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Personal Name Recipient

Allison, James W., 1833-1898


Letter from Griffin & Randall to James W. Allison discussing issues with paints and stains and details of fireplaces.


April 3rd ‘95 James W. Allison Esq. Richmond. Va. Dear Sir, Your's of the 1st at hand and its contents noted. The sample for the staining of Black Walnut has been sent to Peters. The color and character of the stain is right, but a little too dark. In the case of the Ash and Cypress doors, he may have to use a different stain to get the same effect, and we have no objection to his using a filler in the case of the latter if it is so transparent that it will not make the staining muddy and dull as he did in the case of the Black Walnut samples which he sent us. We have directed him to send us a sample of Black Walnut stained with "Dexter Mahogany" in order that we may be certain that he understands it. The staining of this wood both in the case of the doors and of the stair-case is of too much consequence to have any mistake made about it. In regard to Newman's contract for the hardware, as we wrote you before, almost everything except the small latches & hinges and the silver plated work for First Floor has been changed in the present list from that originally specified in order to make a more satisfactory job throughout and keep the final cost within the contract price. All the "Bower-Barff" finish has been taken out, and brass (Boston finish) with black porcelain knobs, has been substituted. The change in the inside blinds from four to five folds make a large difference in the cost of the work. Consequently it would be of no advantage to have Mr. Griffin go over the list when we have the original before us with which to compare it. The base-board was originally white pine in the Attic, and we overlooked the fact that it had been changed to oak. Its finish will therefore [will canceled] be the same as the doors, if you like the idea of staining the oak that color. As a rule we stain the oak its own "antique" color whatever the doors may be; but when we last talked the matter over with Mrs. Allison we understood that she preferred the base and doors to be alike. It will be best probably to wait until the finish is in place before this question is decided, so that we can see the effect of either. We are of course very much disappointed with the result of using "Eurika" paint; but as we simply took the word of the manufacturers who certainly should have known all about it, and who were ready to stake the reputation of their paint upon the result of two coats, we do not see why you should "visit their sins upon our heads," now that we have found that more will be required to do the work. Mr. Randall did not wish to use the paint for the very reason that he had never seen it used on woodwork, our experiences with it being entirely confined to the "Eurika Metalic" paint which is the best in the market and has the highest recommendations from engineers and architects. He inquired about it from a number of practical men but found no one who had used it. He then called in the agent of the "Eurika" paint, and received from him this assurance of the value of the material over other paints. Now if he had, on the contrary, struck it out of the specifications and substituted ordinary white lead paint, we would have had to put on four coats instead of three, and the cost to you would have been greater than it will be now with this extra coat. In regard to the enamelling, you must remember that there is no paint in existence that will give the same effect without rubbing that enamelled work has with it, while the difference in the cost is about double, as the latter requires five coats and a great deal of labor in the rubbing. In other words your painting inside was not "enamelled" work at all, but simply what is known as "enamelled paint" which has a certain amount of varnish in it for its lustre, but requires no rubbing whatever, and is not supposed to give anything like the same result as the regular "enamelling". We suggested the additional coat, the rubbing and the varnish finish in your principal rooms merely because we saw that you wanted an "enamelled" finish; but that was never contemplated in the specifications; and in fact we do not think it at all necessary or advisable. We do not think that you have been [mislead any canceled] led into a mistake or into unnecessary expense from having used this paint; and we have on our part done all in our power, first to get reasonable assurance from the only authorities on the subject as to its qualities, and afterwards to assist you in making good an error that was based upon reasonable reliance upon those authorities. As you well know, the drawings and specifications for your house were not complete and were furthermore full of errors and inconsistances when the house was begun. The labor of making all the necessary changes, and in filling them out properly in order that you might have a suitable result with the least additional cost, has been very great; and has been accompanied by an amount of loss to us which you naturally can not realize nor estimate. The fault for your own loss, as well as for our own, can not be made up now except by patiently accepting the situation and as far as possible making good the defects at the lowest possible expense. No one appreciates more than [you canceled; next word interlined] we do the difficulties in a matter of this kind, and the serious disappointments that it provokes; but at the same time as the cause of this dates back to the beginning of the work and not to its present management, nothing is left for discussion except "the best way out of the hole." In regard to the fire-place facings and hearths, we think the small tile would answer very well for one or two; but of course they would not give the effect that the marble or large tile has. A very good hearth and probably the cheapest and best is blue-stone or slate (oiled). It looks well, and goes with any kind of facing. When oiled it is nearly black. It certainly is much preferable to the brick hearths specified, and should cost much less. We are now getting from Batterson & Eisele estimates for marble facings & hearths for Library and for some of the Bed Rms. These you can compare with the estimates for tiling, and select marble for certain rooms or for facings only, using slate hearths, and tiles elsewhere. Stowe & Nuckols have drawings of mantels. The trouble with "Rock Maple" is its shrinking and buckling. Ga. pine should make a better floor. The staining of Library will not look so dark when you see the whole wood work done. Your's truly Griffin & Randall [ALS, Griffin and Randall to James W. Allison, April 3, 1895, on letterhead: Griffin & Randall Architects [48 Exchange Place canceled] New York.] [edited by TOC and TMH]

Personal Name Subject

Allison, James W., 1833-1898 -- Correspondence

Corporate Name Subject

Griffin & Randall -- Correspondence; Batterson & Eisele

Topical Subject

Architecture, Domestic -- Virginia -- Richmond; Architects and builders; Decoration and ornament, Architectural -- Virginia -- Richmond; Architecture -- Details; Building -- Estimates -- Virginia -- Richmond; Hardware; Stains and staining; Doors; Paint; Stains and staining; Enamel and enameling; Hearths; Fireplaces

Geographic Subject

Richmond (Va.) -- Historic houses, etc.; Richmond (Va.) -- Buildings, structures, etc.


Richmond (Va)


letters (correspondence)

Local Genre

text; archives


Still Image; Text

Digital Format





This material is in the public domain in the United States and thus is free of any copyright restriction. Acknowledgement of Virginia Commonwealth University Libraries as a source is requested.


Building VCU’s President's House


Original letter: Letter from Griffin & Randall to James W. Allison, 1895 April 3, James W. Allison papers, M 1, Special Collections and Archives, James Branch Cabell Library, Virginia Commonwealth University.

File Name


Letter from Griffin & Randall to James W. Allison, 1895 April 3



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