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Rohlfs jazzed up 'mission' look

Arts and Crafts, or Mission, furniture is described in most catalogs and books as functional and simple, with straight legs and arms.

Pieces have little decoration, just visible mortise-and-tenon joints. Light or dark oak was preferred. It was a short-lived style popular from 1900 to about 1915. The designs were a revolt against the curved, highly decorated furniture of Victorian times. They echoed the English William Morris and John Ruskin idealized view of the single workman creating a piece of furniture in an honest, personal manner.

Morris and Ruskin liked the medieval craft guild organization, although they misinterpreted it to be one man, one object. Studies today show that for centuries a single piece of furniture might have been made by many different expert craftsmen who were carvers, turners, designers or specialists who created parts of a chair or chest.

The revival of the Arts and Crafts style in the 1980s has lasted longer than the workshops of Gustav Stickley, Roycroft and other Mission makers. Charles Rohlfs, who is often listed with these makers, was a New York City furniture maker who worked during the years Arts and Crafts ideas were popular, but he had his own ideas and designs. He used curves and cut-outs, high backs on chairs and strange feet. Until recently his work was rarely offered at large auctions and shows. But new research about Rohlfs and new respect for his work should lead to more collector interest and higher prices.


Q: I would like information about a metal bank I have that's a replica of a water heater. It has a metal plate on the front that reads, "Rex, The Cleveland Heater Co., Cleveland, Ohio." It's 7 3/4 inches tall and has a coin slot in the top. I have had this bank since the late 1930s or early '40s. Is it valuable or collectible?

A: An ad for Rex water heaters that appeared in a 1959 issue of Popular Mechanics stated that the Cleveland Heater Co. had been in business for more than 50 years, so the company was probably founded in about 1908. It was sold to M.M. Hedges Manufacturing Co. of Chattanooga, Tenn., on Nov. 5, 1963, and all the manufacturing operations were moved to Tennessee. Interesting or unusual advertising items attract the attention of collectors. A bank like yours sold at auction in 2010 for $453, and another sold on eBay for a very low price.


CORRECTION: In December, we ran a picture of a clock with the wrong caption. The rectangular wooden clock is an Ansonia "Reflector" walnut hanging clock. The late-19th-century clock has mirror-panel sides. It is an eight-day time and strike clock with a gong. Value: $1,265. The clock we should have shown is an Ansonia "Gloria" swinging-arm clock. It looks like a metal statue of an angel with wings holding a swinging rod topped by a globe-shaped clock. The rod is the pendulum and swings back and forth to keep time. It sold for $5,175 at a James Julia auction in August 2011.