loading background

Grand Rapids in 1856

Scene of early Grand Rapids viewed from the...

Grand Rapids' Trademark and What it Means

At the outset of the Grand Rapids furniture season of 1902 the keenest interest is felt in the industry. Standing as it does at the head of the furniture business of the world, the action of Grand Rapids in the formation of a strong local association uniting its manufacturers has had the effect of starting the entire furniture trade and has in more than one instance caused consternation in those markets in competition with the great Michigan center.

Formed purely for the purpose of promotion of the best interests of the Grand Rapids manufacturer, the Furniture Association has prospered and bids fair to become manifestly stronger during the coming year. It has so far succeeded in making itself known and felt all over the country and has shown to all manufacturers that it is a permanency. The Grand Rapids Furniture Association should in no way be confused with the Grand Rapids Furniture Manufacturers’ Association, which is rather an organization founded on the board of trade plan, but with furniture its chief interest. The Furniture Association is made up of a limited number of firms—seventeen—and all the leaders in the respective lines that they manufacture. Its objectives have been more or less misunderstood, especially by the retailer, but they are gradually being made clear with the result that the association is winning a place in the hearts of the business men of the country.

It is a part of the understanding among the members of the association that no goods shall be sold at retail from the factory, and that all of the promotion of Grand Rapids furniture shall be for the benefit of the dealer. The manufactures seek through the association to create or to increase the demand for Grand Rapids goods so that dealers will have to be supplied with the lines from this city to hold their trade. It is interesting to know why the furniture made here is the best made in the country today, why it bears the Grand Rapids trademark, and what this trademark means.


The reputation of Grand Rapids as a furniture center is so widespread and carries such weight with the well posted people of this country that the makers of this furniture have considered it wise to brand these goods by means of the trade mark showing that goods bearing it are of their make, made in Grand Rapids and are up to the high standard set by its members. The name “Grand Rapids,” as explained in this announcement now being sent out, has come to mean so much that many other concerns have made it the greater part of their capital and are using it, not only jeopardizing the reputation of the genuine Grand Rapids product, but also to the distinct loss of the retail buyers who purchase these goods thinking they are the celebrated Grand Rapids furniture. In order to protect this furniture buying public and themselves the members of this association have attached trademarks to the goods they make so that the customer may know what he buys and can be assured as to its high quality.


To protect the regular dealers throughout the country the members of the association have agreed not to sell their furniture to anyone but a regular furniture dealer. “While there are many concerns which claim to sell direct from the factory to the consumer, the furniture buying public can be assured that most of this furniture bought by mail is not in the same class with the Grand Rapids trade mark furniture, and will not compare with it in workmanship, finish and construction,” is the reading of the announcement. “It is through the legitimate dealers that the manufactures must dispose of their product and the means adopted to protect them tend to put the furniture industry on a firmer basis enables the dealer to carry a larger and more varied stock and puts in every city a stock of good furniture from which the public may select the pieces direct instead of by means of pictures in magazines, catalogues and so forth. The dealer is at your door, buys in carloads, and can sell you better furniture for less money than the mail order houses. The association issues no catalogues and cannot deal direct with the consumer. All inquiries that come to this office of the secretary are at once referred to the principal dealers the in town or city from which such inquiries come.

The trade mark itself is primarily a protection against inferior furniture which may bears some resemblance to a high grade article, but which may be lacking in workmanship, construction grade of material and finish. In a word, it protects the legitimate dealer against other furniture that is sold under the reputation made by the members of the Grand Rapids Furniture Association. Furniture bearing this trade mark is in a class by itself and the factories which make it constitute the greater part of the factories of the United States, which made high grade thorough dependable furniture. Its excellence is due to many things, especially to its construction, workmanship, finish, material and artistic design. To thoroughly comprehend what is meant by construction and workmanship it is necessary to know that most of the factories making the trade mark goods have been making furniture for the last forty years. In that time they have been steadily gaining knowledge of furniture making which has resulted in a mastery of the art, a perfection in manufacture that can only be obtained by years of practical experience. This perfection of construction has been made possible, too, through the employment of the most skilled workmen. The artisans in the various department s have gained their skill slowly and by careful study until their expert knowledge of furniture making has place them far in the lead of the wood workers of the country.


