Leinfelder Tray

Claire Trussoni

Catalog Number: 2018.fic.672

Copyright La Crosse County Historical Society

Copyright La Crosse County Historical Society

“Artistic creations beautiful to behold ... a manufacturing process not easy to imagine, basically all done by hand.” Those are the words John Leinfelder used to describe the work done by his grandfather and uncles. His grandfather was Joseph Leinfelder, founder of Joseph J. Leinfelder & Sons Inc.

Copyright La Crosse County Historical Society

Copyright La Crosse County Historical Society

What started as a sheet metal business grew into a major maker of wrought iron furniture.

This metal tray depicts a scene of a masquerade ball, with men and women in fantasy versions of historic dress, dancing and socializing under a cherry tree by the light of paper lanterns. The label on the back says “hand wrought by Leinfelder & Sons.” While they may have produced the plate, they probably had another company apply the image, which is a lithograph. The tray was possibly used as a centerpiece for a furniture display.

Leinfelder & Sons was an exclusively wholesale business. Its furniture went to sales rooms in New York City and the Merchandise Mart in Chicago. The sales rooms were open for dealers only, not the general public. The furniture was sold to retail outlets that sold to the general public.

The 1936 Leinfelder catalogue told buyers that white garden furniture in particular was a good investment and was expected to sell even better than it had the year before. One wonders just how sound this business advice was in the midst of the Great Depression.

The Leinfelder catalogues were put together by Mary Ryan, the manufacturer’s sales representative and the person who actually ran the sales rooms. The sales catalogues were not too different from ones in publication today, with pictures showcasing products and prices. One upholstered settee in the 1934 catalogue was priced at $38 — $720 in today’s currency.

This La Crosse-made furniture went out far into the world, with buyers in Dallas, San Francisco, Australia and even a shipment to the Presidential Palace in Havana, Cuba. John Leinfelder also recalled going to the Rivoli Theater to see a Marx Brothers movie that had some of his wrought iron furniture in a garden scene. (The Marx Brothers were a popular comedic team active during the first half of the 20th century).

This article was originally published in the La Crosse Tribune on August 11, 2018.

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