Furniture Gone Wild

by Erin Feith, Research Assistant
June 7, 2022

American interior décor went absolutely wild by the 1870s as furniture made from animals, particularly their horns and antlers, gained popularity. Encapsulating a burgeoning interest in the artistic and natural worlds, such furniture also reflected global developments in communication and transportation that occurred in the decades just before the turn of the century.

Crystal Palace, Hyde Park, London, 1851
Crane’s footstool orginially was monogrammed “AC,” but years of use have left only part of the A.

While furniture made from animals could be found in Europe since the 15th century, the style received renewed attention following its appearance at the internationally famed 1851 Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace. In the decades that followed, trends crossed the Atlantic at unprecedented speed, and only about 25 years later, the unique style gained even further momentum stateside when the Chicago-based Tobey Furniture Company displayed pieces at the Chicago Industrial Exposition of 1876. American demand for animal furniture soared, and mid-western manufacturers like Texas-based Wenzel Friedrich capitalized on the craze. Utilizing the locally abundant supply of Texas Longhorns, he created distinctive furniture from chairs to tables to hat racks that sold worldwide. Additionally, the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad in 1869 more readily brought horn furniture produced in the “Wild West” to East Coast markets, where its popularity skyrocketed. In fact, Augustus Crane of Morristown seemed to get in on the trend, owning a footstool with an antler base on display in Acorn Hall’s library.

A horn mirror, also on display at Acorn Hall, was donated to MCHS in 1993.

By the end of the 19th century, horn and antler furniture reached its peak, approaching mass-production. However, with the decline in bison and elk populations, and later in longhorn cattle, this style began to disappear as a new century dawned. While gone almost as quickly as it arrived, horn and antler furniture reflect the untamed development of industry that happened abroad and at home.