Elmwood Company's stories and photos from Kittinger enthusiasts.
May 2020 - Chris D.
When I began law school in my hometown of Buffalo, NY, in 1972, my parents helped me find a small apartment near downtown, where the school was located, plus I was also working in City Hall as an administrative assistant to the Mayor of Buffalo. They knew I was super busy and asked if they could find a few pieces of furniture for it. Of course I was pleased to turn them loose on this project. Within a week my father placed a small cocktail table in the living room and pronounced himself very proud of this effort as it was a well used Kittinger table—this began my collection of Kittinger over the past many years. He also told me this story as related to him by Dr. Ed Alford, a dear family friend who married the younger sister of Irvine Kittinger. In the 1930’s the Rockefeller Foundation was searching for alternative sources of revenue for their restoration efforts with historic Williamsburg, Virginia, and embarked on a project to sell Williamsburg style furniture reproductions. The Foundation invited several of the best American furniture makers to submit proposals and full scale reproductions of three original antiques from the collection there. I think the story goes that the firms were invited to Williamsburg to view and measure the original pieces and given six months to submit their proposals and reproductions—it was to be a very simple process. On the day of the presentations to representatives of the Foundation, the reproductions were placed in front of the originals and the “judges” eyeballed their competing works for something like an hour and then announced that they were very pleased with all of them, whereupon one judge stated that they had anticipated such a result and had a way to resolve the selection. He stated that during those six months, the Foundation had caliper like devices custom made to measure as many as four different parts of the originals and would then apply those devices to the reproductions. For some reason, Kittinger’s pieces were last in the line of competing reproductions to be measured. As the caliper devices were “fitted” to each of the other reproductions, some could not be applied as the reproductions were oversized at those measuring points while others would almost permit the judge to spin the device around the piece as the part was far too small. Apparently as this process was pursued the other competitors realized that this would be no resolution as they were all uniformly off the mark (or measurements). Now you can guess where this was headed…. When the judge applied the measuring instruments to the Kittinger submittals, each device fitted perfectly, as Dr. Alford said, as though the devices had been made precisely for the Kittinger reproductions. He said “it was not even a close call”—and that is how the Foundation selected Kittinger.
As a footnote to this story, several years later, I hired the head of personnel at Kittinger, Richard Mast, who refinished furniture as a hobby, to rework a chest of drawers and when he delivered it, I offered him a Coke and urged him to sit down and cool off (it was a very hot summer day, even in Buffalo). As he was about to place his drink on the coaster I provided, he looked down at my little cocktail table that my father had purchased and immediately stood up and nearly shouted, “My word! We have been looking for one of these for the chairman’s office for over 20 years. I’m authorized to pay $3000 to buy one of these and will do so today if you will let me take it now.” I told him no thanks and then he countered that the offer was open ended and so long as he was still with the company, they would honor the offer. I still have the table (it is now in my living room here in Virginia). Later, I called my father and asked him what he had paid for it and where did he get it. My father said he found it in a ratty antiques store in the Allentown section of Buffalo and he had asked the store manager “how much for this little table?” The reply was “Oh, how about $35?” Just then my father opened the middle drawer and spotted the Kittinger brand and said “sold”.