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Old Chairs To MendAuthor: Carl W. Drepperd
( Article orginally published May 1952 )
"OLD Chairs to Mend" doesn't mean what many of us might think; to repair chairs by mending broken parts. Actually, this street cry, heard at some time of every weekday, on the streets and alleys of most towns from the 1700's through to the 1850's, was the call of the chair bottomer; the man who put new rush, splint, rope, lime, cord or husk seats in the common chairs of the people. And the common chairs of the people were the soft seated ladder and splat backs in the 18th century and the same general type of chair, plus the so-called fancy chair, in the 19th century. The street crier here pictured was an American who plied his trade in London because he was carried to England a prisoner of war during the Revolution. Israel Potter, whose memoir was published 1824 at Providence, R. I, remained in England for 30 years and did not get home to America until 1823, in which year he celebrated his 78th birthday! His memoir states that some days he "got four chairs for bottoming, and some days but one, in the conduct of the business."
Chair bottoms of rush are perhaps the most unsatisfactory of all "soft bottoms." Unsatisfactory, that is, in terms of lasting quality. The best bottoming was linen or hemp rope. Then came "lime bottoming" which meant a sort of rope, twisted not from flax or hemp fibre, but from the inner bark of the linden tree. Then came the "tape-seat" woven of narrow fabric, in the same fashion as the splint seat. Then came the true "splint seat" woven of pliable flat withes cut from hazV, willow, or other flexible sapling wood. Finally came the seat of twisted rushes, and then, least satisfactory of all, the makeshift rush seat of twisted green cornhusks. All these various seatings were the Chair Menders job. All were put on by itinerants who cried their trade along the streets and lanes. So much we can know about one antique, from the crying trade of chair mender. And this, too: if our ancestors really broke a chair, they had it repaired by a chair maker, at his shop. "Mending" was only bottoming.