The #700 Bookshelf

I’ve been fortunate to have some spare time in the past year to be able to raise my rudimentary carpentry skills to a level where I can make some rudimentary furniture. And, as you might have guessed, I have an obsession with unfashionable Arts and Crafts furniture and art.

The #700 bookcase as seen in the 1909 catalog.

My latest project was making a copy of Gustav Stickley’s #700 bookshelf, originally manufactured in 1904. The $30 price in the 1909 catalog would be around $900 today, not cheap considering that a good salary at that time was between $2,000 and $5,000 a year.

In my cranky opinion the pre-WWI Arts and Crafts era marks the pinnacle of American design. It’s all downhill from this point. The #700 bookcase may have been designed by the architect Harvey Ellis, though there is some controversy about this. Having spent so many hours building it, there are some details that make me think an architect had something to do with the design, particularly the odd little pilasters that hide the face frame seam on the front of the bookcase.

Stickley’s furniture can, occasionally, be a bit crude and boxy. The details of this bookcase set it apart. The arches at the bottom, reminiscent of a bridge, give the design a lightness and grace. The overall proportions are like a turn of the century Chicago skyscraper. The door is, pleasingly, divided into three glassed sections. The glass door also keeps the dust out. And the original had a lock to, I think, keep the kids from climbing the shelves. The beauty of quartersawn white oak, with its striking medullary ray pattern, speaks for itself. I opted for a dark stain to hide some less than optimal wood.

As usual, mistakes were made. But I did pick up a few new skills. While my solder joints are a bit messy, I got to learn how to make a leaded glass window thanks to some great advice from Stained Glass Supplies in Pasadena (they have classes if you’re interested).

Making the bookshelf was easier than paring down our book collection to fit in it. I made sure to leave enough room to display the plaster neanderthal skull which every aging 1990s hipster in Silver Lake owns. Next up is a settle and desk.

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16 Comments

  1. My gosh, that’s just gorgeous! Great job. And I wholeheartedly agree with you about Arts & Crafts era furniture. There’s something so…whole about it.

  2. WOW! Proud moment! This is incredible! I have always been a fan of Arts and Craft furniture and of the pottery and linens too. Your work is fabulous. Congratulations!

  3. I agree with all the commenters. This is a joy to behold, and it is a joy to think about you as a human using your creative gifts and skills you’ve learned over the course of your life, your attention to detail, and obvious love of beauty and wood to make it.

    I have a few pieces of Arts and Crafts furniture — it’s definitely my favorite — and you make me want to look for more 🙂

    Thank you.

  4. It’s my fave as well. That’s a wonderful bookshelf. If you ever have the chance or inclination go to The Clearing Folk School in Ellison Bay Wisconsin (or just look at pics on the website. The windows!). I wandered around last April and wanted to move in. Congratulations on a beautiful project!

  5. Great job! I repeat my usual comment that you should come to Fayetteville, NY, to view the small but select Stickley Museum on the top floor of the Fayetteville Free Library (which now occupies the old L. & J.G. Stickley factory building). And if you think you could ever tolerate Upstate NY’s cold and snow, you could always establish a second career with the Stickley reproduction factory now operating out of nearby Manlius, NY. (I live in Syracuse, where the project of restoring Gustav’s old house is moving along slowly.)

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