Charles Limbert started out working as a salesman for his father’s furniture business in the 1890s. He established his own chair factory in 1894, and continued representing other furniture manufacturers as well as his own interests. In fact, his efforts helped to boost the popularity of rustic furniture made by Old Hickory of Martinsville, Indiana, according to the Arts & Crafts Society website (arts-crafts.com).
He went on to establish the Charles P. Limbert Furniture Co. in 1902 making goods in line with the style that would mold his legacy. His Grand Rapids, Michigan factory-made furniture and light fixtures with simple lines and few decorative elements reflecting the Arts and Crafts Movement.
Limbert’s furniture is characterized by the heavy, masculine look popular in the early 20th century referenced as “Mission” style, which was popular from about 1900 through 1925 or so. But as mentioned on arts-crafts.com, Limbert never called his work Mission. He only referenced it as arts and crafts, and felt that Spanish Mission style was actually a derivative of Dutch styling.
While following traditional arts and crafts principles for the most part, there were a few variations in some of his designs that actually did reflect Dutch influence, especially in his pieces made in early 1900s. “Of all American arts and crafts furniture makers, Limbert was perhaps the best known for his use of decorative cutouts, including squares, spades, hearts, etc. While arts and crafts enthusiasts may not find all Limbert designs aesthetically pleasing, the good designs are very good,” according to an online article by Paul Kemner and Peggy Zdila.
In 1906, he opened another factory in Holland, Michigan said to have been much more pleasant for his workers with scenic grounds and recreation areas for them to enjoy. The factory in Grand Rapids closed, but a showroom was maintained there to show off his latest designs. Limbert remained active in the business until 1922 when poor health prompted him to sell his interest in the firm. Furniture was crafted under the Limbert name through the 1940s, however.
For those wanting to study Limbert designs in greater detail, a number of his early 1900s catalogs from his business have been reproduced for reference and can be ordered online.
Limbert Versus Stickley
Limbert is considered to have been a contemporary competitor of Gustav Stickley’s, along with other arts and crafts furniture manufacturers like Elbert Hubbard's Roycroft community. They all produced Mission style furniture, but with minor variations in the styling and designs to give them a bit of uniqueness.
Limbert’s simple-yet-sturdy furniture, the pieces without Dutch influence, probably came closest to what Mission styling was about in the truest sense. His pieces used thinner stiles (the vertical elements used as supports in chair backs) in comparison to the thicker components Gustav Stickley incorporated into his designs. At the end of the day, however, collectors seem to prefer the name recognition and look of Stickley’s furniture over Limbert’s. That is, if they’re willing to pay the price to own it.
That’s not to say that Limbert’s pieces don’t have ample value. They have seen a revival in collector appeal and most true Mission examples of Limbert’s work sell in the thousands today. Even singer and actress Barbra Streisand once owned a Limbert rocker.
Marks on Limbert Pieces
Limbert pieces can be identified by either a mark burned into the wood or a paper label affixed to the piece. On side chairs, the mark is often found under the seat. The Limbert logo can also be found hidden inside one of the drawers on case pieces, under the arms of chairs, or beneath table tops.
The mark changed some over the years, but they all feature a furniture worker at his bench and either “Limberts”, “Charles P. Limbert” or “Limbert Furniture” at the top of the logo. According to the Grand Rapids Historical Commission’s website, these are some key variations in the mark:
- 1902-1905 – Grand Rapids is listed as the location of the business.
- After 1906 – Both Grand Rapids and Holland are listed on the label.
- 1915 – Ad for the “Ebon-Oak” line features the worker wearing Dutch-style wooden shoes.
- 1920 – “Arts and Crafts Furniture” was changed to “Cabinet Makers.”
- 1925 – “Cabinet Makers” was changed to “By Van Raalte Craftsmen.”
This is one of those instances when it is important not to overlook a mark. A piece identified as Limbert's will be more valuable from a collecting standpoint when compared to an unmarked piece with Mission styling, and it's always a good selling point to be able to pinpoint when a piece of antique furniture was made.