Samuel Anderson Robb: master of the “living” tree


Baseball player from the Folk Art Museum.
Baseball player from the Folk Art Museum.

The fate of Samuel Anderson Robb, one of the most eminent woodcarvers working in America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, was predetermined. The son of a Scottish shipwright was interested in wood from an early age, then in his youth he became an apprentice to the then famous shipwright Thomas Brookes. During the day, the guy worked hard in the workshop, honing his technique and learning the basics of the craft, and in the evenings he studied at the National Academy of Design and took classes at the Cooper Institute.

Samuel Anderson Robb Terpsichore.

By 1876, Samuel felt that he had finally accumulated enough experience, knowledge and money to start his own business, and opened a small store on Canal Street. Fifteen years later, Robb ran the largest wood carving business in the city and supervised ten experienced carvers. The main competitors were the same teacher Thomas Brooks and John Cromwell.

Samuel was engaged in the production of trademarks for tobacco brands. As a rule, these were life-size wooden statues of Indians, but he is inscribed in American history in golden letters as a master of the production of advertising figurines and carved figures for circus trailers.

Samuel Anderson Robb Санта Сэмюэля Робба
Samuel Robb’s Santa.

Many works have survived in good condition to this day and are in demand among collectors who are willing to shell out a lot of money for wooden sculptures. So, in 2014, Sotheby’s auction house sold a figure of Santa Claus made by Robb in 1923 for $875,000. And passionate hunters for artifacts and antiques are vigilantly monitoring the appearance of particularly interesting carver products on the market.

The carriage of a traveling circus.
The carriage of a traveling circus.

This is not to say that all the figures from Robb’s workshop are priceless. The production employed hired workers, so Samuel’s authorship must be proven. By the way, statues of Indians, which Robb’s company made for tobacco shops, are often found, but rare ones receive special attention from experts. There must be good reasons for this, such as unusual shapes or a non-standard pose. Or the master’s autograph. Samuel rarely signed his statues.

Indian figure.
Indian figure.

The collection of the Colonial Williamsburg Museum in Virginia includes carvings of Terpsichore and Santa Claus, presumably from Robb’s workshop. The Santa statue was used in the Lutheran church to store cards, papers and other printed materials (the grandfather has a special box on his back). And Terpsichore once decorated a circus cart. The museum plans to conduct additional research to determine with certainty who carved these sculptures. And if it is proven that they are related to the legendary American carver, their market price will rise significantly.

Samuel Anderson Robb Indian from the tobacco shop.
Indian from the tobacco shop.

Samuel Robb carved figures in a unique manner – his statues seem alive and very organic. The Museum of American Folk Art houses one of the master’s works – a figure of a baseball player, for which antique hunters are willing to pay a fortune. If this product were to appear on the market, which is unlikely, it would be valued at a minimum of 500 thousand dollars. And this is not the limit.

Samuel Anderson Robb Santa Claus by Samuel Robb.
Santa Claus by Samuel Anderson Robb.
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