By Karen Parr-Moody
Queen Victoria was one of the first owners of a brass bed, in the 1840s, before such beds became status symbols of the wealthy. They became wildly popular among the elite after millions of visitors viewed Queen Victoria’s brass bed at the Crystal Palace during London’s Great Exhibition of 1851. There, crowds would wait hours to see the queen’s fashionable bed.
In 1855, these events inspired Charles P. Rogers to open a workshop and storefront in New York City where his hand-built brass beds became a de rigueur item of decor for upper class Americans. In the 1870s, Zalmon Simmons joined this aesthetic trend and began shipping his brass beds, then a Victorian-era must-have, all over the globe.
Currently at Gaslamp Too booth T-186, there a historic brass bed that represents a time when brass was a prized material used in furniture. It is the centerpiece of a breathtaking suite that includes seven pieces consisting of two chairs, two nightstands, a bed, a dresser and an ottoman. The suite is being sold by Judith Neal and her husband, for whom it arrived by way of a family inheritance.
“It doesn’t really fit our decor that we have in our home now,” Neal says. “But it did when we were in England, because we were in a huge manor house. Basically, it’s something that belongs in castle.”
This bedroom suite was built by hand between 1910 and 1920 by Felipe Rodriguez, the Neals’ ancestor by marriage. His family owned a foundry in the Madrid region at the time. Rodriguez made the bedroom suite for his marriage, as he wanted to present his wife with a splendid and unique collection of furniture.
“Felipe Rodriguez started making that bedroom suite when he asked his future wife if she would marry him,” Neal says. “It took him a long time, because it was hand made from scratch.”
Rodriguez’s labor of love was presented to his bride on the day of their wedding as his gift.
Spain has long been known for the quality of its craftsmanship, both in metal casting and forging. Rodiriguez would have needed great skill and patience to make the many casts in brass to create such a high-quality bedroom suite of furniture.
Lovers of ornate antiques will appreciate this brass bedroom suite. Interestingly, the arms on the stylized club chairs hint at an emerging Art Deco aesthetic, as they exemplify the sweeping curves of the style. That said, there is a preponderance of scrolling and floral motifs, not features of the Art Deco school of design. It appears that since Rodriguez made the bedroom suite as his personal project, he was inspired by various design movements that were popular in Europe at that time.
Most notable is the incredible level of elaborate ornamentation on each piece of brass furniture, including scrollwork on the sinuous curves. The dresser mirror features acanthus leaf scrollwork that is topped by a flower-filled urn. The bottom rails of each nightstand feature brass openwork comprised of roses and five-petal flowers, along with bead trim.
The claret red velvet upholstery is not original, but was added in the early 1980s.
This brass bedroom suite would be a truly beautiful addition to a discerning collector’s home. The one-of-a-kind design and the soft glow of antique brass imbues a room with unbridled elegance.
The suite was appraised about 10 years ago in London for £25,000 pounds, but is now being offered for the reduced price of $17,500. Anyone who collects furniture from the early 1900s will know that a suite of this quality and artistry is almost impossible to find so well preserved in its entirety.