A Caldwell Gem, From the Archives and Today

August 6 2015, 10:52am

Carlton Hobbs LLC This box was designed and retailed by Edward F. Caldwell in the first quarter of the twentieth century. Described as a “cigar and cigarette box,” the entry for the piece in the Caldwell account books, No. 22351, is dated August 12, 1912 and indicates that it was designed by a ‘Mr. Etesse,’ whose name appears throughout the Caldwell ledgers in the beginning of the 20th century. It is listed as a sample object for the showroom, indicating that it was not designed for a particular client. The corresponding photographs (figure 1) and design drawing (figure 2) for the box are held in the E. F. Caldwell & Co. Collection. Carlton Hobbs LLC Edward Caldwell began his career as a lighting designer at the New York-based gas lighting manufactory Archer & Pancoast in the late 1880’s. It was there that he met fellow designer and future business partner, Victor F. von Lossberg, with whom he would found Edward F. Caldwell and Company in 1894. Caldwell’s work appeared in prominent buildings such as the White House and the Waldorf Astoria, and homes of affluent New Yorkers including Henry Clay Frick and Andrew Carnegie. The firm specialized in custom electrified lighting that drew on or replicated antique European styles like those of Robert Adam. Caldwell’s  designs were a crucial element in the period interior design of a space and were integrated with the utmost care. “The company’s rich and conservative clientele preferred traditional interiors, so Caldwell based his lighting fixtures predominantly on historical styles, often using photographs of objects in European palaces as models, or relying on eighteenth century pattern books.”1 Figure 1 In addition to lighting, Caldwell & Co. produced decorative ironworks and bronzes, and “desk-top objects [including] blotters, inkwells, stamp boxes, pen holders, book covers, and card boxes. The company also made humidors, cigarette boxes ashtrays, and lighters.”2 Carlton Hobbs LLC The present cigar box relies on a number of historical design motifs in its decoration. Antique frescoes discovered at Pompeii and Herculaneum in the mid-18th century appealed to Neoclassical designers and continued to inspire in future generations the use of masks, swags and trophies in the applied arts. The top of the box is set with Renaissance-inspired silver raised ornament including grotesques, baldachins, lambrequin, and ewers, etc. The four sides are decorated with boarders of continuous floral tied swags enclosing panels with mounts representing Renaissance helmets. Figure 2 It is a testament to the extraordinary quality of casting and gilding that Caldwell’s customer list is so impressive. It may be argued that many of Caldwell’s designs were more imaginative than those of his European counterparts, and this early 20th century decorative object manages to contain classical ornament and detail, but without appearing gaudy and staying well within the bounds of elegant good taste. Carlton Hobbs LLC