Photo of Berkey & Gay Furniture Company
1920's Photo of the Berkey & Gay Furniture Company

Berkey & Gay Furniture Company
The Berkey & Gay Furniture Company started producing furniture in the mid 1800's. From it's humble beginnings in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The Berkey & Gay Furniture Company soon became one of the leading furniture manufacturers of quality furniture in the United States. The following is from "A Citiszens' History of Grand Rapids, Michigan" published in 1926. Please note that I have recently added an additional account from 1891 which includes more details of the company.

In 1859 Julius Berkey and James Eggleston began making sash, doors and blinds in a small shop on Erie street. Mr. Berkey, a skilled mechanic, also made quartette stands. About this time William A. Berkey established a similar factory on Mill street, opposite Hastings, and in 1860 Julius Berkey and Alphonso Ham were using a portion of the second floor of that building for furniture making.

In the following winter Julius A. Berkey sold out his interest in the Berkey and Eggleston business to his partner, who soon wound it up. But in April, 1861, Mr. Berkey started it again at the same place and continued making furniture alone until November, 1862, when he and Elias Matter formed the partnership of Berkey & Matter, the foundation of the present Berkey & Gay Furniture company. Julius Berkey put into the business about $5 in cash and a few hundred dollars' worth of machinery and materials, and Elias Matter inventoried his tool chest at about $6. Robert W. Merrill declares:

"Undoubtedly the honor of founding the wholesale furniture trade of Grand Rapids belongs to Julius Berkey. He first saw the possibilities of manufacturing and selling furniture at wholesale from Grand Rapids. His early partner, Alphonso Ham, was an enthusiastic believer in the future of Grand Rapids and was among the first to prophesy that Grand Rapids was destined to become a furniture city."

William A. Berkey bought a half interest in the firm, October 5, 1863, when the name was changed to Berkey Bros. & Co. The capital stock was $17,215.33. In 1866 George W. Gay purchased the half interest of William A. Berkey and the firm name was changed to Berkey Bros. & Gay. Elias Matter withdrew February 28, 1870, and William A. Berkey in January, 1873. In August of the latter year the Berkey & Gay Furniture company was incorporated, with a capital stock of $500,000.

The above image and Berkey & Gay Company history is from the following document source.
Document Source: Etten, William J., "A Citiszens' History of Grand Rapids, Michigan". Published by A. P. Johnson for the Campau Centennial Committee, 1926.
Transcriber: Ronnie Aungst
MiGenWeb

The following account from a "History of the City of Grand Rapids, Michigan" published in 1891 goes into more detail. Including the size and location of the Berkey & Gay manufacturing facility. As well as the number of workmen that were employed in the manufacturing of Berkey & Gay Furniture.

In 1859 Julius Berkey, with James Eggleston, in a small shop on Erie street, made sash, doors and blinds, under contract. Being a skillful mechanic, he also manufactured quartette stands, which sold readily. About this time William A. Berkey began the erection of a sash, door and blind factory on Mill street, opposite Hastings, and in the summer of 1860 Alphonso Ham and Julius Berkey were using a portion of the second floor of that building for furniture making. In the following winter Berkey sold his interest to his partner, who soon closed it out.

In April, 1861, Mr. Berkey started in again at the same place, and continued the business alone till November, 1862; thus practically, though not foreseeing such an outcome perhaps, laying the foundation for that colossal institution, the Berkey & Gay Furniture Company's factory, which now stands among the leading furniture factories in the United States.

In November, 1862, Elias Matter, inventorying his tool chest at six dollars, and Julius Berkey with five dollars in cash and a few hundred dollars worth of machinery and materials, formed the partnership of Berkey & Matter, who turned their attention to manufacturing exclusively for the wholesale trade of Chicago and Milwaukee. October 5, 1863, Wm. A. Berkey took a half interest with the young firm, and it was changed to Berkey Bros. & Company, with a capital stock of $17,215.33, including real estate and personal property, for the manufacture of sash, doors, blinds and furniture.

