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Old And Sold Antiques Digest Article

Old Chairs In Modern Houses
(Part 2 Of 3)

Four types of chairs were developed in Queen Anne's time: the slat-back and banister-back chairs of the cottages, the roundabout, the Dutch bandy-leg chair of the better homes, and the universal Windsor.



The first was less distinctly an innovation than the others, being a development of earlier, simple, home-made types. Some of them are ugly and uncomfortable, but for the most part they are very quaint and picturesque, and, though hardly suited to our modern rooms, they are excellent for porches where the rest of the furnishings are reasonably in keeping.

The slat-backs had turned uprights, legs, underbraces, and frequently arms. Across the backs were three, four, or five horizontal slats, usually slightly curved.

The banister-back had also turned legs and uprights and sometimes arms. The backs were high and straight, occasionally with carving-a Stuart survival-but usually without. In place of the horizontal slats there were upright spindles, usually four in number, and generally flat, though sometimes rounded on the back.

Both of these types had rush seats and were of soft or hard wood, usually painted black. Similar chairs were made in New England, both then and later, which are not uncommon to-day, but the genuine English Queen Anne chairs are much rarer. It is often difficult, however, to tell the difference. They are frequently found with rockers, but these were undoubtedly a later addition.

While the roundabout or corner chair is usually placed in this period, examples of it are sometimes found in all styles, from the turned chairs of the seventeenth century down to the Chippendale period. It was a square chair, standing cornerwise, with round back and arms running around two sides, and the fourth corner and leg in front. The Queen Anne type had usually upright spindles in the back, or three uprights and two splats, as did Chippendale's roundabouts later. The seats were generally rush or wooden, though the finer examples had upholstered seats. Sometimes a head-piece was placed on top of the back, in the middle, frequently with spindles and like a comb in appearance, giving the name of combback. The roundabout makes a good hall or piazza chair, according to its style.

The Windsor chair was probably of English peasant origin, and did not derive its name from Windsor, Connecticut, though made there later. Windsor chairs were made in this country as early as 1725, and in England probably as early as Queen Anne's time. They held their popularity until well into the nineteenth century, and are, in fact, still manufactured. They were the most common and popular chairs of the eighteenth century-strong, useful, and fairly comfortable-the every-day chairs of the period.

Windsor chairs were commonly made of hickory or ash, and sometimes beech. Occasionally the legs and stretches were of maple. A Windsor chair made of the same kind of wood throughout is rarely found. They were usually painted black or dark green, though some were not painted at all. The humbler makers sometimes stained them with lampblack and turpentine. Some of the English Windsors had a solid or pierced splat in the back, but for the most part the backs were made of a number of small, round, upright spindles. The majority of the backs were round at the top, though some had a straight, curved, or bow-like horizontal top piece, giving a fan or comb effect. A few had comb-like extensions on top as head-rests. The seats were usually of solid wood, and the legs and underbraces were turned. Windsors were made with and without arms. Those having the ends of the arms carved like a closed or open hand are especially sought by collectors. These styles persisted throughout the century, and it is consequently difficult to determine the exact age of a Windsor chair.

The American makers developed several variations, though in general they copied the English styles. They made armchairs, side chairs, kitchen chairs, and writing-chairs, the last having one wide arm. Rockers are frequently found on American Windsors, particularly on fan-backs. These rockingchairs are either post-Revolutionary, or else the rockers are subsequent additions to early chairs.

The Windsor possesses a quaint grace and strength that makes its long popularity easily understood. For piazzas or for bungalow and cottage livingrooms it is as good as anything modern that may be had.

The chair which best deserves the name Queen Anne, and which is in the direct line of chair evolution, is the Dutch cabriole or bandy-leg chair of the wealthier homes. It was the forerunner of Chippendale. There was less carving on these chairs than on those of the Stuart period, but greater freedom of line, and in general a return to greater simplicity.

The main features of this chair were the gracefully curved cabriole leg, borrowed from the Dutch, and the solid splat in the back. Usually the front legs only were cabriole, with sometimes a shell ornament carved on the knee. The shell also appeared sometimes at the center of the front of the seat, and at the center of the top of the back. At first the round Dutch foot was common, the ball and claw appearing about 1740.

The backs of these chairs were slightly curved to fit the back of the sitter, and the solid splat was bulging at the sides, lyre-shaped, fiddle-shaped, etc. The seats were broad, flat, and upholstered, and were usually shaped in curves both on front and sides; before and after this period the seats were generally straight across the front, with square corners.

Roundabouts were made in the same style, and also a variation, showing the Stuart influence, with straight back, turned legs and uprights, and rush seat, but with the solid splat and Dutch foot. These latter are suitable for porch use when found, while the best Queen Anne cabriole-leg chairs are excellent for the dining-room, though complete sets in good condition are very rare.

Gradually the Queen Anne chair took on more and more the characteristics of Chippendale. The splat became pierced or carved after 1740; the shell carving and ball-and-claw foot became more common. A few of these later examples are very beautiful in line and proportion, and are comparable to the best Georgian types. Here we find, for the first time, the underbracing occasionally dispensed with. The earlier Queen Anne chairs were of maple, walnut, and cherry, occasionally veneered; by 1750 mahogany came into vogue.

Before speaking of Georgian furniture, there are one or two other types worth mentioning. About 1750 easy chairs had become popular for boudoirs and living-rooms. The best of these were wingchairs, sometimes called grandmother's chairs. They were upholstered all over, with deep seats and low arms. The backs were high, with ears or wings projecting forward at the sides, for protection against drafts, as the occupant sat before the open fire. They were extremely comfortable, and are excellent to-day for living-rooms or chambers. The earlier ones had short cabriole legs in front, with ball-and-claw feet; later straight legs and valances were used. These chairs also appeared during the Georgian period, being made by Heppelwhite, Ince, Manwaring, and by American manufacturers, but probably not by Chippendale.

During all this time local American manufacturers and cabinet-makers had been making chairs which had no counterpart in England, and some of these are worth preserving and using in modern homes. Very early in New England there were turned chairs of local workmanship, and occasionally armchairs, made of American woods and usually painted. Chairs with straight banister and slat backs, rush seats, and turned legs and rungs-similar to those of England-were made in New York, New England, and Pennsylvania as early as 1700. These and the American variations of the Windsor, made in walnut, cherry, maple, hickory, poplar, ash, and pine, were the best that have come down to us. The rest are quite properly relegated to the kitchen or attic.

To return again to England, we come to the famous Georgian period, which, properly speaking, belonged to the reign of George III (1760-1820). Here we find the best furniture that England ever produced, but I would begin with a word of warning. Not everything belonging to the period is good. As in the poetry of Wordsworth, there is some of the ridiculous mingled with the sublime.

The Queen Anne chairs were stately, and far more beautiful than some of the Georgian productions. Chippendale was an adapter of styles, and as such he was not always successful. His work was exotic, and some of it a weird mixture of rococo, Dutch, Gothic, and Chinese. Adam was sometimes too coldly classic or too gaudy; Heppelwhite's construction faulty; Sheraton's decoration sometimes cheaplooking. It was the result of an artificial forcing of styles. Chippendale, the prince of them all, designed a few low-browed, broad-seated, heavy-footed affairs that take the palm for ugliness and discomfort, but which to-day command fabulous prices. So let the purchaser not be blinded by a great name, but select with discrimination.


[Continue To Part 3 Of Article]




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