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Who was the person credited with the concept of a world's fair?

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World's Fair
by E.L. Doctorow


This novel tells the story of Edgar Altshuler, a 9-year-old boy from the Bronx, and his adventures at the 1939 New York World’s Fair. On his first visit to the fair, Edgar is enthralled by industry's vision of the futuresafe, secure and prosperous cities, speedy and cheap transportation and modern invention to make life easier. On his second visit, he sees that the exhibits are constructed of gypsum whose paint is peeling and that the displays are really toys.
                                   
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Asleep in Luxury
by Bob Brooke

 

As the Industrial Revolution progressed through the 19th century, furniture makers looked for ways to cut the cost of producing their wares. As more expensive pieces got more elaborate with the decorative carvings of the Renaissance Revival style, the pieces became ever more expensive and luxurious.



Up until the 1850s or so, people bought furniture piece meal, one piece at a time. Because handmade furniture was expensive to make and sell, pieces often performed more than one function. But as mass production took hold, furniture manufacturers discovered ways to cut costs by producing more pieces of one design or style.

While the idea of purchasing a set of furniture didn’t really catch on until the 1890s, it was novel a decade earlier. Not everyone could afford to live in a big mansion with high ceilings, so furniture makers created smaller scale versions that were ideal for middle class homes and Victorian cottages.

At first they only offered what was known as a “bedchamber suite,” a more formal version of bedroom suite, consisting of just two pieces—a bed, commonly referred to as a “bedstead” and a dressing case, what most people call a dresser. Both came in all shapes and sizes and in one of seven different major revival styles.

Wealthy Americans preferred the massive Renaissance Revival style which showed off their wealth. Not only did the size show off the wealth of the suite’s owners, it also fit the enormous rooms with 12-foot high ceilings common in Victorian Italianate mansions of the time.

Later on, a second type of suite appeared, one with a bedstead, washstand, and bureau. These were smaller in scale and less ornate and expensive than their bigger cousins.

Originally washstands consisted of a top with one drawer, towel bar ends, and bottom shelf for storing a wash bowl and pitcher. A commode washstand, commonly referred to as just a commode, was more dignified and decorative. It offered various combinations of drawers and doors, with storage shelves inside. Carved handles and applied decorations, moldings, burl veneer panels, and gently curving back rails lent these commodes a personality of their own. Some had ebony and gilt pulls, now called teardrops. The brass back plates on them can be cleaned, but the black wooden drop should be untouched to emulate ebony. Small shelves on the splash back held the soap dish or an oil lamp or a candle.

To the French, a bureau is a desk, but in the United States, a bureau is a chest of drawers. An ash bedroom suite that included a bed, bureau, and matching washstand was offered at the low price of $20.00, providing it was "in white, no marble, no pulls and no plate. "That's like buying a car with no air conditioning, no heater, no radio, and no extras. "In white" meant unfinished, and "no plate" indicated that there was no mirror included. If you splurged and spent an extra dollar, you could buy the set "in white with marble and pulls. No plate." A "plate" cost $1.75, with an added charge of $2.00 to apply the finish to the frame. When the whole suite was "finished Complete," it cost $27.00 dollars. To a worker who labored for a few dollars a week, the set was expensive. The options that helped reduce the expense must have seemed attractive.

Suites with dressing cases from the Victorian period were more expensive than the bureau type, and more elegant as well. Sometimes their tall mirrors seemed to extend from floor to ceiling and had ornately carved frames that featured small bracket shelves for candle-holders or small lamps. Drawers varied in number and size. What people now describe as a well or step-down generally separated the parallel series of drawers. Cabinetmakers treated all three levels alike, topping them with either wood or marble. Some pieces had full-width drawers at the bottom of the well. Sometimes, the mid-section below the looking glass reached down to the floor, but this wasn’t common. To achieve individuality, customers could order their own mirror frame, and select from 16 different carved drawer pulls.

In the 19th century, the word "toilet" referred to personal grooming, thus a mirror became a toilet or plate. An oval "plate" is now called a wishbone mirror, since the frame in which it is suspended is shaped roughly like a fowl's wishbone.

During the 1870s, people referred to the two small drawers that sit across from each other on the top of a bureau as decks. Today, they’ve become known as handkerchief boxes. Much less common were the petite boxes with hinged lift lids that sat on top of the dresser.

A projection front refers to the part of a dresser that hangs out over the base. A drawer or two may project or overhang the others. Slipper drawers had no handles and appeared to be the apron on a dresser. Not surprisingly, owners stored their slippers in them. Some dressers even had hidden compartments for jewelry.

Most bedroom suites came with a three-quarter size bed, but double ones were common also. By the 1890s, bedroom suites came with seven pieces—a bed, dresser, washstand, straight chair, rocking chair for nursing mothers, a nightstand/commode, and an armoir or wardrobe.

Victorian Cottage Furniture
Cottage furniture became popular in the United States, particularly along the East Coast, after the Civil War. Pieces began appearing in workshops and then homes of the wealthy in places like Martha's Vineyard, Cape May, and the Berkshires. But the popularity of these items didn’t remain exclusively with the upper class. As the middle class grew, equally elegant, but relatively reasonably priced versions began to appear in the homes of the nation’s growing work force, particularly in Pennsylvania and New England.

Homeowners purchased Victorian Cottage furniture in mostly bedroom "suites", sold as coordinating groupings consisting of a double bed, a washstand, a dresser or vanity with an attached mirror, a small table, a straight chair and a rocker, and often a wardrobe. Cabinetmakers used pine or other inexpensive wood, then painted the entire piece with several layers of paint. The finished sets were colorful and whimsical. But not all sets were painted.

Cottage Victorian beds have high, decorated headboards, some as high as six feet. Finials and medallions constituted what little carving there was on most pieces. Most of the decoration took the form of painted flowers, fruit, and other plants, featuring a large painted bouquet-like medallion in a central panel on the headboard and a smaller, matching one on the foot-board.

Originally, local cabinetmakers, most of whom didn’t have any formal training, built these pieces from designs in pattern books, but towards the last two decades of the 19th century, manufacturers began to mass produce them.

Manufacturers produced sets like this one as cheaply as possible. Made usually of pine with machine turned legs and finials, they featured as little structural decoration as possible. Even painted motifs were kept to a minimum to reduce the time it took to do them. Some even feature stenciled designs, so that the maker didn’t have to pay more for trained artists.


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