In 1866 Geo. W. Gay purchased half the interest of Wm. A. Berkey and the firm name was again changed to Berkey Bros. & Gay. February 28, 1870, Mr. Matter retired. In January, 1873, Wm. A. Berkey withdrew. The Berkey & Gay Furniture Company proper was incorporated in August, 1873, with a capital stock of $500,000 and has been practically under the same management ever since its organization, the officers being: Julius Berkey, President; Geo. W. Gay, Treasurer; John A. Covode, Secretary.

Their office and salesrooms are at 174 to 180 Canal, on the corner of Hastings street. The factory proper in 1888 comprised three buildings; one 100 by 50 feet and four stories high; the other two three stories high, one 125 by 70 feet the other 8o by 40 feet, all containing the latest and most improved wood working machinery. The principal building, on the corner of Canal and Hastings, containing the offices, shipping departments, storing, finishing and show rooms, is a six story brick block, 75 by 220 feet in size. The property of the company may be said to cover the greater portion of three blocks as platted, the lumber yard and dry kiln occupying one and the buildings the other two.

Every provision is made for the comfort and safety of employees. Heated by steam and carefully guarded from accident, the entire works may be regarded as a model for their uses. The output of the company is from six to eight hundred thousand dollars annually, sent to all parts of the world; though from the class of goods manufactured, consisting of fine furniture in chamber, dining-room, hall and library suits, they naturally seek only the cream of the trade. They have an eastern salesroom, at No. 17 Elizabeth street, New York City.

Four salaried and several commission men represent the company as salesmen; about 450 skilled workmen are kept constantly busy to satisfy the demand for their products; and to reward this force of labor some $20,000 is thrown into circulation each month. At this writing, 1889, the company are finishing a new factory building, largely on the site of the old, extending from Canal street across the canal, over Mill street, and to the river - in size 175 feet on Mill street, 195 feet on the river, 193 feet from front to rear, six stories high and basement, and containing nearly six acres of working space.

Probably there is no larger manufacturing establishment of the kind in the world.

Document Source: The above account is from a "History of the City of Grand Rapids, Michigan" published in 1891 by Albert Baxter. MiGenWeb

Berkey & Gay Furniture Company Labels

Berkey and Gay Branded Label
Braded Label
Berkey and Gay Paper Label
Paper Label
Berkey and Gay Brass Label
Brass Label

The Berkey & Gay Furniture Company used three different types of labels to mark the furniture that they manufactured. The first label was branded into the wood and can often be found inside the drawers of the Berkey & Gay case pieces. Around the year 1900 the branded type label was replaced by a paper label. The brass label was used starting around the 1920's until Berkey and Gay went out of business in the 1940's. Please note that it is not uncommon to find both brass and paper labels used during the same era. Especially on dining room suites where the Berkey & Gay paper labels were quite often used to mark the dining chairs. As with the earlier branded label the Berkey & Gay brass labels can be found inside drawers or on the back of furniture such as beds.

Late 19th Century Furniture by Berkey and Gay (Schiffer Book for Collectors)
Late 19th Century Furniture by Berkey and Gay Schiffer Book for Collectors

List Price: $29.95
Lowest New Price: (36) from $18.89
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Author: Brian L. Witherell,
Product Group: Book
Binding: Paperback
Publisher: Schiffer Publishing  
Label Schiffer Publishing
EAN 9780764306563
Publication Date: 1998-09-01
ISBN: 0764306561
Number of Pages: 320
Sales Rank: 511841
Language:
  • English - Unknown
  • English - Original Language
  • English - Published

Editorial Review

Product Description
The Berkey and Gay furniture Company of Grand Rapids, Michigan, became one of the leading nineteenth century furniture manufacturers in America. Furniture in the Gothic Revival and Eastlake styles by Berkey and Gay became well known for their high quality, and two Neo Grec chamber suites by Berkey and Gay won recognition of high merit at the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exposition. Over 300 photographs of Berkey and Gay furniture from company catalogs are presented with value ranges for today's market in this useful reference book for furniture historians, dealers, and collectors.

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