Furniture Exhibitions in the 1950s and 1960s
It’s amazing how many people went to Exhibitions to choose their furniture in the late 1950s and throughout the 1960s . My parents travelled from Newcastle upon Tyne to London to choose their dining room suite and I’ve heard from others of their generation who also did their same despite there being a wide choice of retailers nearby .
The main Exhibition to visit was at Earls Court in London , but there were others . Certainly there was one in the 1960s in Manchester which was the next most important to the London one , but there were also smaller ones in Glasgow and Nottingham where some firms exhibited .
We only have 1 catalogue which is for the Public Section of Earls Court in 1957 . A lot of well known companies didn’t exhibit at Earls Court and some got together to hold joint events at other London venues which were aimed at the all important trade customers . At Earls Court in 1957 were McIntosh , Meredew , Stag , Guy Rogers , Gordon Russell and a few other lesser known companies as well as associated companies making beds and vacuum cleaners .
Archie Shine was certainly exhibiting at Earls Court in their heyday of the mid-1960s as there is a report of their stand being so busy that it had to be roped off , and that orders were taken for pieces that would take a year to produce ! The economy was doing so well in the 1960s and very little was imported from other countries at the time . Skilled labour was still the most important issue , and there was nearly full employment so successful companies were making furniture as fast as they could , so buyers had to wait a long time to receive their orders . In fact there was at least one company buying sub-standard pieces from firms like White and Newton , doing some work on them and then selling them as it was commercially viable for both to do so . There were reports in the mid 1960s of Dutch makers increasing volume of production by using less labour intensive methods , but the British furniture industry carried on the traditional ways until late in the 1960s when gradually they too changed . The result was lower quality cheaper products in the 1970s and onwards .
G Plan and Ercol weren’t present at these exhibitions , but they both had spent a lot on branding and catalogues . G Plan was represented all over the UK with showrooms in shops in most towns and cities so didn’t need to use exhibitions . Other companies like A Younger , Dalescraft , Bath Cabinet Makers and many others would come to London at the same time as Earls Court . They set up in Hotel function suites often with a few competitors to show their latest lines to the all-important buyers representing shops large and small all over the UK . How the private buyers at Earls Court and the trade buyers who would go there and all the satellite venues reacted to the latest designs would dictate how successful their designs would be and the orders taken would dictate which lines would be then produced .
The bigger companies would also of course have a team of travelling salesman that would cover various regions visiting all their regular shops seeing owners and buyers , but Earls Court brought everyone to London to see the latest designs for about 10 days so it was an opportunity for all parts of the trade to meet up and see what was around as well as for some companies like McIntosh from Scotland to actually meet some private customers . McIntosh and others were definitely highly focused on designing new pieces to be shown each year , and would soon gauge which were designs were going to fly and which weren’t .
We have a quite extensive collection of original catalogues mainly from the 1960s and 1970s , and have also spent time going through the main trade paper The Cabinet Maker . There are some wonderful designs we’ve seen in print , but never seem to come up for sale as they didn’t prove to be commercially successful back in the day for various reasons .
McIntosh were one of the few mainstream companies who would produce special pieces to order , so dining tables that were extra large , and one off sideboards that were sometimes more costly versions of more standard models . We guess that the place to order and discuss these expensive special items would have been at one of these Exhibitions .
Here are some pieces we’ve got now or have had in the past that are typical of pieces that would have been shown at Furniture Exhibitions and didn’t sell in large numbers !