The Old Man of the Mountain Frames

The Clinton W. Schwamb Company, like its predecessor Charles Schwamb and Son, manufactured frames for retailers such as frame shops, furniture stores, and galleries. One of the Schwambs’ strengths was making specialty items to the exact specifications of their customers. On a tour in 2011, Wayne Schwamb, who worked with his father Elmer at the Mill in the 1950s and 1960s, pointed to one such item: the Old Man of the Mountain frame.

Schwamb Mill’s sample of Old Man of the Mountain frame with detail, pattern, and wholesale pricing information in pencil. This shows the frame from the reverse side (OSM collection)

The profile of the Old Man can be seen on either side of this panel frame with oval site. From his father Elmer and grandfather Clinton, Wayne Schwamb understood this to be an item for the New Hampshire tourist trade. He tells us that since his grandfather’s time, the family frequently went to the White Mountains. We have Clinton Schwamb’s Appalachian Mountain Club trail guide from 1918 in the archives, and Wayne Schwamb has shared a photograph of his father and grandparents hiking at Lake of the Clouds.

Appalachian Mountain Club guide, signed by Clinton W. Schwamb, and trail maps of the White Mountains, 1916-1917 (OSM archives)
Photograph of Maude and Clinton Schwamb (left) and their son Elmer (with canteen) and two unidentified friends at Lake of the Clouds in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Based on Elmer’s apparent age of fifteen or so, the image was taken circa 1919. (Courtesy of Wayne Schwamb)

The Old Man of the Mountain frames were made for the Shorey Studio, a business run by Guy L. Shorey  (1881-1961) in Gorham, New Hampshire. Shorey was a pioneering photographer of the White Mountains, capturing images from the trails and peaks, as well as panoramas of the ranges. As a working photographer, he also documented life in New Hampshire in the early twentieth century.

An excellent exhibit on Guy Shorey can be viewed online at the Museum of the White Mountains, Plymouth State University.

The Shorey Studio included the Gorham shop and a Tea Room in Randolph, New Hampshire. Guy Shorey’s brother ran a similar shop in Lancaster, New Hampshire. The shops sold postcards and prints of Shorey’s work. Framed Shorey prints can be found in antique stores and on various online re-sale and auction sites, usually with the characteristic green-and-white Shorey Studio label on the back.

Starting in 1913, the Shorey Studio regularly purchased oak moulding from the Schwambs, in a variety of widths, from 3 inches to less than an inch, as well as ovals. In 1919, a new item appears in the Schwamb’s order book:

Order for two-piece frame set in the order books of the Clinton W. Schwamb Company (OSM archives)

Translating this from the order book shorthand:

106 gum wood ovals, 3/8” thick, with a site (front opening) 2-5/8 inches wide by 3-7/8 inches tall, and a rabbet (reverse side opening for the print to go in) 2-7/8 inches wide by 4-1/8 inches tall.

105 gum wood blocks, 4-1/2 inches wide by 2-1/8 inches tall, 7/16 inches thick, with a cut inset along the bottom and a moulded profile around the front edge.

Here is an example of the block in the Schwamb’s collection of patterns (with the customer name and the completion date of a later order).

Schwamb Mill sample of wood block used for Shorey Studio’s two-piece Old Man of the Mounatin frame set, 1925. The Schwambs saved sample patterns of customer work, usually recording the customer name and order date.

And from a recent online sale, here is an image of the completed item from the Shorey Studio:

Picture of a two-piece Old Man of the Mountain frame set by the Shorey Studio (from item sold in 2019 on Antiques Navigator)

From 1919 to 1932, the Shorey Studio purchased at least 1,700 of this frame set from the Schwambs, then finished the set with Guy Shorey’s photograph of the Old Man of the Mountain and a quote about the Old Man by Daniel Webster:

Men hang out their signs indicative of their respective trades; shoe makers hang out a gigantic shoe; jewelers a monster watch, and the dentist hangs out a gold tooth; but up in the Mountains of New Hampshire, God Almighty has hung out a sign to show that there He makes men.

The Shorey Studio remained a customer of the Schwamb mill until at least the 1940s. On November 16, 1931, the Schwambs recorded in their pattern list the newer style panel frame with an oval site and profiles of the Old Man of the Mountain on either side. The dimensions of the oval site and rabbet, and the width of the panel, are exactly those of the earlier gum oval two-piece product.

Here is one of these frames as finished by the Shorey Studio:

Old Man of the Mountain panel frame as finished by the Shorey Studio. (Photo from Guy Shorey: Among the White Hills, curated by Dr. Peter Crane, Museum of the White Mountains, Plymouth State University. Permission from Peter Crane, Curator, Gladys Brooks Memorial Library, Mount Washington Observatory, New Hampshire

We have no correspondence between Guy Shorey and the Schwambs. We expect they met at some point because one order gives delivery instructions as “self” – suggesting that either a Schwamb delivered the samples on a trip to New Hampshire or a representative of the Shorey Studio picked them up while in the Boston area. It would be interesting to know if the panel frame with matching Old Man profiles is a design by Guy Shorey or something suggested by the Schwambs.

From Wayne Schwamb, we know of his father and grandfather’s love for the White Mountains. In 1901, Clinton Schwamb, in his early twenties, travelled to Chicago and Denver for a three-week visit to his cousins in those cities. His travel journal often reflects his sense of belonging in New England – “give me the Old Bay State every time.” Perhaps in Guy Shorey, an entrepreneur about Clinton’s age, who built a business and promoted the White Mountains as a destination, he found both a customer and a kindred spirit.

Thanks to Wayne Schwamb for sharing his family’s history and artifacts, and to Peter Crane for permission to show the completed Shorey Studio panel frame. Readers interested in Guy Shorey as a photographer and entrepreneur can visit the online exhibit Guy Shorey: Among the White Hills, curated by Dr. Peter Crane, Museum of the White Mountains, Plymouth State University. Also of interest is the book Among the White Hills: The Life and Times of Guy L. Shorey by Guy A. Gosselin and Susan B. Hawkins, with Foreward by Bradford Washburn. Peter E. Randall, Publisher.

Dermot Whittaker, Schwamb Mill Preservation Trust, Inc.

This period of museum closures due to the COVID-19 is a challenge for non-profits like the Old Schwamb Mill. Your contribution in support of the Mill, however modest, is much appreciated at this time. We look forward to reopening soon!

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