The Fancy Furniture of Prudent Mallard

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NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA– Through every era, New Orleans has knack for shining through the darkness. As the coronavirus leaves the community socially distanced and at home, the Historic New Orleans Collection offers an opportunity to visit the past from the comfort of your own home through elaborate virtual tours. Lydia Blackmore is the Decorative Arts Curator and also behind the virtual tour entitled, Goods of Every Description: Shopping in New Orleans. Mantel clock, Prudent Mallard.

One of the artifacts on the tour at first glance is not much to look at but it has a story. A mantel clock was made in France and meant to ornament a fireplace mantel. The clock face is a bright white enamel set into a dark wood frame and embellished with inlaid brass, tortoiseshell, and mother of pearl.

The French clockmaker marked the face of the clock with the name of New Orleans retailer Prudent Mallard, one of the most famous providers of fashionable furniture in the Gulf South. Mallard operated a Fancy Goods and Furniture store on Royal Street from 1838-1874. Mallard’s shop is known for monumental armoires in revival styles, massive tester beds with carved cabochons on the head and footboards, and delicate parlor furniture in the French taste.

Mallards’ furniture was remarkably stylish because it was imported directly from the centers of style in France and New York, and he took regular trips across the country by way of the sea, to buy stock in the latest fashions. Elegant shoppers could furnish their entire homes with everything, from the chandeliers and wallpaper, to the furniture and mantel ornaments. Mallard laid out what was considered an “ideal” room. In many of his ads, Mallard called his store a “fancy goods warehouse.” “Fancy goods” was a catch-all term for miscellaneous luxuries and decorative objects. Mallard sold lighting devices, looking glasses, mantel clocks, bronze ornaments, and porcelain vases and figurines to complete stylish homes.

Mallard’s store was located on “Furniture Row.” The first two blocks of Royal Street where the epicenter for the Furniture trade in the mid-19th century was located. The shop was the source of high-style home furnishings that filled the huge plantation homes of the Gulf South. Those homes were largely built and furnished with the profits from enslaved agricultural labor. Following the Civil War, there was not as much demand for high-style furniture, leading to the decline of Furniture Row and Prudent and Mallard.

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