Henry, J. S.
Old Street & New Burlington Street, London; furniture maker and fancy chair maker (fl. 1878-1911)
Reported in The Cabinet Maker, 1 October 1880, as an agent for the French firm of Bareau and Croise of Paris in the sale of screwless music stools at £1-£1 5s, at which time and until 1886 the firm was recorded at 4 Golden Lane, Barbican, London. Then at Bread Street and by 1887 at new premises in 287-291 Old Street, where there were cabinet making workshops and display areas. At a later time the firm had a large warehouse and showrooms in Glasgow. J S Henry was listed in the 1902 London Post Directory at 287, 289 & 291 Old Street, EC. The 1911 edition listed Henry Ltd in New Burlington St W and factories at the Old Street address.
The business was wholesale and the stock included examples of fashionable styles for cabinet and chair furniture like Chippendale, Jacobean, Tudor, Adam, Sheraton, Hepplewhite, ‘Moorish’ and ‘late eighteenth inlaid goods’. The Supplement to the Journal of Decorative Art, January 1893, described J S Henry as having ‘established a solid reputation as the designer and market of artistic furniture’, who ‘has made a feature of cosy corners’ with corner sofa and display cabinet with shelves above. Furniture and Decoration & The Furniture Gazette, 15th October 1895, mentioned that Henry was known in Britain, on the Continent, and in America and Australia, and that his warehouse had ‘about 130 different pattern chairs of all kinds and shapes’. Also bedroom suites, mainly in dark mahogany including ‘The Vera... which although of high-class workmanship, is extremely moderate in price’. The article continued that ‘One important feature of Mr Henry’s business is that a particular pattern is very seldom made in quantities, the idea being to always give customers something different’ and that the designs were often pirated. The firm’s advertisements for quaint and artistic furniture adopted a very modern style, see Cabinet Maker June 1896 (illus. Agius (1978), p.95). In an advertisement in the Cabinet Maker, June 1892, Henry prided himself on being ahead of the market. Indeed he described the firm as ‘designer and manufacturer of Artistic Furniture Novelties... you will not see elsewhere in the trade’. An advertisement in The Cabinet Maker, June 1904, recorded the firm as makers of ‘Modern Furniture Reproductions of Fine Antiques. Wooden & Electric Fittings’ (illus. Kirkham, Mace, Porter (1987), p.46).
Examples in public collections include a mahogany tea table, made 1897, in the Nordenfjeldske Kunstindustrimuseum, Trondheim, and a desk of harewood inlaid with lines of pale blue dyed wood of about 1900, Victoria & Albert Museum London. Also probably the makers of an Art Nouveau desk, mahogany inlaid with various coloured wood in 1897 at Manchester Town Hall. C. F. A. Voysey produced designs of simple oak furniture for the firm from 1899, including a games table of about 1900 and a desktop case, c.1896-1903 (illus. Livingstone, Donnelly & Parry (2016), pls. 216 & 224). E. G. Punnett designed Art Nouveau-style pieces for J S Henry, a style also used by G. Montague Ellwood who was the firm’s most prolific designer. Ellwood was the designer of a mahogany cabinet inlaid with sycamore and ebony and glass panels of c.1903-05 (V&A: W.26:1-6-1976).
Mahogany inlaid cabinet designed by G. Montague Ellwood, 1903-05 [W.26:1-6-1976]. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Ellwood also designed screen panels, chair and music cabinet, made by J S Henry c. 1901 (illus. Agius(1978), p. 116). Two photographs of a drawing room furnished for J S Henry designed by G M Ellwood (illus. Agius (1978), p. 115). The design by Ellwood of a circular inlaid mahogany occasional table, with shaped and cut through inward facing plank legs for J S Henry, c. 1900, was later amended and featured as No. 200 new design price £2 9s 6d in Norman & Stacey’s catalogue of about 1910 under Royal Patronage (illus. Agius (1978), p. 137). J S Henry also made furniture to the designs of W. J. Neatby.
The firm exhibited at various exhibitions including the 1878 Paris International Exhibition when they furnished three rooms for the use of the juries. Their ‘excellent plain furniture in padouk, rosewood, American walnut’ was commended ‘for elegance, simplicity, utility and comfort’. Also atBrussels 1897 they exhibited a screen, chair, occasional table and display bookcase (illus. Agius (1978), p. 95) and at the Paris Exhibition of 1900 received two medals. This display included a cabinet, what-not and chair (illus. Agius (1978), p. 96), a desk armchair covered in leather, considered one of the most ‘modern’ pieces, an oak sideboard carved with grapes and also a music cabinet with the legend ‘How sour sweet music is when time is broke and no proportion kept; so it is in the music of men’s lives’ (illus. Meyer (2006), p. 315). The firm exhibited at the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society in 1903 with designs of George Walton, W. A. S. Benson and G. M. Ellwood, and at the Dublin Exhibition 1905 as recorded in Cabinet Maker, 26 August 1905.
Sources: Furniture Gazette: Classified List of the Furniture, Upholstery, and Allied Trades, 1886; Aslin, 19th Century English Furniture (1962); Agius, British Furniture 1880-1915 (1978); Kirkham, Mace, Porter, Furnishing the World. The East London Furniture Trade 1830-1980 (1987); Gere & Whiteway, Nineteenth-Century Design. From Pugin to Mackintosh (1993); Edwards, ‘The Firm of Jackson and Graham’, Furniture History (1998); Meyer, Great Exhibitions. London, New York, Paris, Philadelphia. 1851-1900 (2006); Livingstone, Donnelly & Parry, C F A Voysey Arts & Crafts Designer (2016); J S Henry file at Department of Furniture, Textiles & Fashion, V&A.