The Chapman Company

Waldo Ernest Chapman
Waldo Ernest Chapman, c.1902 © Harvard University.

Waldo Ernest Chapman was born in Boston in 1879 and married his first wife, Greta Hughes Rankin, during 1906 in Chicago.

Significant information has come to light since the appearance of an important archive of Chapman Company lighting material. This archive appeared at an auction in Maine recently and includes over 80 lamp images. The bulk of the archive has been acquired by Historic New England and hopefully will be available soon for inspection. The archive is one of personal achievements, hand drawn and colored watercolors by Waldo Ernest Chapman, his company brochures and photographs of the Company's lamps. The company clearly was a manufacturer of lighting. Later, Chapman became a manufacturer of other items including silver and mirrors and operated in Malden Mass under the name Wecco. There are many images of these items in the trove as well. We are currently attempting to secure Historic New England's permission to include some Items of this archive here.

While this Chapman archive alone was an important find, Peter Lyons continued his research in the Boston area, including a review of the Harvard student archives. He was able to establish Waldo Ernest Chapman's career activities among the Harvard University class Albums and anniversary reports. Harvard University's class of 1903 biography shows Chapman completing 3 of 4 years of study in architecture and mechanical drawing.“I started out at College to be an architect, but hated straight lines so transferred to general science.” This change of heart signaled a new and surprising career path.

While we have an imperfect time line, this is what we currently surmise:

In 1903 he left Harvard before completing his degree and for the next year, he was employed as a designer and superintendent for a Company on Congress Street in Boston. While his Harvard biography doesn't name the company, it is almost certainly Chandler Specialty Manufacturing. This assumption is supported because Chapman's archive contains original adverts for the Chandler fan lamps and a photo of a Chandler hanging lamp.

  • The Chandler Shades with Chapman's writing on the back

In addition, a personal watercolor by Chapman of a Chandler style shade is included in the archive. Chandler is believed to have been the only lamp company operating on Congress Street at that time.

In 1904 Chandler Specialty Manufacturing acquired a new investor, see Mosaic Shades p.22. In the latter part of that year, Chandler started International Shade Company (ISCO) in Springfield with an as yet un-named partner. International Shade Company discontinued their manufacture of art shades and lamps in March of 1914. It’s possible that Chapman partnered with Chandler at international, but there is nothing definitive in the archive.

Chapman's Harvard biography mentions that he then spent the next 3 years, likely between 1904 and 1906, as a designer and superintendent of a similar firm to Chandler but based in New York.
Was it not for the inclusion of pages showing panel lamps included in his archive, it could have been with any number of companies. These are blue cyanotype pages and have John Morgan & Sons stamped on the back. Further, they carry 4 digit model numbers that are very close to those appearing in the 1908 Morgan catalog (1900 series). Based on the three years Chapman was at Morgans, 1904-1906, it's possible that these cyanotypes may actually have appeared in a still to be discovered earlier Morgan catalog published during his tenure.       

Probably during 1906, Chapman left John Morgan & Sons with several years of lighting design and management under his belt, ready to start a company of his own. “Well, at any rate, New York had me in the same capacity for three years of wonderful experience. Then my own plant in Boston, the Chapman Co., glass and bronze work was started”. Advertising for Chapman's leaded lamps started in March of 1907 just 2 months after the corporation was formed, so they were likely tooling up and designing new shades during 1906.

The incorporation papers for The Chapman Company, dated January 28th 1907, were sent to me by Peter Lyons. The Chapman Company was legally formed by 3 individuals, Arthur W. Ford (President), Frank B. Cyr (treasurer), and R. E. Abbott (Clerk). All 3 are noted as directors. Capitalization was $20,000

The listed activities of the corporation were numerous and general in nature including
"… to act as brokers or fiscal agents in any lawful capacity such as buying, selling, undertaking and liquidating different businesses and enterprises".

However, among the long list of these general undertakings was a very specific one,
"... also to buy, sell and deal in and otherwise dispose of  all classes of merchandise incidental and necessary to carry on the business of the manufacture of Mosaic Work, Lamps, Andirons, leaded glass, fixtures, pottery, fire screens and bronze work ...".

An important statement in the Corporation Papers included:
"We, the undersigned, have no objection in any way to the following name (The Chapman Company) being used as a firm name, association or corporation
Yours very truly,
A.P Chapman, R.E. Abbott."

Interestingly, Waldo Chapman is not listed as a principal in these papers. His father, Alonzo Page Chapman however, granted use of the Chapman name. Per the 1910 census, Alonzo acted as a commercial traveler for the Company.

It has since been discovered that a second company was created in September of 1908 by Waldo Chapman, titled Chapman Manufacturing Company.
This suggests that The Chapman Company was acting as a sales and marketing entity, and Chapman Manufacturing Company actually produced the products.      

The Chapman Company was dissolved in 1910.  Waldo Chapman ultimately pursued a military career, passing away in 1949. His father Alonzo went on to work in the furniture business up until the time of his death in 1921.

I would like to thank Peter Lyons for his continued research on this company.


Chapman, Chandler, Morgan and Suess -The Difficulty of Attribution

The slippery slope of attribution continues to bring new challenges. Mosaic Shades has already shown that designers at Wilkinson had adopted, 'borrowed', purchased, or even copied certain designs made popular by Duffner & Kimberly. Other similar situations existed, as designers moved from company to company it is only reasonable to assume they may have brought with them some of their designs. Eugene Parkhurst is known to have been a designer at both Colonial Art Glass in Chicago and later at The Gorham Company. Chapman, it seems, was no exception.

Chicago Tribune Thu Feb 13th 1908
Chicago Tribune Thu Feb 13th 1908

In addition to Chapman's aforementioned tenures at Chandler and Morgan the search continues for evidence to confirm that Chapman and Suess had some connection too. Several of Chapman's designs have appeared on Suess bases, perhaps more than one might expect. One of a number of possibilities of a connection surrounds the failure of Suess's lamp business.

Walter Suess, Max's son, along with sister Rose and brother Max incorporated a new company W.J. Suess Co. in 1906. It was focussed on the emerging electrical lamp business. Chapman's father Alonzo spent several years in Chicago, and Waldo Chapman himself was born and later got married there in 1906. The W. J. Suess company didn't last long, and was out of business in late 1907. In February of 1908 The Chicago Tribune carried a small advertisement announcing the sale of their assets at auction. Although speculative, it's not unreasonable to suggest that these Suess assets may have been the source of inventory that found its way to Chapman and perhaps some design inspiration too.


The Chapman Advertisements

Paul Crist kindly sent me the following invaluable magazine advertisements that he discovered in two monthly publications placed under the name of The Chapman Company. These all appeared throughout 1907.

Home and Garden, March 1907 - Golden Chain
Home and Garden, August 1907
Home and Garden, July 1907
Home and Garden, May 1907
Home and Garden, September 1907 - Hop Vine
Home and Garden, June 1907 - Clematis
Indoors and Out, December 1907
Indoors and Out, September 1907 - Poinsettia
Boston Consolidated Gas Company

Chapman Golden Chain

The March 1907 advertisement by Chapman identifies it as their Golden Chain. While this example and the Clematis below have 3" apertures, the hand drawn illustrations in the adverts appear to show a somewhat smaller diameter. Diameter 23". Style 109.