Nobody Puts Horner in a Corner

by Lauren Magnusson, Membership & Marketing Coordinator
April 16, 2024

An ad for the company in an 1894 magazine
An MCHS tradition begun by a much-loved volunteer is that the desk’s griffins represents each of the four Crane children: Mary, Julia, Gus, and Ben.

In 1886, Robert J Horner established a Lower Manhattan furniture business that quickly developed a lasting reputation for excellence. The superior craftsmanship seen in the construction and ornately carved elements of the pieces produced, as well as the exceptional quality of materials used, made them not only functional, but true works of art. From clocks to sideboards, many were adorned with distinctive heavily carved elements such as griffins, winged maidens, and other mythical figures. The stunning presence of his works could transform any space and were the focal point in any room. To this day, R.J. Horner’s creations remain some of the most sought after antiques on the market.

Unlike many of his contemporaries, Horner courted a broad spectrum of clientele, from the wealthy to the working class. Recognizing the need and desire throughout the East Coast and Midwest for not only quality, but timeless and elegantly designed furniture, he also targeted a wider market than his competitors, advertising outside New York’s immediate geographic area. His highly regarded showpieces even inspired Horner-style imitations that continued to bring the Renaissance Revival style into nearly every home. A true Horner furniture piece, however, can be spotted from a mile away by those with a keen eye thanks to his impeccable attention to detail throughout his carvings.

One such remarkable gem graces MCHS’s permanent collection. A c. 1890 partner’s desk originally owned by an Acorn Hall family member is a wonderful example of his work, showcasing exceptional open-carved full-figure griffin legs, an intricately carved acanthus leaf table top band, matching carved skirt, and two drawers with lion face pulls. As with other partner’s desks, which have opposite side drawers, this desk shows a false pull and a functional drawer on each long side, allowing two partners to sit facing each other and each have their own functional storage space. While today utilized in an exhibit gallery, it likely first hailed a gentleman’s quarters or office, and may have been brought to Morristown by Augustus Crane Jr. or his brother-in-law Dr. J. Leonard Corning upon their retirements to the Crane family country home.

Many of his pieces were emblazoned with paper labels like the desk’s or brass plaques to mark them as products of his company.