History of Humboldt County, California
With a Biographical Sketches
History by Leigh H. Irving
Historic Record Company
Los Angeles, California 1915
RODNEY BURNS REDWOOD NOVELTY CO. — About the beginning of the twentieth century Rodney Burns established a wholesale business in redwood novelties and built a factory at Eureka, where in February of 1911 he formed a copartnership with J. Earl Clark and established a retail department for local sales and for a mail order business that since has maintained a satisfactory growth. The history of the business is an epitome of continuous success most gratifying to the proprietors and to all the people of Eureka. At the San Francisco Land Show held in September, 1913. the company had a large exhibit and received a gold medal, while their famous bowl has received awards at the California state and local fairs. A specimen of their products may be seen in the Field museum at Chicago as well as in the Ferry building, San Francisco, while department stores and curio shops in many of the Pacific coast cities carry a full line of their novelties.
The Stump House which was conceived and created by Rodney Burns and his associates in Eureka is a structure resembling a mammoth redwood log as it lies in the forest after being felled. A unique entrance adds to the attractiveness of the institution. Within the strange building is an array of manufactured articles such as can be found nowhere else except in establishments directly supplied from the Stump House. All tourists visiting Eureka visit the factory and purchase a redwood burl souvenir, which they state is, in its varied forms, the most useful and least expensive of any souvenir to be found throughout the country. Magazines frequently publish articles descriptive of the interesting enterprise on the corner of Broadway and Clark street. Perhaps no story of the place has roused a wider interest than that by Harriet Williams Myers published in the St. Nicholas of June, 1913, from which we quote as follows:
“One of the most interesting natural deformities is the so called hurl, a growth found on the walnut and other trees, among them the redwood trees of Northern California. It is said to be the result of disease and makes an ungainly lump on the tree. The largest that has ever been found grew around the base of the tree and measured twenty five feet in circumference and eighteen feet in height. It was hollow, the walls being from two to six feet thick. The tree itself was only about six feet in diameter. A burl of this size is of rare occurrence. Only one tree in every four or five hundred in the forest is thus affected and only about one burl in every thirty five is perfect, these perfect forms being beautifully marked with darker veins and spots, in circular patterns, reminding one somewhat of the curly birch or maple. The wood is susceptible of a high polish and is made into table tops, picture. frames, bowls, plates, napkin rings, vases and other objects. There is in Eureka, Humboldt county, Cal., a unique house made for the sale of these burl articles. It consists of the stump and log of a giant Sequoia. The log, at the end of which one enters, is forty feet long and sixteen feet in diameter, while the stump standing beside it is twenty feet in diameter. From the log room one enters the work room of the establishment, while the big, circular stump room contains the finished articles for sale.”
An injury to the trees, such as forest fires, insect attacks, gnawing of animals or excessive pruning, stimulates the growth of dormant buds or gives rise to a great many new ones which cannot develop into branches, but do form a gnarly and interwoven mass of woody tissue of very intricate design. The wood thus formed is very dense and hard. Inside the bark the burl is covered with spiny warts at the points where the buds emerge. The largest and most beautiful of all burls occurs on the redwood tree. At rare intervals in a redwood forest is found a tree bearing this growth, either around the base of the tree or high up on the trunk. Most of these are plain grained wood and but a small proportion possess the beautiful figure that makes the burl so valuable. The beauty of the redwood burl lies in its diversity of grain and richness of color. The variety of figuring in this wood is remarkable. Nearly every burl has a distinct pattern and this varies greatly in different parts of the same burl. The color varies from a rich dark red to a light pinkish shade. Much of the burl has a strong brownish cast resembling walnut, but some parts are light in color and others will match the deepest shades of mahogany. Redwood burl is handled and sold by board measurement and each one averages as a rule from five hundred to fifteen hundred board feet, but occasionally there is found a very large burl. In 1911 the Rodney Burns Redwood Novelty Company cut one scaling over ten thousand board feet. On account of the irregular shape and the small size of the ordinary burl, it is very difficult to get large pieces, and when found they are valued very highly. The products of the company include nut bowls, serving trays, fruit bowls, vases, cribbage boards, gavels, candle sticks, natural edged picture frames, pedestals, tabourettes, tables, match holders, napkin rings, pin cushions, cigar jars, pin trays, canes, pipes, ash trays, darners, paper weights and darning eggs, all of them very ornamental and many of them also to be valued for their practical utility.