With nearly two years of presidential campaign news finally behind us, many Americans are still recovering from political overload. But for one small group of furniture makers and distributors, there is actually a benefit to the presidential election that rolls around every four years — an increase in publicity and business. Even during this year’s campaign when the main issue was the poor economy, presidential furniture reproductions grew in popularity.
“We’ve had a great deal of interest in the last two years — everything from small artifacts like president desk signs to furniture,” says Michael Turback, a partner with New York First Co., a distributor of replica presidential furniture. “We started doing this with the Kennedy Oval Office Chair that was created for the president. That has remained a very steady seller and the sales of that item have picked up a lot in the last year to year and-a-half.”
David Newton of Victorian Replicas in Menlo Park, Calif., has sold more than 50 Resolute desks, also known as the presidential desk. The unforgettable photo of President Kennedy with his son, John Jr., who peeked out from the kneehole of the desk, was what really propelled the piece into the national limelight.
“It’s been fascinating, the people that have them,” Newton says. “Some people use them in their homes, and a large number of people who are lawyers like to have them. After President Kennedy was assassinated, it was put in the Smithsonian and then it was put on a tour around the country. So many people saw it, and that really focused attention on it.”
The original desk was made from the timbers of HMS Resolute, an abandoned British ship discovered by an American vessel and returned to the Queen of England as a token of friendship and goodwill. When the ship was retired, Queen Victoria commissioned the desk and presented it to President Hayes in 1880.
Newton’s reproductions of the Resolute desk and matching sideboard are built from mahogany grown on old Dutch plantations in Java. The plantations have been maintained and, although it’s not a native species, Java has a similar climate to Honduras.
Potential customers have other options for presidential furniture including the Kindel Furniture Co. in Grand Rapids, Mich. Kindel offers its Mount Vernon line, a collection of reproductions of some of the furniture President Washington collected to furnish his famous Virginia mansion.
But now that the 2008 election is history, enthusiasts of presidential furniture are curious to see what an Obama presidency will bring to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
“We’d love to have him sit in one of the chairs we already sell, but of course whatever chair he decides to sit in, we will hopefully carry as well,” says Turback.
This article originally appeared in the January 2009 issue.