Oscar Onken (1858 – 1948) and the ‘The Shop of the Crafters’

Oscar Onken (1858 – 1948) was an American entrepreneur. He was professionally active in Ohio. Onken was a prominent businessman and philanthropist. Impressed with the Gustav Stickley and Austrian stands at the 1904 St. Louis ‘Louisiana Purchase Exposition,’ he founded The Shop of the Crafts in Cincinnati in 1904. 

Oscar Onken catalogue

He had been inspired by the Vienna Secessionist movement displays in the Austro-Hungarian exhibit at the 1904 Lousiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis. He was so impressed with the exhibits that he hired Hungarian designer Paul Horti. There was a distinctly European air to the Shop’s furniture, with its inlays, applied carvings, and painted designs. 

Oscar Onken - Modern Styles of Dining Room Furniture
Oscar Onken – Modern Styles of Dining Room Furniture
Desk and chair sold by Oscar Onkers
Desk and chair sold by Oscar Onkers

In a few months, Onkens had established a new business venture. The Shop of the Crafters featured Arts and Crafts furniture in oak and mahogany.  

Key Features

Horti’s inlay designs were a prominent design element, but so were the design features from other Arts and Crafts manufacturers and occasional touches of Art Nouveau and even Victorian influences. Decorative elements on the furniture included marquetry patterns, Limbert-style cut-outs, and Art Noveau inspired stained an leaded glass panels.

Oak was the preferred timber, although occasionally mahogany was used.

Metalware typically featured strap hinges, bevelled square brass knobs, and brass nails. The latter was heavily relied on to stud leather tops.

Arts and Craft furniture bear a gold paper label with the black lettering reading “Shop of the Crafters” above a simple drawing of a lantern, below which are found the words “At Cincinnati Oscar Onken Co. Sole Owners”.

Arts and Crafts furniture production had ceased by 1920, though the Oscar Onken Company remained in business until 1931.

Sources

Byars, M., & Riley, T. (2004). The design encyclopedia. Laurence King Publishing.

Miller, J., Bace, J., & Rae, G. (2005). Arts & crafts. DK Pub.

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