Wenzel Friedrich, one of the most creative of German cabinetmakers who settled in the San Antonio areas, crafted horn furniture that received worldwide recognition. It was in 1880 that Wenzel began making horn furniture in San Antonio, at 12 Crockett Street. He received gold medal awards in many expositions in the United States and his patrons included the President of France, Queen Victoria, and Kaiser Wilhelm I. This Texas star table, descended from an East coast family, is among the most rare examples of his work and is live now on igavelauctions.com and is closing June 27th, 2017.
Today, horn furniture is an understood and known design, but this was not always the case. Wenzel Friedrich (1827-1902) is generally credited as one of the main driving forces behind the horn furniture market in the West. A cabinet-maker from Gruenthal, Bohemia, Wenzel moved to San Antonio in 1853. It was in San Antonio that Wenzel would achieve his highest levels of success.
Horn, a sturdy material, is a naturally occurring substance that does not require as much cutting or carving to be utilized as does wood. Coming in many shapes and sizes, the first examples we have of furniture of this type are oddly enough from the Chinese in the 18th century in the form of deer antler chairs.
In the West we have evidence of antler furniture from the early 1800’s in Europe, and in 1851 the London World Exhibition made a great show of horn, antler, and skins furniture.
Horn furniture did not exist in the West prior to this period of time. This table is, therefore, an interesting and rare example of the true beginnings of a design. Comparing the specs of this table to that in the catalogue of No. 12, “Fancy Horn Veneered Center Table,” we find they have the same measurements and both contain “20 horns.”
This is the same table that won him the gold medals in competitions at the New Orleans Industrial and Cotton Centennial Exposition of 1884-1885; he also won awards for designs at the Cincinnati Industrial Exposition of 1883 and the Southern Exposition of Louisville, KY in 1886.
Wenzel moved to Texas at a time when the West was still wild, and the world, according to many Texans, consisted of the red, white, and blue flag, with only one star as they had not even been part of the union for a decade. The individuals who came to Texas were myriad, some sought religious and political freedom as those who emigrated from Germany, some sought a new life and adventure as those who came from Tennessee and Georgia and fought and died in the Alamo, and others followed Lawrence Greeley’s creed to find their fortune in the wild West. Our consignor’s ancestor Colonel Isaac Ellwood was one such man. Striking out from the East in a time when trains and horse back were the main forms of transportation, he went from the civilized world of Springfield Hollow, New York to California as a prospector. From there he moved to Illinois, and in 1889 to the still fresh lands in Texas, where vast fortunes could be amassed and people still wore guns on their hips.
Mr. Ellwood fittingly made his fortune as one of the first inventors and manufacturers of barbed wire. He found huge success in this and eventually began ranching. Purchasing an initial 130,000 acres ranch in 1889 it eventually grew to over 395,000 acres. Eventually this land was largely parceled and sold, but Mr. Ellwood’s descendants maintained a vested interest in the community. In 1934 during the great depression there was a drought that threatened to ruin the farmers around Lubbock, and Ellwood’s son W.L. Keeney took out a loan of $200,000 from Citizen’s National Fort Worth bank and spread it amongst the banks in Lubbock to stop a money run. He said, “I just couldn’t stand by and watch Lubbock collapse.”
This table, passed down through the Ellwood family, is a testament to the lives of two great men. One a self made furniture maker, and the other a self-made rancher, and though both came from different lands, I believe it is fair to say that by the time of their passing they were both Texan to the core.
Link to lot: Wenzel Friedrich Fancy Horn Veneered Center Table, no. 12, San Antonio Texas, ca.1880-1900