Last week I posted about Ventry Ltd. and their Billy Baldwin Collection. I mentioned the Porter étagères- those famous brass bookcases that Billy Baldwin designed for Cole Porter's Waldorf apartment.
Tony Victoria of Frederick P. Victoria & Son was kind enough to provide me with the history of this piece. The brass étagère originated in the workshop of F.P. Victoria as a collaboration between Baldwin and the venerable furniture studio. The piece was inspired by an English Regency shelf unit that was owned by F.P. Victoria (the Baldwin étagère was obviously designed on a larger scale than the shelf unit). According to Victoria, what made the design of the étagère unusual was the fact that "in order to give the structure the maximum rigidity, there were half round moldings that formed an “X” attached to the underside of the shelves AND soldered to the leg post knuckles. This was no mean feat, requiring a specially tooled and conforming element to be made in order to permit the crossing member to get over the other one without a break. This design factor is, by the way, how one can tell originals from later copies: the latter just have moldings that butt up against each other on the underside and that are not soldered to the posts (if they have anything underneath the shelves at all), it being much too costly to do that work in more recent times."
The bookshelves were handmade in the F.P. Victoria studio by a craftsman named Julius DaSilva. Owing to the retirement of DaSilva , F.P. Victoria decided to give the patterns to Guerin, of which the owner was a close personal friend. And now in 2008, you can buy this design (or some semblance of it) from Frederick P. Victoria & Son, Inc., Guerin or Ventry Ltd .
Tony also emailed me various images and sketches of the original Regency piece and variations of the Porter étagère. If you didn't already want one of these before seeing these images, I think you will become a convert now!
(Image at top: Photo of the famous Billy Baldwin brass étagères in the apartment of Baldwin)
The piece that started it all: English Regency dumbwaiter that had been in the collection of F.P. Victoria and which inspired the Baldwin/Porter étagère. The shelves are made of rosewood.
A variation of the standard Porter étagère that was taller and held more shelves.
Another variation, this time made for Gary Stephenson, a noted antiques dealer. Victoria notes that this photo shows the versatility of the étagères.
A reference sketch of the Regency piece in the files of F.P. Victoria & Son, Ltd.
(All images were provided by and are in the collection of Frederick P. Victoria & Son, Ltd.)