Bradley and Hubbard was founded in Meriden, Connecticut, in 1852. Initially they made only clocks, but with the discovery of oil in Pennsylvania in 1859, they branched into kerosene-burning lamps. The company grew rapidly and added all manner of products, mostly of brass, and gained a reputation for high quality and artistic merit.
One of the founders, Walter Hubbard, was a distant relative of mine – he and I are descended from my 5th great grandfather – and the coincidence of the name and my interest in things related to writing led me to purchase this Art Deco desk set which was made between 1930 and 1940.
After purchasing the set, I found that an identical set is in the Smithsonian Collection. Their set includes six pieces, while at first I only had three of the six.
Missing were the inkwell, letter opener, and letter holder, so I continued looking for the other pieces. Unfortunately for me, Bradley and Hubbard made dozens of similar designs, so my chances of finding a perfect match were not good. Each piece of the set carries an interesting embossed raised rectangular and circle motif decoration with a green enameled interior, and this was the motif that I continued to hunt.
My set was in poor condition, with the lacquer finish partly gone, allowing the brass to tarnish and even pit in a few places. The oval blotter paper surface was similar to that in the Smithsonian picture, but damaged on one edge, and the underlying cloth covering was partially missing.
My choice, to restore the set by completely removing all the remaining lacquer and polishing out the tarnish and pitting as much as possible, might make a true antique collector shudder and shake their head, but I believe that the results justify the treatment.
The hand-held ink blotter was covered in matching pink patterned paper, but under that was a second layer, never used, of green paper in the same pattern. Since I liked the green, I replaced the oval blotter surface with plain green in a similar shade to that found on the hand blotter.
This is not a large desk set, perhaps it was a lady’s set, the oval blotter measures just 18.25″ by 14″. The oval pen tray measures 8.75″ by 2.75″ and the hand-held ink blotter is 4.25″ by 2.5″
Click the images below to view enlarged versions:
My search for the additional pieces was ultimately a success. First I found an inkwell with the same art deco motif. It is rectangular rather than round like the Smithsonian version, but matches the set quite well. The inkwell was in very shabby condition and beyond my capability to restore, so I called on Southeastern Musical Services here in Huntsville. They repair and restore brass musical instruments and were able to bring the inkwell back to life for me. Like the original pieces the inkwell was brass, but the surprise of the restoration was that its base was German silver! Fortunately, the glass insert was intact.
Here are before and after pictures of the inkwell:
The next find was a Letter Holder in excellent condition, again with the same art deco motif, only missing its perpetual calendar. I copied, resized, and printed the parts of another perpetual calendar to fit in the frame on the Letter Holder. Some Nevr-Dull and Brasso, plus elbow grease, brought the brass back to a full shine.
That left only the Letter Opener, and an ebay find yielded this final part. Years of use had left it in poor condition, so off it went to Southeastern Musical Services where it was replated and lacquered, looking like new. I haven’t photographed it yet, but will add the picture here soon.
The green trim in the art deco motif was removed in the restoration process, but the folks at Southeastern have assured me that painting over their lacquer will not be a problem. So, that will be my final step in bringing this complete set back to its original state.