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Cohen, Barnett & Sons Ltd (1848-1968)

Cohen, Barnett & Son(s) Ltd

London; furniture makers (fl.1848-1968)

Barnett Cohen was born in 1815 and probably arrived in England in the 1840s. He originally worked as a wholesale retailer in Sun Street, Finsbury (1848) before he began to manufacture furniture. His youngest son, Abraham, joined him in 1867 at 16 years of age. In 1871 they moved to small premises at 148 Curtain Road. The 1875 Post Office Directories and The Furniture Gazette Directory, 1876, recorded the firm at 11 Curtain Road as cabinet makers, the first section of the site which became a large manufactory. 

Advertisement for B. Cohen & Sons Ltd
Advertisement showing Cohen's workshop, showroom and location. Reproduced in Behind the Veneer. The South Shoreditch Furniture Trade and its Buildings (2006), p. 13.

The Furniture Gazette, 5 December 1874, described the business as ‘amongst the largest and most-thriving of the East End furniture warehouses’. The extensive stock of cabinet work in the ground floor showrooms was particularly noted for its ‘good, sharp, clean & crisp’ carving. The firm advertised in The Furniture Gazette from 19 February 1876 until at least 1886, and from 1876 gave other addresses, possibly agents or selling outlets at: 475 & 476 Oxford Street & 27 Sloane Street, Belgravia, London; 85 Bold Street, Liverpool; 4 Trinity Street, Millings Buildings, Leeds; 31 Cockburn Street, Edinburgh; 86 Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow; 20 North Frederick Street, Rutland Square, Dublin & 35 South Methuen Street, Perth. 

Barnett Cohen & Sons also used The Furniture Gazette to fill job vacancies, as seen for example in an advertisement for a working foreman in the looking glass trade [The Furniture Gazette, 15 July 1882].  

By 1880 another son, Michael, had joined the firm and it became known as B. Cohen & Sons. An advertisement in The Furniture Gazette, 1 January 1881, indicated the growth of their premises in Curtain Road to nos. 11-19. 

Also recorded in The Furniture Gazette: Classified List of the Furniture, Upholstery, and Allied Trades (1886), by which year the firm had the telegraphic address of ‘Sideboard, London’ [The Furniture Gazette, 1 January 1886]. Sideboards were one of their core manufactures; an oak sideboard illus. [The Furniture Gazette, 7 October 1876].  The Furniture Gazette, 26 August 1882, recorded that they were the makers of the seating in the newly opened synagogue in St Johns Wood.   

In 1890 The Cabinet Maker commented ‘It would certainly be difficult to find a more eclectic assortment of all that pertains to house furnishing than is found in Messrs. Cohen’s establishment. The goods range from the cheapest – consistent with soundness – extant to the most recherché productions which are to be found in the metropolis, not even excepting aristocratic Bond Street’. The 1902 London Post Office Directory recorded the firm at 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13, 15, 17 & 19 Curtain Road with works in Appold Street, an export department in Worship Street, and also fashionable showrooms off Oxford Street at 15 Berners Street. Their trades were listed as artistic furniture manufacturers, bed & mattress makers, billiard room furnishers, carpet importers & manufacturers, carved oak furniture manufacturers, chair & sofa makers, library furniture makers, picture frame & looking glass manufacturers, office furnishers & fitters, parquet floor manufacturers, upholsterers & blind makers.  They claimed to make for ‘Wholesale and export: a large stock in all styles suitable for home, colonial and foreign markets: specialities for export’. The trademark in the 1902 directory entry was a circle enclosing a drawing of large packing case marked ‘Furniture’ and ‘Export’. An advertisement in the Cabinet Maker, June 1904, stated that they made mantels, overmantels and fitments, a speciality being ‘quaint’ English furniture of original design.

It appears the firm acted as importers of  carved oak furniture from Belgium (the firm of A & F Van Mol Manufactory, Malines, Belgium, was mentioned), and were sole agents of the Imperial Bentwood Co. Ltd and importers of French furniture of all periods (advertisement illus. Massil (1997), pl. 1). In 1906 they were recorded as manufacturers of bamboo furniture. A leaflet of about 1940 of their wares and showing their workshop is illus. Smith & Rogers (2006), p. 3. The furnishings were generally machine made but to a particularly high quality.

In the First World War the firm went into the war production, including aeroplane propellers, and in the Second World War large quantities of furniture for the armed services was produced. Although bombed, the factory continued after the war making Utility furniture and the firm finally left Curtain Road in 1952. Richard Cohen continued in a small way manufacturing special furniture and joinery commissions on the Cambridge Road, outside the East End, and produced an informative booklet in 1958 celebrating the firm’s centenary. The firm ceased production in 1968. 

Sources: Agius, British Furniture 1880-1915 (1978); Walkling, Antique Bamboo Furniture (1979); Kirkham, Mace, Porter, Furnishing the World. The East London Furniture Trade 1830-1980 (1987); Massil, Immigrant Furniture Workers in London 1881-1939 (1997); Smith & Rogers, Behind the Veneer. The South Shoreditch Furniture Trade and its Buildings (2006).