Last weekend I bought another antique easel, an F. Weber crank easel. I now have three of them. They are not easy to find, so I thought I would do a blog post explaining how I’ve been going about getting them. Also, I thought it was worth putting a few pictures online for folks to check out (there is very little real information to be found on antique easels online) Here is a link to a previous blog post on the first of these old easels I found, back in 2012.
I call them the three graces. Just kidding, that’s silly, they’re ‘the nice easels’.
For the past few years, I have been buying used easels, antique and not, because I always need extra easels for my classes. First, a few words on the cheaper new h-frame model easels out right now-
Click here for a link to the Winsor and Newton ‘Shannon’ model H-Frame easel– This is a fine easel. It is sturdy enough, lightweight, and folds up smallish- it’s rack and pinion, so clicks into place and stays there. It doesn’t go up super high, and the mast is tall, so you will need a tall ceiling.
Click here for a link to the Best Richeson ‘Dulce’ Lyptus easel. This is another good h-frame- especially good for sight-size and smaller ceiling heights as the tray goes way up, and the central mast can go down independently. I do have a problem with the ‘best’ model easels though- the central shelf is fastened with a plastic knob that comes loose, and the whole thing comes slamming down like a guillotine. That really sucks, so I keep a heavy clamp underneath them to keep them a bit more sturdy.
Blick is now selling a studio h-frame that is inexpensive, and basically identical to the W&N shannon. While it is identical in size, it is far more rickety, and entirely unstable. I would save your money and get the shannon if you can.
My favorite ‘new’ studio easel is the Mabef 06 this is a medium-size easel that can accommodate both huge and small pictures. Sturdy. I have three of them.
An easel should really last a lifetime, so I don’t mind buying them used, even one of the newer models above. That said, I love finding old easels like the above because they have features you just don’t find today- this antique easel was in very rough shape. I took it all apart, sanded and oiled all the wood, glued and screwed everything back together, and had to have a friend custom build a bunch of new parts for it in his machine shop.
Here’s what I know about it: The good folks at Martin/Weber helped me out, and I can say with confidence that this is a very early version of the Number 20 ‘Rembrandt’ Winding Studio Easel produced by F. Weber Co from 1903-1919. (Number 20 was the only one with drawers). I am guessing that it is much earlier than my other two as there are some major differences- the casters (wheels) are made of wood, not plastic/rubber. The tray length is different, and the design of the base and frame of the easel interlocks differently (weakly, but beautifully hinged, instead of bolted). The pegs on the mast are all wood, with a metal washer, rather than all-metal. All three of them have to have been produced before 1919, as after that date the company name changed to “F. Weber Co, Inc.” and the nameplates would reflect that. The other two are either the Number 17 or 18 model Rembrandt easel.
If anyone has access to the Getty Archives, they have the weber old catalogs, you might be able to find more information:
Look at those drawers.
Like my other Weber Easels, it has the unique spiral cast-iron peg mounting crank rather than threaded rod that was already popular at the time.
Beautiful solid base for storing a drawing board or canvas, and ornate hinges
Embossed ‘F. Weber&Co. Artist & Draughtsman’s Materials, Philadelphia’ nameplate, clearly older than my other two models
compare the above simple nameplate from one of my newer Weber easels
The easel has a simple system for doing small canvases up at eye-level
As I said above, the easel was lacking some pretty major pieces- I had my friend and neighbor Todd Cahill of Steamachine Sculpture make them– he had to make 3 new pegs for the crank, thread a new piece of rod for the clamp that holds the canvas down as it had stripped, and invent a new tightening Knob mechanism for the mast support. Todd does incredibly precise work, functioning steam engine kinetic sculptures and works with old belt-driven metal lathes and all sorts of wonderful machines I can’t pronounce. Here is a video of Todd showing what he does, and clicking here will bring you to another video, which shows a bit of our studio complex and surroundings. Todd has been very helpful to me with my odd studio projects (he saved the day on a couple of my sculpture stands I built back in December), but the guy is a fascinating artist. He just had a show of his drawings and process at the Charles River Museum of Industry and Innovation. Todd’s drawings are beyond impressive, and you should see them in person to appreciate the meticulous linework.
My number 20 Easel was missing one of these cast-iron knobs- if the early model even had them
Todd built me this in wood, and i stained it to match. Metal detailing on the other side.
So- the reason I go to all the trouble and expense of restoring these antique easels is because they just function better than new ones tend to. They have a sturdy crank system, and they are seriously built to last. They are also beautiful, the last time I did a blog post on them in 2012 I had a string of designers write me trying to buy them. There is a trend of putting Flat Screen TV’s on antique easels, and though they would have paid me good money, I am a romantic and can’t imagine parting with them. You can’t help but daydream about who has used it before you.
Here is my advice on easel searching:
This is the hard part- learn to recognize (often from bad photos) the basic easel designs you are interested in. Is it an H-Frame? Does it have casters? Does it have a crank? Compare, for instance, an Anco-Bilt antique studio easel to the pictures of mine above. One hundred percent of the times I have bought an easel online I know more about the easel than the person selling it. There are little elements of the design that give away what it is, and photos online are almost always terrible.
Patience. There are not a ton of them out there.
I have a search set on craigslist to ‘easel’. Any other keyword is too specific. You will need to wade through tons of ikea kid’s easels, plastic easels, and presentation easels. That said, it’s the way I have ended up buying nearly every used easel in this room. I use this each particularly if I am traveling to another area and I will have room in the car.
Freecycle.org works pretty well in Boston, check it in your area.
The antique shops will have easels. Sometimes overpriced, sometimes not.
I search on Ebay for ‘antique easel’ or ‘vintage easel’. This has turned up some nice ones. Try to find one nearby though, that can be hard.
If you end up shipping one, use a trucking freight company. It will save you literally hundreds of dollars.
Also, I have gotten good at inspecting the easels when I go to buy them- I ask myself, ‘how much work will it be to get this thing working?’ Will it just need some glue and a couple of screws, or something more?
When you get the easel, decide if it needs to be taken apart and repaired (it usually does, whether new or old).
See the tiny nails coming out of the tray and clamp? That allows you to paint all the way to the edge. I love those.
If anyone finds anything out there, leave a photo in the comments. And designers, just buy one of the Restoration Hardware reproduced crank easels, and hire an artist to use it for a few weeks 😉 Leave the antique easels to people that will use them.