How to date berkey and gay furniture
In 1855 William Berkey founded a company to manufacture window sashes and other wood building products. He partnered with Julius Berkey and George Gay and in 1866 they incorporated as “Berkey Brothers and Co.” In 1874 a six story factory with wholesale and retail showrooms opened in Grand Rapids, one of the city’s most prominent structures.
During the era between World War I and 1929 the company’s sales were at their peak. They consolidated their operation with the Oriel Cabinet Company in 1911 and the Wallace Upholstery and Grand Rapids Upholstering companies in 1923. Their designs ran the gamut of freely translated European and American Revival styles including Gothic, Rococo, Renaissance, Neo-Greek, Eastlake, and Empire.
A primary market was wholesale to retailers who would resell whole suites of living room and bedroom furniture. Typical pieces were constructed in dark mahoganies and walnuts with burled veneers or accents of lighter woods with painted decoration. They were further darkened by the application of stains wiped around edges and carvings, giving the appearance of age.
MPF Conservation was entrusted with the preservation of this collection and the restoration of the Berkey and Gay Factory. The original finish was in a poor state with heat impressions, standing water deposits, and losses due to the use of caustic cleaning liquids. As part of our treatment process, we used a proprietary shellac mixed with no additives to fill in losses and create a finish that resembled the historic one. This allowed us to maintain the integrity of the historic collection and preserve it for future generations.