“Oscar Onken and The Shop of the Crafters at Cincinnati” (Turn of the Century Editions) by M.J. McCracken and W. Michael McCracken is a delight to both read and examine in detail. The advertisements, the research, the solid footnoting.
All those details appeal to the part of my brain that collects the facts that form my understanding of how Arts & Crafts furniture was marketed and sold. But at the back of the book is the best part. It is for another part of the brain.
The authors included a facsimile of the first issue of The Lantern, a short-lived publication published by The Shop of the Crafters that I had heard of but had never been able to find. It is filled with advertisements (of course), but also a number of delightful essays (some almost polemics) that discuss furniture making and the utopian ideals of the American Arts & Crafts movement.
These essays are different than the writings of the Roycrofters or Gustav Stickley. Even though Cincinnati was surrounded by utopian communities, Oscar Onken was not buying it. Below is one of the essays. If you like this one, the book has many more.
— Christopher Schwarz
Shop Talk With Red Pepper In It
Every morning at ten the whistle blows at the Shop of the Crafters.
We don’t all quit work and listen to the talk of some long haired genius who can make anything but a living.
The way to produce art is to work at it – not talk about it.
But as we said before, every morning at ten the whistle blows
The men don’t quit work, go out and beer up.
Some shops down in the blue law districts blow the whistle and have the morning prayers.
We don’t. We have morning kicks.
When the whistle blows all the department heads of The Shop of the Crafters meet together in a room and kick.
In every large concern there is a lot of politics – not the rednosed, unupholstered stomach and watch chain kind, but politics within the business.
In most large concerns everybody hates everybody else; they divide into factions and each discuss the other behind their backs.
These ten o’clock meetings in our shop gives everybody a chance to kick at everybody else and to their face.
All air their feelings and opinions – it has the effect of figuratively sending their feelings to the carpet beaters every morning at ten. The feelings come out sweet and clean for the remainder of the day.
Good feeling makes good work.
Don’t get it into your head that the Shop of the Crafters is in the business for “the joy of the work.”
Don’t get it into your head that we wear neck ties like a front door badge of sorrow.
We’re just as money mean as some, yet not as mean as others.
We have a time clock in our factory, a cost card system and all the other little devices and conveniences common to dollar chasing manufacturers.
In some respects, though, we get at the result in a little different way, but the original money spirit is there.
We make a grade of furniture who want the real thing at a moderate price.
Not rich people nor poor people, but prosperous people.
We make good furniture, and good dollars are a bi product – on the principle that the reward comes from honestly supplying the wants of the patron – the dollars are incidental, but large and certain just the same.
We have been many years collecting the class of men to make our line of furniture. They work in agreeable surroundings, there is every safeguard to life and limb and we pay good wages – we would pay less if we could, but we must pay well in order to keep some other concern from hiring them away.
We have been for years perfecting the system to make The Crafter line. It’s no problem to make good furniture, but to make good furniture within the financial reach of prosperous people – that’s the question.
If we wanted to make furniture for the masses – make all dollars rather than furniture, we would go down in the country, build several acres of sheds out of hoop poles and sheet iron, buy all the wormy, sap-soaked lumber we could, hire every son of the soil that stuck his head over a clod, arm them with hammer and nails and, and after we’d sawed so many of their fingers off that they couldn’t play a cornet in a country band, why – we’d hire some more.
Money is easily made if you want to make it some ways.