Monday, January 23, 2012

Is it "Jax" or "Jacks"? Somebody needs to clear this up.

Bill Curry Jax Doorstop
Source: Monkivintage (Etsy)

Ahhh, the jax bookends and doorstops...

I've been looking for a set of these little guys for a while, but the number one rule of thrifting (if you are seeking for something specific, you'll never find it), as always, has held true.

Surely they must be fairly cheap on Ebay or Etsy, right?  I mean it's just a simple painted cast iron form.


Reserve price of $250?  $325?!  $375?!!!

They're dreamin'.

One name keeps the price of these items sky-high: George Nelson.

After seeing this attribution, I'd resigned myself to a life without playground game-themed decor.  However, Mr. Modtomic did a great write-up a while back in which he stated that he believed them to be designed by Bill Curry, founder of Design Line, Incorporated, who also happened to design a jax coffee table.

Bill Curry Jax Coffee Table
Source: Modern_Cactus (Ebay)

I did a bit of research on my own and found a number of threads discussing the origin of the jax, but nothing definitive.  That is until now...

Yes, that's Bill Curry and his elusive jax.  It turns out that an old friend (supposedly) of the Curry family started a blog to set the record straight.

"Bill was my father's best friend and when Bill died in 1971 at the age of 43, my father married his wife Jacquelyn.  Together they did their best to keep Design Line, Inc. alive. The 70s weren't kind to a design company so rooted in the 1960s, so they packet up the remaining inventory and called it quits in 1977. Sadly, Jackie died a few years later in 1985.

Now decades later, my father dusted off a box of Bill's work and its contents - photographs, blueprints, sketches realized and unrealized, letters, writings, brochures, and clippings will help me tell you about Bill Curry and Design Line.

And as for setting the record straight, the Jack bookend (cast-iron prototype shown) is often in various locations on the web incorrectly attributed to George Nelson.  Design Line, Inc. produced a 6" 3 lb rough iron casting in 12 colors which sold for $7, the brass were $9 and a slightly larger 9" 9 lb version and also made a large plastic table base Jack."

I know.  I know.  It's a blog and anyone could just make this stuff up, but what motivation would they have to do so?  It seems pretty legit to me, especially given Curry's other designs.

I also found that a number of manufacturers produced unlicensed copies, of which they sold vast quantities.  So perhaps my quarry will one day turn up at a reasonable price.

Until then, I think that we can call this case (almost) solved!


  1. I agree that sellers ask a ridiculous amount for these things! Only one question remains: Did Curry ever work for George Nelson in any capacity? Nelson, like Charles Eames, was notorious for taking credit for anything designed in his office, whether he had anything to do with it or not.

  2. I'm not sure if they EVER collaborated, but the jax were, from what I've read, designed and produced entirely by Design Line Inc. and had nothing at all to do with Nelson.

    I have heard rumors that the misattribution is due to the appearance of the jax as a prop in a Nelson advertisement. However, I cannot verify this.

  3. Well, maybe two questions: Upon closer examination of the picture of Bill Curry on the family blog, what's up with the knock-offs of the Laurel Mushroom Lamps? That kinda makes one wonder what other designs he copied...and from whom.

    Just playing the Devil's advocate here...LOL

  4. Good eye! Yes, the lamps are very similar. They just have a slightly different base.

    Laurel Mushroom Lamp:

    Design Line Lamp:

  5. And then there's this Laurel base:

    The chicken-or-egg confusion never ends, which was the point of my "You look so familiar" posts. You never know who copied whom till you research further and can find production dates. I have no clue whether Laurel or Design Line lamps came out first. Curry may have dome up with this design too!

    OK,OK...I promise this is my last comment for today. I just get so wound up about all this stuff. I need to get out more, I know. :)

  6. It would seem that others are having the exact same discussion:

    "Design Line is the company that had the Stemlite line of lamps and was from El Segundo, California. Laurel is from New Jersey. Both companies had lots of styles including the iconic mushroom lamp.

    I am not sure which of the two companies first came up with the mushroom shape, but the catalogue of the Pasadena Art Museum California Design 9 show from 1965 shows the Bill Curry Stemlite mushroom lamp, plus some other lamp styles he did. (He also designed cookware and other things for Design Line, plus a crazy multi-colored plastic cattail wall divider!)

    So if the Stemlite mushroom lamp was in this show in the first half of 1965, then I'm pretty sure it had to be produced at the very latest in 1964 sometime. I don't know when Laurel had theirs in production."

    Not the definitive answer that we are looking for, but perhaps someone out in cyberspace knows the truth.

  7. Very interesting! One of these days, when we least expect it, we'll run across the answer...but, like you said, there seems to be a direct correlation between how badly you want to find something and how difficult it is to locate. That goes for information about MCM designers as well as for finding specific pieces for your home, I think.

  8. If you are looking for documentation, look for this catalogue:

    California Design, Pasadena Art Museum, Vol. 9, 1965, Page 66.

    I quote:

    "Jack bookends of cast iron in a variety of colors designed by Bill Curry for Design Line Inc."

    Many greetings,

  9. Hey there! Was just google imaging 'Jax' to explain to a friend how I'd bought a giant doorstop one today! :D Mine was only £24! and there were three there, really cool! I don't know where in the world you are, but I am in UK! Hope you find one :) they are really cool!


  10. I've done a bit of research into the "mushroom" lamp origin. The first patent I could find for such a lamp was Bill Curry's, patent D199141, filed in March 1963. Also, the abstract for this patent mentions an abandoned patent for a similar lamp, filed in November 1961.

    As for Laurel's versions, the earliest mention of a mushroom-type lamp I have been able to find is in a magazine ad from 1973. The earliest use of this ad that I've found is in the New Yorker, Feb 24, 1973. I'm still digging but so far, no luck on anything earlier. Even if earlier references exist, I *really* doubt a Laurel version would have existed before 1961.

  11. Bill Curry never worked for the Nelson office. Nelson was not "taking credit" for anyone's work. It was (and still is to a large extent) that the head of an architecture office or design firm take credit for the work that comes out of that office.

    Laurel copied Bill Curry's design and Bill Curry's design is obviously derivative of Eero Saarinen's "tulip" designs for Knoll.

    I'm always amazed at the "experts" who's opinions are so ill-informed and the people who are so quick to look for the most tenuous connections and nefarious schemes.

  12. Thanks for your contributions everyone! Hopefully this post and the responses that followed will help to clear some of the confusion surrounding these jax out there on the interwebs

  13. How do you tell real jax from fake ones? I have on that I got from my grandmother... just curious.

    1. Honestly, I have no idea. I don't believe that the originals bore any kind of marking and there are so many copies that it'd be just about impossible to know for sure. Given that, It's pretty safe to assume that the vast majority are "fakes". However, that doesn't really decrease their aesthetic appeal.

  14. What do you guys think of the jacks bookends on Etsy? I'm not sure if they are the orginal colors but they are nice.

    1. Looks nice, but something inside of me really would hate paying more than a few dollars for a piece of cast iron. I guess there are others out there who don't feel the same.

  15. I just bought a set of the black jacks on Etsy. They are heavy and nice quality. I got the black but they have several colors.

  16. This might be old news considering the age of the newest post on this blog, but I just picked up a set of Jax / Jacks in a raw iron finish from Target online of all places. With a price tag of $27 for the set, it is hard to beat.