Isaac Harding Hobbs represents the architect who managed to prosper in the economic boom present in the United States in the late nineteenth century. Although his work could be characterizes as an example of Victorian excess, he designed and built numerous residences during this period, both in and outside of Pennsylvania; he published two pattern books of his designs and further published and sold his designs through a major periodical intended for middle-class consumption, Godey's Lady's Book.
Although some information remains sketchy, it appears that Hobbs's father was James Hobbs, an ink manufacturer in Philadelphia; this inference is based on the fact that Isaac Hobbs first appears in the Philadelphia city directories in 1846 as an ink manufacturer. By 1849 the young Hobbs has become a carpenter and by 1859 has transformed into an architect.
By 1870 Isaac Hobbs had been joined by his son George T. Hobbs in the office at 811 Chestnut Street, and the name of his office was revised to Isaac H. Hobbs & Son. By 1873 the first edition of Hobbs' Architecture has appeared, to be followed by an expanded edition, designed to capitalize on Philadelphia's Centennial Exhibition in 1876. Although the second edition was received with considerable and pungent negative criticism by the reviewer for the American Architect and Building News, who commented that "A book more discreditable to all concerned from the authors to the purchasers, is seldom published in any civilized country," critical approval was not needed; and Hobbs continued his great successes in the rural towns of Pennsylvania and New York and even had further designs published in American Architect and Building News, where he continued to demonstrate his fondness for the mansard roof long after other architects had discarded it in favor of the Queen Anne or colonial revival styles.
Following the reign of Samuel Sloan in Godey's Ladies Book, Hobbs began publishing his work in that magazine in 1863. He continued in the capacity of staff architect through 1877, when Louis Godey sold the magazine. In ensuing years other Philadelphia architects appeared in the pages of Godey's, including T. P. Chandler and Albert Dilks. However, Hobbs returned in 1880, and published his last design in the magazine in 1886. It is this connection which provided the underpinning for Hobbs's success as a designer of suburban villas, especially since most of the Godey's designs were later recycled for his own patternbook volumes. Paul Norton has studied the styles commonly used by Hobbs and has noted Gothic Revival, Mansard, Italian Villa, Renaissance Revival, Chalet, and Greek Revival.
Unfortunately, not all would find this connection to Godey's an endorsement, and our American Architect and Building News reviewer finished his scathing portrayal with "It may partly account for things, if we add that these designs were first published in Godey's Ladies' Book (sic), and perhaps this statement would have sufficed without any more extended notice; but we have borne in mind the necessities of a correspondent who once begged us to establish a funny column. "Hobbs's Architecture" is the most amusing thing we have been able to find."
Sandra L. Tatman.
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