A. H. Davenport: Furniture from the Gilded Age to the Modern Age, 1880–1950

Nancy Carlisle, Historic New England

Tuesday, October 14, 2014Mini-exhibit: 7:30pmLecture: 9:38pm
de Young Museum
Davenport chest of drawers

Chest of drawers with shelves, A.H. Davenport Company, ca. 1890. Private collection

The A.H. Davenport Company, founded in 1880, was one of the nation’s premiere producers of expensive, Gilded Age furniture for a clientele with unprecedented wealth and profound desires to display their wealth. The Davenport Company furnished ornate mansions, elite clubs, marble-floored banks and some of the country’s most beautiful libraries in partnership with architects such as H. H. Richardson; McKim, Meade & White; and Peabody & Stearns. Davenport’s commissions included the Iolani Palace in Honolulu, Chicago’s Glessner House, the Vanderbilts’ Breakers in Newport and McKim, Mead & White’s 1902 restoration of the White House.

Albert Davenport was a brilliant and charismatic businessman in an age of entrepreneurs. One colleague distinguished Mr. Davenport for his “energy and forceful character.” The A.H. Davenport Company established a new model for manufacturing furniture precisely because the company was run by a businessman — rather than a craftsman — who worked in partnership with a talented designer. Albert Davenport possessed the acumen to hire Francis Bacon, an M.I.T.-trained architect, as the company’s chief designer in 1885. Bacon’s characteristic attention to detail emphasized the furniture as well as its artistic settings.

Eight years after Albert Davenport’s death, in 1914, the company merged with Irving & Casson to form the Irving & Casson–A. H. Davenport Company. The new company maintained showrooms in Boston and New York, and continued the tradition of working with private clients and architects to make high-quality furniture for homes, businesses, banks, churches and hotels.

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