Monday, September 5, 2011

Going Retro

QUESTION: I recently purchased a one arm chair that has a metal stamp that says The B.L. Marble Chair Co. ,Bedford Ohio. It is a cool mid-century design and is walnut and leather. Do you know anything about this chair like what its purpose was?

ANSWER:  Barzilla L. Marble founded the B.L. Marble Chair Co. in 1894, after working at several other chair companies. His grandfather operated a chair factory in Marbletown, New York, and others in his family likewise made chairs, so it was natural for Marble to do so. He formed a brief partnership with A.L. Shattuck in 1885, but struck out on his own nine years later.

His company produced fine wooden chairs made for comfort and elegance that were made to last. Up until 1910, it produced chairs for the home, but during World War I, Marble added a division to make wooden aircraft propellers for the military.

By 1921. Marble’s company had outgrown its small wooden buildings and construction began on new brick buildings which had more than four acres of floor space. After Marble died in 1932,  A. D. Pettibone became president of the company and part owner. In 1953 Pettibone sold his interest in the Marble Chair Company to a group of local investors. Eventually, another man, also named Pettibone but not related to the first, bought the company, and it became extremely successful.

The company produced one-arm “modern” chairs most likely in the mid-60s under the second Pettibone owner. Furniture makers intended one-arm chairs, both originally in the 1870s and then in the 1960s as chairs to be placed in a corner. Today, most people would refer to these 1960's chairs as “retro” in style.

But exactly what does retro mean? According to the Oxford University Press Dictionary, retro means "imitative of a style from the recent past." Retro is a culturally outdated or aged style, trend, mode, or fashion, most likely from the 1940s through the 1960s. Currently, eBay offers over 468,000 different retro items at auction.

People born between the 1940 and 1950 became teenagers during the 1950s and 1960s. And because those two periods provide memories for many of them, anything retro is in, whether it’s furniture, accessories, clothing, and collectibles, especially those related to the Golden Age of Hollywood.

Life in the 1950s was conservative, but changes were about to take place. Such innovations as Velcro, Tang, frozen foods, transistor radios, Frisbees and the hula-hoop began to appear. Bill Haley and the Comets rocked around the clock while jukeboxes filled every burger joint and ice cream parlor with the new sounds.

Furniture and accessories, especially the ubiquitous pole lamp, featured streamlined styling in avocado and gold. By 1957 there were 47 million T.V. sets in America’s homes, four times the number of just seven years before. Families began to watch T.V. shows like “I Love Lucy” incessantly. They even ate in front of the T.V., thus necessitating the invention of the T.V. tray and comfortable casual furniture without frills.

Later on in the 1960s, the space race captured everyone’s attention as astronauts walked on the Moon and teens danced the twist to the music of Chubby Checker and sang along to Beatles’ tunes. More innovations such as lava lamps and electric knives caught on eventually providing the retro movement with lots of collectibles.

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