Meeks Furniture Makers

A pair of circa 1865 Mitchell & Rammelsberg Victorian Rococo Revival parlor or side chairs in rosewood having pierced and carved backs over upholstered seats on front cabriole legs with casters

p4A ItemID E8918530
A Classical armchair attributed to John and Joseph W. Meeks, New York, circa 1845, the crest rail pierced with trefoils

p4A ItemID E8905968
A late Classical center table in mahogany, with label for J. & J.W. Meeks, New Orleans, 1838 or later, the twelve-sided top of Egyptian marble, the incurvate pedestal with arches and columns, resting on scrolled feet

p4A ItemID E8900414
A Classical secretary with two glazed doors over a desk (shown open) over two paneled doors, mahogany with gilt stenciling, New York origin, circa 1825

p4A ItemID E8897356

Meeks Furniture Makers

The Meeks family firm had been in business at least forty years in New York by the time that Belter and Hunzinger arrived on the island of Manhattan. This furniture making company went through four distinct phases, always successful and always in family hands. Joseph Meeks (born in New York or New Jersey) ran the company from 1797 to 1828 under his own name, his two sons joined him from 1829 to 1835 (Joseph Meeks & Sons), the sons took over the business from 1836 to 1859 (J. and J.W. Meeks, for John and Joseph W.), and then from 1859 to 1869 it was run by Joseph Meeks’s grandson and then closed.

It is worth noting that this firm, unlike Belter’s or Hunzinger’s, earned its fame simply by providing well-built, moderately priced furniture. The Meeks firm did not pride itself on innovation, patents or setting the style of the day. Rather, they gave the public what it wanted when it wanted it. This strategy kept them in business through many stylistic changes for seventy-two years.

The third period, when Joseph W. and John ran the firm, is when it expanded most rapidly with clients from north to south. The Meeks firm was a clear competitor to Belter’s, and their products were often, but not exclusively, in the Rococo Revival style. Although it is difficult to generalize, Meeks furniture typically has fewer layers of lamination than Belter produced pieces, and the silhouette can be more pointed, rather than rounded. Many scholars believe that many pieces attributed to Belter are in fact Meeks. Because the Meeks name is somewhat less known than Belter in the general market, a labeled Meeks piece will almost certainly bring less than a labeled Belter, although quality may be comparable.

Nineteenth Century New York was then – as it is now – the style capital of the United States, and there was room for all comers. The German immigrants, bringing their innovative production techniques and an eye for European style, were well represented by John Belter and George Hunzinger. The Meeks firm was a worthy, home grown competitor to these innovators.

Reference note by Contributing Editor Jan W. Hack

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