These Grand Rapids furniture workmen are recognized in all furniture centers as the best in the country. Their work has a stamp of excellence and superiority that is not possible in furniture not having such skill in the making. Speaking technically, the worthiness in workmanship is in the method of kiln drying the lumber used, the oak, mahogany, maple, birch and so on; in the selection and handling of the veneers; in the method of building up from many strips of veneer a surface that will not warp, shrink or split; in the carefully worked out devices to make the piece solid and rigid and lasting; in the thoroughness of all that work that “does not show” but still is the foundation; in the method of gluing joints and fitting parts together; in the skillful fitting of the grain of the wood preparatory to its finishing coat of varnish; in the patient task of finishing in so many coats, hand rubbed by experts.


These are considered by the Grand Rapids manufacturer a few of the points that a buyer and the user of furniture can appreciate as being such as to give value to furniture. It is also easy to understand that all furniture made elsewhere does not undergo the same varied processes in its construction as that of Grand Rapids with its triangular trade mark. In regard to material it is only necessary to say that the makers of this furniture secure their lumber, varnish, trimmings, glass and so on from the best sources and that there can be none better. The experience of the factories has shown what is best in each case and that is used to the exclusion of all other.


The importance of Grand Rapids furniture in the minds of the furniture dealers of the country can be imagined when the layman knows that twice each year, in January and July, nearly one thousand buyers gather here from all sections of the land. They are attracted to this city primarily by the demand on all side and their universal desire to secure the latest styles in Grand Rapids furniture. Every dealer realizes the absolute necessity of having this furniture in his stock and he comes here to get it. The fact that these dealers visit two seasons of the year many outside manufacturers who also show their samples on exposition floor arranged for them.


Grand Rapids manufacturers make the styles in furniture. They are the originators of the new ideas that are seen in every large furniture store in the country. Their designers are the best. They are the artists who put into furniture those ideas and forms that come only to the masters and the strength of their work manifests itself in the popularity of the new patterns they continually turn out. In all, about fifteen thousand different patterns of furniture are offered on the Grand Rapids market. The members of the Grand Rapids Furniture Association, which dominates the industry of the country, are the following, all in Grand Rapids: Berkey & Gay Furniture Co., William A. Berkey Furniture Co., Grand Rapids Chair Co., Gunn Furniture Co., Sligh Furniture Co., Nelson-Matter Furniture Co., New England Furniture Co., Oriel Cabinet Co., Phoenix Furniture Co., Retting & Sweet, Royal Furniture Co., Stickley Bros. Co., Stow & Davis Furniture Co., The Welsh Folding Bed Co., Widdicomb Furniture Co., and the Grand Rapids Brass & Iron Bed Co.


The association meets every second Monday in each month. At its head is Roy S. Barnhart, who is with the Nelson-Matter Furniture Company, while Will H. Gay of the Berkey & Gay Company and the Royal Company is the vice president. The secretary and treasurer is Charles R. Sligh with Lucius Torrey in active change of the business affairs. The John Widdicomb Furniture Company is not a member of the association although the goods of that company are of high quality. It is stated that the only reason the company is not a member is because Mr. Widdicomb objects to the trademark.

The Grand Rapids Furniture Manufacturers Association, which is more of a social organization than a strictly business concern, such as the Grand Rapids Furniture Association is, is made up not only of furniture men but other manufacturers. Albert Stickley is the president and H.D.C. Van Asmus is the secretary. Matters that come to the Grand Rapids Furniture Association’s notice, which cannot be handled by it, are frequently turned over to the broader association with the broader platform.

Evening Press, January 4, 1902, page 2

Like Us on Facebook
site by GRCMC