Is it a Rosenstengel?

 

Rosenstengel was understandably proud of the quality of work his shop produced and eager to build a reputation through word of mouth. Labelling his furniture enabled his business name to be easily identified and stand out from that of his competitors. Right from the start he identified his furniture with a trade label and these labels took various forms throughout his career. His earliest pieces were identified with a paper label noting “Ed Rosenstengel A304 European Labour Only”. This served the dual purpose of nominating Rosenstengel as the maker and meeting the requirements of state legislation in relation to non imported labour. This form of label continued in use until somewhere around 1927.In the early 1920’s Rosenstengel also began using a more professional brass label marked with his business name and address. The brass label was dispensed with in the late 1920’s and replaced by a red paper label which after a short period of time was itself replaced by an identical wet transfer label. Items identified with this form of labelling are today referred to as “red label” pieces. Both brass and red transfer labels were generally applied to discrete but identifiable locations such as the top edge of drawer fronts, the inside face of doors, underneath the arm of carver chairs and the underside of table tops. Some argue that he moved away from brass labels to a transfer label to avoid the potential removal of his label for later application to copied items but this is unlikely and the decision was probably more related to cost and availability. The red transfer label remained relatively unchanged right up to the closure of his business. The final form of labelling occasionally seen on some of the finer pieces produced was Ed Rosenstengel’s personal signature, usually in pencil. Examples of the labels used are shown here.

 

Of course the other reason for labelling his furniture was to differentiate his pieces from copies that may have been produced. If imitation can be considered the sincerest form of flattery, Rosenstengel could indeed feel flattered by the copying of either entire pieces or elements of his designs. Witnessing his commercial success, his major competitors such as Bell Brothers, Harvey Brothers and later Starkey & Christoe all produced items demonstrating various degrees of influence adapted from the Rosenstengel style. Indeed, in the 1930’s, Rosenstengel took legal action against Bell Brothers for what he saw as a direct copy of his popular circular side table with 4 quadrant tables below. All of these competitors had the ability to produce items of equivalent quality to Rosenstengel, but their quality was much less consistent, and they did not appear to have Rosenstengels keen eye for design. After Rosenstengel’s closure, a small number of his workers set up businesses in their own right and began making what could only be considered Rosenstengel copies. Names such as, Ornate Furniture Company of Bulimba, R MacAulay and Hedley Smith produced items of varying quality, but again, without Rosenstengels design abilities they were left to make what were effectively Rosenstengel reproductions. Understandably, their success was limited, as Rosenstengel’s faithful clientele filled his order books prior to closure of the business and the strong movement to more modern styles during the 1960’s saw little continued interest in Rosenstengel’s designs from new customers.

One other form of identification that exists on the majority of Rosenstengel works is a sequence of numbers stamped to the back or underside (refer sample image). There has been some debate in relation to the source of these numbers and what they represent. Evidence suggests that these numbers refer to the job number allotted to the individual piece at the time of manufacture. There are plenty of examples of identical pieces with completely inconsistent stampings to confirm that these markings were not model numbers. Indeed, it is believed that a catalog of Ed Rosenstengel works never existed and as such model or catalog numbers were unlikely to have ever been produced. Rosenstengel’s vast display rooms were effectively his catalog and orders were typically taken in reference to samples on display. This approach allowed for considerable freedom to customise specific pieces for his more affluent customers.  It should also be noted that although the stamping does not include the year of manufacture specifically there is an indirect link that typically allows for inferred dating of the piece from this number.

Unfortunately, not all of Rosenstengel’s works were stamped and/or labelled. Pieces exist that are labelled and not stamped, some are stamped and not labelled and some have neither forms of identification (including some very special commissioned pieces). Labelling/stamping was also more common on various types of pieces. Upholstered items such as lounge suites (particularly the earlier pieces) and dining or sitting chairs without arms, for example, were commonly produced without labelling or stamping. On removal of the upholstery these pieces can often be found to have the job number written in pencil or crayon on the chair back or base. More common chairs, particularly for dining suites, were typically produced in considerable numbers via batch production for reasons of efficiency and therefore it is not uncommon for chairs to have different job numbers to the matching table. Inconsistent labelling/stamping can lead to some confusion in the market place but with experience it is generally not difficult to determine an original from a piece of similar style that was made by an employee or competitor.

It is also worth pointing out at this time that Ed Rosenstengel furniture should not be confused with Rosenstengels of Toowoomba. Rosenstengels of Toowoomba came to being in 1921 after the partnership of Rosenstengel & Kleimeyer (Ed’s father and to whom Ed was originally indentured) was dissolved following Kleimeyers death some years earlier. The Rosenstengel family eventually sold all interest in the business and apart from the name and historical context there was no link between Ed Rosenstengel and Rosenstengels of Toowoomba. Inspection will also show that there is no similarity in the pieces manufactured. Rosenstengel & Kleimeyer manufactured good quality pieces of late Victorian and arts and crafts design however the later business of Rosenstengels of Toowoomba manufactured catalog repeats of average quality and simplistic design.  The majority of their furniture lines were mass produced with significant use of low cost materials such as plywood panelling and average standard of finish. Rosenstengels of Toowoomba pieces are often sold with inference to there being a strong connection to the reputation of Ed Rosenstengel of Brisbane, but this is misleading and incorrect.