambitious original would be sculpted. Then a mould was made. After that, thousands of these lamps could be cast in bronze or iron—heavy, handsome, and made to last. In domestic architecture, The Village or Upper West Side is chock full of substantial townhouses—each decorated with heavy cast iron front stairs railings (sometimes replaced with lighter, cheaper alternatives later in life).
A visit to a big box home store today is a lesson in disappointment. If you want a fence around your yard, you'll be hard-pressed to find any heavy, cast iron fencing (the kind with the heavy spear-form or finial knobs). Yet, these were once commonly available to builders in the 19th Century. Or try finding a nice selection of porcelain lightbulb sconces for the bathroom. Although they were once nicely mass-produced (in a variety of styles and colors), you'd have difficulty finding many options at your local Home Depot.
The cast iron terrier doorstop, shown above, demonstrates the intersection of mass production and fine craftsmanship. It was made by Hubley, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, in the 1910's or 1920's. The heavy, cast iron dog is hand-finished with paint. The detail of the casting and the well-executed painting, make for a mass-produced object of good taste, good materials, and good craftsmanship. Click on the photo above to learn more about it.
More handsome "Dog Days" ideas tomorrow.
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