Marie C. Potthast, 92, a researcher, preserver of furniture maker records

April 21, 2002|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Marie Corcoran Potthast, who preserved and researched the records of Potthast Brothers Inc., the former Baltimore furniture maker whose handmade reproductions were highly esteemed, died Tuesday of heart failure at St. Joseph Medical Center. She was 92.

Born Marie Corcoran in Baltimore, the youngest of five children of Irish immigrant parents from Galway, she was raised in the 1600 block of Wilkens Ave. and graduated in 1926 from St. Martin's Female Academy.

In 1930, she married Theodore J. Potthast Sr. His father, John Potthast, and two uncles, William and Vincent, were German immigrants who established Potthast Brothers Inc. in 1892.

The company, whose slogan was "The True Antiques of Tomorrow," opened its first showroom at 507 N. Howard St. in 1899 and built a factory in 1921 at 1438 Wicomico St., where reproductions of Queen Anne, Sheraton and Hepplewhite furniture were painstakingly constructed by more than 80 craftsmen.

In 1924, Potthast Brothers Inc. moved to 924 N. Charles St., where the company remained until Mrs. Potthast's husband, the last member of the famed furniture-making family, closed the business in 1975.

Mrs. Potthast and her husband, who died in 1998, lived for more than 50 years in their Rodgers Forge home. For nearly two years, she had lived at Brighton Gardens, an assisted-living community near Towson.

It was in the basement of her Rodgers Forge home that Mrs. Potthast carefully tended the records of the company, which had made a dining room set for President Woodrow Wilson's post-White House residence, chairs for film director Cecil B. DeMille, the mayor's desk in Baltimore's City Hall and a dining room set for the State House in Annapolis.

"They were the company sales books and covered the years from 1900 to 1975. In them was listed who bought the piece and how much they paid for it. My father and uncles also drew a picture of the pieces on the bill as well," said her son, Theodore J. Potthast Jr. of Riderwood.

"She became an expert in Potthast furniture and knew many of the firm's customers. She helped them resell their furniture as they aged and moved to smaller quarters. She also performed appraisals for insurance and inheritance taxes," he said.

If someone called about a piece, Mrs. Potthast would sit for hours scouring the sales books until she found the requested information.

Catherine Rogers Arthur, curator of the Homewood House Museum on the campus of the Johns Hopkins University, wrote her master's thesis on Potthast while a student at the University of Delaware and said the sales books were an invaluable record.

"It was in the summer of 1995, and I spent many days at their house going through those books, plus she had a great deal of firsthand knowledge," said Ms. Arthur.

"And it was very clear that she was proud of the firm's work, and her home was naturally filled with Potthast. She had a wonderful metropolitan sideboard, which was the top of the line. It was copied from a sideboard in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and featured elaborate inlay and highly figured mahogany," she said.

Ms. Arthur recalled that every day at 4 p.m., Mrs. Potthast would bring a glass of ginger ale and a plate of cookies as a restorative. "She was a very sweet lady," she said.

"She could remember the most intimate transaction when it came to Potthast," said Lenis Barney, whose Hunt Valley Antiques shop specializes in Potthast furniture. "She always prided herself in remembering the details of a piece."

For more than 50 years, she was a member of the St. Joseph Medical Center Auxiliary, where she volunteered in the gift shop and knitted thousands of woolen caps for infants born at the hospital. "It gave her great pleasure volunteering, and it was very important for her to give something back to those in need," said a granddaughter, Mia P. Walsh of Towson.

Mrs. Potthast was a communicant of St. Pius X Roman Catholic Church, where a Mass of Christian burial was offered Friday.

She is also survived by three other grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

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