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Pattern books and the Queen Anne style in America Smeins, Linda E.


Modern Queen Anne architecture was transported to the United States from England at the time of the Centenary celebration in Philadelphia in 1876, and, largely through the medium of architectural pattern books, was re-interpreted and adapted as a distinctive aesthetic and commercial phenomenon for middle class suburban consumers. While leading architects underscored colonial aspects of Queen Anne in shingle houses, entrepreneurial pattern book architects perceived Queen Anne as an opportunity to introduce an unprecedented plurality of architectural features and a vehicle to sell professional and mail order architectural services. Within a decade, pattern book house plans were being sold by the thousands, and Queen Anne houses began to line the streets of the nation's rapidly growing communities and suburbs. As late as 1895, the phenomenal popularity of the fashion prompted one critic to observe that calling a home "Queen Anne" assured its sale. There was not, however, a definitive Queen Anne home. A merging of seemingly irreconcilable medieval and classic stylistic categories, Queen Anne eluded definition because it broke stylistic constrictions and became instead a flexible mode of design more frequently termed "so-called Queen Anne." Introduced when traditional conceptions of architecture confronted modern needs, it provided a locus for examining contemporary theoretical issues and reassessing domestic architectural design, thereby in a longer perspective contributing to innovations in American domestic architecture. Queen Anne was introduced at the onset of intense competition in pattern book entrepreneurship. At a time when the distinction between builder and professional architect was being more clearly defined, pattern book architects, most of whom were not professionally educated, assumed authority as arbiters of taste and architectural quality for a middle class home-building clientele who traditionally hired builders but had pretensions for architect-designed homes. A variety of plans, specifications, even loans, furniture, and building materials were made available through mail order, permitting architects to claim that their designs adapted to the client's functional needs and building site and allowed artistic interpretation. This study describes the American origins and development of "so-called Queen Anne" architecture and reconsiders the professional and popular contexts in which Queen Anne became a pervasive domestic architectural form during the last quarter of the century. Moreover, contextual analysis of the language used in pattern books reveals that the essays and descriptive phrases accompanying the illustrations adroitly supported a dominant ideology of social mobility and moral order held at a time of political, social and economic disjunction. Appropriating language already holding strong associative meaning, the authors promoted ownership of a well-designed home as a communication of individual character, social status, and moral responsibility to family and community. Thus the study of the promotion of Queen Anne in pattern books, a resource that has hitherto been little examined by architectural historians, provides a means to comprehending the relevance of this mode of design to social, political and economic conditions.

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