A Girandole Sheds Light on Bookends

16 Aug
Photo of Last of the Mohicans Bookends

Natty Bumppo and Chief Chingachgook seated on a log with Uncas behind them.

Kudos to Chris Bernhard for sleuthing out the origins and story associated with these unmarked bookends.

“I am writing to share information I have learned regarding a set of bookends that is not often seen or well known.  Mr. DeCosta has it in his collection, Miscellaneous Motif, titled, At Rest.  I have discovered the original title is “LAST OF THE MOHICANS.”  The figures presented are Natty Bumppo, Chingachgook and Uncas from James Fenimore Cooper’s “Leatherstocking Tales.”

The original art piece was created in 1849 by Issac Baker, a partner in Cornelius & Company of Philadelphia, as a decorative element for a girandole, a fancy type of candelabra in vogue in the early and mid-1800s.”

Check out the HOUSTON ANTIQUE DEALERS ASSOCIATION website where Chris found the exciting link to his bookends.  The HADA article by H. Karl Scharold on Girandoles pictures the 3 piece LAST OF THE MOHICANS girandole set, made by Cornelius and stamped as such..  A 3 piece set is also pictured on the Fenimore Art Museum blogspot for April 6, 2010.

The LAST OF THE MOHICANS: A NARRATIVE OF 1757 is the second and most popular of the five books in the immensely successful  LEATHERSTOCKING TALES published between 1823 and 1841 by James Fenimore Cooper.    The story is set during the French and Indian Wars (Seven Years War) and details the capture of Englishwomen (Cora and her sister Alice) and their escorts by French-allied Indians and the search and rescue attempts by Natty Bumppo (Hawkeye), Chingachgook (Mohican Chief or Sachem) and his son, Uncas.  Uncas, who is the only son of Chingachgook is labeled as “the last of the Mohicans.”  The story and its characters live on today in film and TV.  If you watched MASH, either the film or TV series, you remember “Hawkeye” Pierce who received his nickname from his father, who read the books by James Fenimore Cooper.

As today, the popularity of fictional characters were reflected in the fashions and decor of the 1840s and 50s.    In December 1848 Isaac F. Baker patented the design “LAST OF THE MOHICANS” for furniture orniments (sic).

Photo of Last of Mohicans Patent Sketch

Drawing included in 1848 “Last of the Mohicans” Patent

While the mid-1800s is before the time of bookends, the sculpture in Chris‘ bookends is the same as on the Cornelius & Co. girandole (candelabra).

According to Carol A. Grissom in ZINC SCULPTURE IN AMERICA, 1850 – 1950, Cornelius & Baker (Cornelius & Co.) were initially producers of brass lighting fixtures and later on produced gas lighting fixtures cast in zinc.  Their gas fixtures could be ordered in a variety of finishes so if they did produce bookends the technology and production methods were in place.  Cornelius & Sons Mfg. (successors to Cornelius & Baker) existed until 1900.  This is late enough for the company to have used its molds to produce bookends.  Early bookends were frequently themes from literature, and bookends with Natty Bumppo, Chingachgook, and Uncas would have been desirable.  It is also possible that another company used the Cornelius mold to produce these bookends at a later date.

Chris acquired his two pairs of these bookends on eBay recently.  They are 7 1/2 inches tall, 5 3/4 inches wide at the base and 1 1/2 inches deep at the base and a pair weighs just over 7 lbs.

Photo of the base of the Last of the Mohicans bookends

The light blue patch in the upper left shows metal corrosion consistent with zinc on the base.

Photo of the backside of "Last of Mohicans" bookends

There are no markings on the reverse side of the bookends


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