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Although the Windsor chair is of English origin, the Colonies used it extensively, if one may judge by the great variety of forms in which it appeared. No one knows just how it came by its name. One legend runs that the first of these chairs was made of wood from Windsor Forest, in England.
Wallace Nutting, in "A Windsor Handbook," gives, besides a good deal of other valuable information on the subject, descriptions of over 125 designs. Most Windsor chairs produced on this side were made in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. There were chair-makers who made nothing but Windsor chairs. A wide choice was obtainable as regards not only the detail of the design but various forms also of sidechairs, armchairs, settees, "love seats," stools, highchairs for children and small chairs for older youngsters.
An old Windsor chair was always made of several kinds of wood. The bowed top of the back was generally of ash, hickory or oak; the seat was of pine; the spindles whittled out by hand, were of a tough, flexible wood, such as hickory or oak. When well put together a Windsor could not be taken apart without breaking. Not a nail or screw was used.
One of the characteristics of a good Windsor chair is the quality of the turnings on the legs and stretchers. Decided shapes with deep cuttings and graceful vase forms on the legs and pronounced bulbs on the stretchers make the handsomest chairs. The splayed or outward-slanting leg is especially characteristic.
A Windsor fits well in rooms of not too formal arrangement (for one must remember that after all this chair was a type of American "provincial" furniture)'. Nevertheless, even in the old days its comfort and grace were recognized.
The Windsor was undoubtedly a gradual development. A chair was needed that would stand being dragged over flagged floors and hearthstones and yet that would be as light as possible. No other piece of furniture was as cleverly constructed for such use as was the Windsor. It was really a folk product that grew up under the hands of village craftsmen, and at no time in its career was its design added to by a professional designer.
Of the several general types of Windsors, the bow-back type is perhaps the most widely known. This had a curved support, forming arms that ran completely around the back. Another style had a higher back formed of another bow, and was known as the double bow-back. The fanback Windsor had a back of tall spindles terminating in a flat top. A comb-back was an added top made of spindles (its shape suggesting a tall comb), designed for use as a head rest. Many combinations were possible.Windsor chairs with a single broad piece of wood or splat running down the centre of the back are an English form and were not made in this country.