Send me an E-mail
(Please, no questions
 about value.)

Instructions for sending photographs of your pieces with your question.

Which department store originated the concept of selling artistic home furnishings?

Liberty & Co.
                     To see the answer

Arts & Crafts:
From William Morris to Frank Lloyd Wright

by Arnold Schwartzman

The author focuses on a British craftsmen, such as William Morris and Charles Rennie Mackintosh, who turned their backs on the mass production of the Industrial Revolution to form a ‘Round Table’ in order to establish a means of returning to hand-crafted products.

                                  More Books


How Was It Made? Block Printing William Morris Wallpaper

This video recreates the painstaking reproduction of a William Morris wallpaper design from 1875, a process that can take up to 4 weeks, using 30 different blocks and 15 separate colors.

Click on the title to view.

And look for other videos in selected articles.

Have Bob speak
 on antiques to your group or organization.

More Information

Can't find what
 you're looking for?

Go to our Sitemap

Find out what's coming in the
2024 Spring Edition

of the

"Art Deco World"


Share pages of this ezine with your friends using the buttons provided with each article.

Download our
Decorative Periods and Styles Chart

Read our newest glossary:

Antique Furniture Terminology
 from A to Z

courtesy of AntiquesWorldUK

Videos have
come to

The Antiques

Expand your antiques experience.

Look for videos in various articles.

Just click on the
arrow to play.


Argyle Chair
Charles Rennie Macintosh

Here you'll find articles on unique or little-known antiques and collectibles. 

LATEST SPOTLIGHT_________________________________

Selling the Art of Furnishings
by Bob Brooke

Liberty & Company has been a staple on London’s Regent Street since 1875 when it opened a small shop in the city’s emerging West End. Over time, it grew into a showcase for artistic furnishings with exotic and avante-garde designs. Arthur Lasenby Liberty, the son of a provincial draper, founded the retail business in 1862 at Farmer and Rogers’ Oriental Warehouse on Regent Street, specializing in fashionable Kashmir shawls and oriental goods. He believed he could change the public’s taste for housewares and fashion by not following the current trends but creating new ones.

At Liberty's, Middle Eastern and Asian goods determined the character of the store. Sympathetic to Arts and Crafts ideals, Liberty's ambition became an example of reform of home furnishings along "artistic" lines. As an entrepreneur, he found ways of supplying an expanding market with exotic, handmade goods in a retail environment evoking an oriental souk rather than a conventional department store.

By the 1880s Liberty's name had become a trademark. "Liberty Art Fabrics" were sensuous and subtly colored, widely admired and imitated. The store used leading designers anonymously. Edmund Littler did textile printing at Merton, just upstream from Morris and Company's workshops. In 1904 Liberty bought the business; which printed fabrics with wood blocks.

The Liberty Home
A furniture department, supported by its own workshops, opened in 1880 under the direction of Leonard F. Wyburd. At first Liberty imported goods from countries seen as "exotic" and pre-industrial, producing handmade, but relatively inexpensive, furniture and artifacts. Lasenby Liberty traveled widely, notably to Japan, to observe their production firsthand. Shrewd business instincts drove him to innovate however, and he had no scruples about modifying designs for the home market, developing hybrid, Anglo-oriental artifacts and other ersatz styles, incorporating Arts and Crafts, "Celtic," "Tudor," Art Nouveau, and oriental elements. He also invested substantially in small companies producing ceramics, metalwork, and jewelry.

During the 1920s and 1930s, Liberty goods changed little, although after both World Wars, the retailer favored traditional English values. In the 1950s and early 1960s, the company redefined itself as contemporary and European, commissioning work from world-class designers.

Liberty Furniture
Liberty aimed to combine utility and good taste with modest costs to produce useful and beautiful objects at prices within the reach of all classes. He began by selling ornaments, fabric, and objets d’art from Japan and the Far East, but soon discovered he could make a profit from “art furnishings.” By 1883, he had set up a design studio to supply his store with affordable furniture in the Arts and Crafts style.

Wyburd created some of the company’s most noted designs, including the “Thebes” stool. He also created a variety of stools, country-style oak chairs, tables, and cupboards from oak, mahogany, and walnut. Liberty furniture used simple construction techniques and featured symmetrical shapes with a minimum of embellishment. The studio also produced a range of high-backed chairs with pierced patterns, such as squares, rectangles, hearts, and trefoils. He also designed simple cabinets decorated with painted or stained glass panels, metal handles, elaborate beaten copper or brass hinges, and even inset tiles by William De Morgan.

