Hardware Fantasia

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The art of window dressing, in our opinion, is in a dreadful state of decline today. Simple, elegant, austere: this is the new ton . We were reminded of this fact recently when we chanced upon a little brown book which recalls the art in its heyday. It has a catchy title: The American Hardware Store: A Manual of Approved Methods of Arranging and Displaying Hardware , and it was written by one R. R. Williams in 1892.

Williams was no wild-eyed visionary. As he said quite pointedly in his book, “The primary object of windows is to give the necessary light to the interior of the store.” With that fact established, he moved on to a new proposition: Why leave anything on a shelf when it can work for you out front? His pictures show how. That cutlery eagle is all spoons save for the French cooking knives in his tail and wings, which are seven feet wide from tip to tip. The extravaganza at lower right uses planes for the face, hands, and feet, plainly permitting the pun in the sign, “Plain Planing by a Plain Man.” The pig made from brushes? The “Saw Bicycle”? Easy enough. It was with “Household Wants” and “Horse and Sleigh,” where pudding pans and oil heaters double as faces and bodies, that Williams rose to his full artistic height. Surely modern window dressers could profit from studying the techniques of this old master and approaching windows with his plucky attitude. “Give me the tools,” he seems to say to the world, “and I will finish the job.”