Chair not a ‘Morris’ model, but from good Northwest maker

What's It Worth?August 24, 2013 

Family stories preserve history. They tell us something about who we are and where we came from. They also tell of the importance of objects.

However, family stories can become muddled and confused across the generations. And, sometimes, they are just wrong.

Such is the case of a chair we review in today’s What’s It Worth?

Q. My husband inherited this Morris chair from his grandpa many years ago.  We know little about it and do not know when it was made. It is in excellent condition and all original but was reupholstered many years ago. We believe Grandpa might have inherited it from his folks, most likely in the early 1900s. The only identification on it is a metal plate stamped “Northwest Chair Co. Tacoma-Berkeley-Los Angeles.” Any help in identifying its date or value would be appreciated. — Judi in Richland

A. No one seems certain why the family that owns this chair has always called it a “Morris” chair. From the photo and a conversation with the owners, it seems it is not, actually, a Morris chair.

Morris chairs are a quite specific and early design of reclining chair. They were introduced in America in 1866 after having been popular in England for some time.

Featuring a moveable back and quite high armrests, their most characteristic design feature is the hinged back, with the reclining angle adjusted through use of a row of pegs, holes or notches in each arm. There also were metal mechanical devices to adjust the back; they range from simple to quite complicated. Since this chair doesn’t adjust, it is not a Morris.

As to the Northwest Chair Company, they were a well-known, high-quality furniture firm for more than a half-century. Headquartered in South Tacoma starting about 1900, they opened distribution warehouses in Los Angeles and Berkeley, Calif., in the mid-1920s.

When the Bay Area facility opened, the Oakland Tribune newspaper said the company made “bedroom, children’s, dining room, kitchen, library and store chairs made of ash, birch, mahogany, oak and walnut.”

Since the chair has a “Berkeley” label, it cannot have been made before 1926. In fact, the design looks post-World War II.

Northwest Chair made quality furniture, and in today’s market, this chair — including the matching foot stool — would be priced between $50 and $100.

Q. Our family has collected many things over the years. One item we have but know little about is this small tin container that once held Schepp’s coconut. It is gray in color and 43⁄4 inches high and the lid (if there was one) is missing. Can you tell us something about it? — Erl in Enterprise, Ore.

A. This is a well-known advertising tin, popular with collectors. Before we get to condition and value, here’s a bit about the man behind the container.

Leopold Schepp, the son of German immigrants, grew up in New York City in the second half of the 19th century. When his mother was widowed in 1852, young Leopold started supporting the family. He had to quit school at the age of 10.

Entrepreneurial from the start, Leopold began by selling small items on Manhattan street corners. With the help of his minister, he soon bought a pushcart and became one of the city’s thousands of street peddlers.

By 1870, he had developed a successful business importing coffee, tea and spices. Schepp’s firm eventually owned a fleet of ships which brought coconuts from Cuba and the Caribbean.

He gained enormous wealth and, just before his death in 1926, Schepp started an educational foundation. Thousands of scholarship recipients would receive help in pursuing the schooling young Leopold had missed. The foundation continues its work today, almost 90 years later.

This small advertising tin dates to the 1890s and came in three colors — gray, yellow and red. It originally had a lid, missing from this example. It appears to be in good to excellent condition, with only a few small areas of surface scratching and a spot or two of minor staining.

The “Schepp’s Cocoanut” tins regularly come up for sale and prices vary quite a bit. We’ve seen them sell for as little as $60 and as much as $200.

A $100 price would seem about right for this example. It would bring more if the lid were present.

- Terry Maurer, Tri–Cities personal property appraiser, is a member of the Certified Appraisers Guild of America. For possible use in a future column, direct questions on your antiques and collectibles to What's It Worth? by email to tchwhatsitworth@gmail.com.

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