Posted on October 30, 2012.
This is an outstanding piece of American history. This chair was produced in the later part of the 1800’s or early 1900’s by a Cincinnati firm owned by Robert Mitchell. We found this piece in a barn on the property of a family friend. After much negotiating, we loaded up the piece and were on our way. The chair needed little restoring, nor should one do more than is necessary to bring back the treasured piece. The chair was cleaned and brought back to life with natural oils and good old elbow grease. The original tag, although weathered, is affixed to the lower front underside of the chair.
The firm of Mitchell and Rammelsburg was perhaps the best known of the Cincinnati Victorian furniture makers. Robert Mitchell came to Cincinnati in 1829, an Irish immigrant intent on making his mark. After apprenticing himself to established cabinetmakers, he struck out on his own in 1836, eventually forming a partnership that would last until almost the end of the century. Mitchell’s counterpart was Frederick Rammelsburg, one of the thousands of German immigrants who settled in Cincinnati during a great wave of 19th-century settlement.
Their factory, at the corner of John and Columbia streets, was purportedly the first in Cincinnati to employ steam-powered machinery for cutting and ripping wood, while the firm employed an army of skilled carvers for fine handwork. By 1870, the company used 30 steam-powered woodworking machines, covered two acres and employed 250 workers who churned out an enormous amount of furniture.
Rammelsburg died in 1863, but the firm continued under the partnership’s name until 1867, then under Mitchell’s sole name until 1940. Throughout his long and successful career he exercised constant and close personal supervision over the details in his business, both in the sprawling factory and the amazing and often written about flagship store. He was incessantly and watchfully interested in the continued success of his company. In doing so, he was routinely among the first to test and then adopt every new method or invention intended to improve the quality of his furniture.
Furniture produced by the firm is widely collected and valued for its fine mahogany, rosewood and walnut woods, elaborate decorative elements and the addition of three-dimensional carved animals and fruit. Many Mitchell and Rammelsburg pieces are identified with a stenciled label, generally on the backs of larger pieces or the undersides of drawers.
Several pieces are on display at the McFaddin-Ward House in Beaumont, Texas, as well as in museums throughout the country.
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