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Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Herman Miller weighs in

The question of who designed the jacks bookends...Bill Curry, George Nelson or someone as yet unnamed...comes up with a fair amount of regularity. In fact, Nick at Mid-Century Midwest posted about them just the other day and piqued my curiosity once again.

This time, I emailed Herman Miller to see if the good people there could shed any light on the subject. Kris received my contact form first and did a little research, sending me the comment in a Design Addict thread shown below...but wasn't sure of the accuracy.

Kris forwarded my question to Mark, who said he'd never heard of the design at all, and certainly not at Herman Miller, but he suggested that George Nelson's office might have designed them for another company. Mark forwarded my email to Gloria.

Gloria works in Herman Miller's Corporate Communications department as the Archives Lead, and she confirmed that there's nothing in the Herman Miller archives to indicate it was produced by their company, but she didn't rule out that Nelson might have designed the bookends for another company.

After seeing the picture below of Bill Curry with the jacks behind him on Nick's site and then reading the full story on Bill Curry & Design Line, there can be no question that Design Line manufactured them, but I still have some nagging questions about who designed what...and when. The picture shows him with Design Line Stemlite lamps that look almost identical to Laurel Mushrooms, but I have found nothing yet that tells me precisely when his lamps were produced and when the Laurel lamps came out...so, yet again, who copied whom? Did Laurel copy him? Or, if he copied the Laurel lamps, could he have copied the jacks bookends from someone else too?

The author of the comment below says he owns a Design Line jacks table by Bill Curry, and it's clearly marked "Design Line" and "Bill Curry," as are the Stemlite lamps.  He says he's own several of the oversized jacks bookends and has never found one marked. He can't explain why Design Line would mark their other products but not the bookends, so his contention is that they were all knockoffs of the table design, but he says he'll concede if anyone can produce an ad or a catalog proving him wrong.

After doing my series on lookalikes and being surprised several times by the dates/creators of the original designs, I'm going a step further and saying I'll be satisfied when I find ads or catalogs with names and dates in them.

From an email to me from Herman Miller



etsy.com (AustinModern)

Photo of Bill Curry, presumably with Design Line products
billcurry-designline.blogspot.com

Sent to me by Kris at Herman Miller
designaddict.com

18 comments:

  1. I think the jacks table is beautiful in the last pic :o) Scarlett x

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    1. Aren't they fun? They provide the perfect amount of whimsy without looking like they should be in a kid's room.

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  2. I'd be happy to have one of those jack bookends.

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    1. And to think that some people use them as doorstops! I can't imagine! :)

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  3. Thanks for the link Dana! Hopefully we can solve this mystery once and for all.

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    1. You're so welcome. I love your blog, and it deserves lots of attention.

      As we've discussed, when you're not looking for something, you find it, so I'm sure one of us will run across a magazine ad or a catalog somewhere someday that will give us a definitive answer.

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    2. I'm still looking for a set of these bookends/doorstops too. They'd go perfect on the danish wall unit once I actually get it up. I've been doing a bit of manic pinning and have gotten the whole place planned out now.

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  4. Here you go Dana,
    Look for this catalog:

    California Design, Pasadena Art Museum, Vol. 9, 1965, Page 66.

    I quote:

    "Jack bookends of cast iron in a variety of colors designed by Bill Curry for Design Line."

    Many greetings,
    Mik
    (PS: i happen to have 3 of them at home - all unmarked if at all genuine)

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    1. Great information, Mik. Many thanks!

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    2. You're welcome!
      Could you change your link http://billcurry-designline.com/ (it's dead) to http://billcurry-designline.blogspot.com/
      Cheers!!!
      Mik

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  5. I've done a bit of research into the "mushroom" lamp origin. The first patent I could find for such a lamp was Bill Curry's, patent D199141, filed in March 1963. Also, the abstract for this patent mentions an abandoned patent for a similar lamp, filed in November 1961.

    As for Laurel's versions, the earliest mention of a mushroom-type lamp I have been able to find is in a magazine ad from 1973. The earliest use of this ad that I've found is in the New Yorker, Feb 24, 1973. I'm still digging but so far, no luck on anything earlier. Even if earlier references exist, I *really* doubt a Laurel version would have existed before 1961.

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    1. Very interesting...and thanks for sharing your research with us. You've dug up a lot more than I managed to, so we're closer to solving the mystery than we were before. Hope you'll become a regular reader and comment often.

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  6. Sorry to be so late in responding, but I can send you copies of the Design Line catalogs that show production of the jacks, dates, colors, prices, etc.. The jacks (cast metal) were knocked-off during Bill's lifetime and continue to be knocked-off. The large table jacks are plastic and most that I've seen appear to be Design Line. I've start billcurry-designline.blogspot.com but plan to relaunch as a web page later in the year when I can properly dig into the archives. Bill designed so many things in is short lifetime. In addition to the lighting and some furniture pieces, he directed the in-house art studio for RW (which became the more well-known TRW). At RW he designed early computers, showrooms, signage and logos. I also have sketches for unrealized pieces.

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    1. Somehow I overlooked this comment when you posted it. I'd love to see the catalogs, if you're still willing to send them to someone who's so tardy in responding to your generous offer. I just emailed you and hope to hear from you soon.

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  7. As Bill Curry's youngest son, Eric Curry, I vaguely remember those days so long ago when I was just a little child. Dad would tell me the the greatest form of flattery was somebody else copying your designs and ideas. In reality it was a real hardship for his company- Design LIne. The company was too young and poor to go after all the other companies that were ripping him off left and right, but they did try to stop it, it proved impossible to fight several large well funded entities. That memory has lingered and came in handy in my own efforts of patenting and licensing.

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    1. That must have been a really hard lesson for your dad to learn. We've definitely learned some hard ones ourselves in the four years we've had a store. It's a shame that your father still isn't getting all the credit he deserves for his designs.

      By the way...are you the "American Pride and Passion" and "Painting with Light" Eric Curry?

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    2. Yes, Bill Curry's youngest son is Eric Curry who is also the photographer of the American Pride and Passion series using the painting with light technique.

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