Liberty catalogues show that in the 19th century the store had an eclectic customer base. Furniture might have been inspired by the Renaissance, Tudor, or Gothic Revival styles, or by progressive designers of the day, such as William Morris and Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Liberty not only imitated the pieces by these designers but also commissioned them to make pieces to sell in the store.

By 1900, Liberty had become the leading producer of Arts and Crafts furniture. Famous clientele included Oscar Wilde who said, “Liberty is the chosen resort of the artistic shopper.”

By imitating Morris’ technique of applying mottoes to its country furniture. Liberty provided the solution to those who desired pieces in the Arts and Crafts style but were content to ignore the Movement’s ideal that the skills of the craftsman came first. Unfortunately, Liberty’s success at selling Arts and Crafts to a wider audience helped bring about the downfall of the guilds it emulated.

Liberty Metalwork
In 1899, Liberty & Company sought to expand its range of “artistic” furnishings that it had been offering at its Regent Street store. The retailer launched what it described as “a new fin-de-siecle school of art silverwork.” It called this new art metalwork “Cymric” silver, echoing the Welsh name for Wales, Cymru, in deference to its director John Llewellyn, who had Welsh roots. By 1902, the company was offering a second, more affordable, and more widely produced, range of metalwork, “Tudric” pewter. Both varieties of art metalwork continued to be sold until the 1920s.

Although experts questioned the Arts and Crafts originality and craftsmanship of Liberty’s metalwares, the retailer’s approach was innovative. The store’s metalwares had a distinct Liberty style, which became influential on the European Continent,

For its metalwork designs, Liberty relied on the Silver Stuido which had previously provided designs for its textiles. Founded by Arthur Silver in 1880, the Silver Studio provided silver designs by Archibald Knox who introduced the Celtic decoration that typifies Liberty & Company metalwork. His designs interlaced Celtic scroll work and stylized plant motifs with areas of plain silver and pewter. The striking simplicity of his designs makes the touches of colored enamel, semi-precious stones, and shell or colored glass liners all the more intense and effective.

Customers had a wide variety of metalware items from which to choose—silver tea sets, pewter cigarette cases, and even pewter or enamel clocks.

Liberty also collaborated with the Birmingham jewelry firm of W.H. Haseler. Under the directorship of William Rabone Haseler with the help of painter Oliver Baker, the firm produced a range of “artistic” silverware for Liberty. Haseler produced all of Liberty’s Cymric silver. It also turned to pewter for the launch of the “Tudric” line.

Only the most elaborate pieces were handcrafted. The majority of the silverware was machine stamped while the pewter was cast from iron molds. This enabled production on a larger scale than was possible in the traditional Arts & Crafts workshops

Artisans often polished the metal smooth and inset with it enamel panels, abalone shell, or stones such as agates. They fitted vases and butter dishes with colored glass liners produced by James Powell and Sons of Whitefriars in London.

Liberty felt it important to retail control over the designs produced by these outside firms. It often adapted the designs it received to make them more saleable. The retailer rarely gave credit to individual designers. In effect, the pieces produced by the outside companies became some of the first store brands.

< Back to Antique Spotlight Archives                                         

Antiques Q&A

Antiques and More on

The Antiques Almanac on Facebook

No antiques or collectibles
are sold on this site.

How to Recognize and Refinish Antiques for Pleasure and Profit

Book: How to Recognizing and Refinishing Antiques for Pleasure and Profit
Have you ever bought an antique or collectible that was less than perfect and needed some TLC? Bob's new book offers tips and step-by- step instructions for simple maintenance and restoration of common antiques.

Read an Excerpt

Auction News
Get up to the minute news of antiques auctions around the country and the world.

Also see
The Auction Directory

Antiques News
Read breaking news stories from the world of antiques and collectibles.

Art Exhibitions
Search for art exhibitions in museums and galleries around the world.

Home | About This Site | Antiques | Collectibles | Antique Tips | Book Shop | Antique Trivia | Antique Spotlight | Antiques News  Special Features | Caring for Your Collections | Collecting | Readers Ask | Antiques Glossaries | Resources | Contact
Copyright ©2007-2023 by Bob Brooke Communications
Site design and development by BBC Web Services