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The roundabout chair is still useful in a room that has other pieces of old-time furniture. For summer homes with a wide fireplace a pair of these chairs make fine hearth seats, especially when they are of the plainer early American types with straight and simply turned woodwork and rush woven seats.
The roundabout chair first appeared in the beginning of the seventeenth century, during the reign of Queen Anne, when chairs were displacing stools and benches. It was during this time that many other experiments in new chair forms were made.
In the examples of the roundabout chair that have been handed down, one may trace an evolution from its first forms to its decadence. One early, type was called a wheel chair, so named because the stretchers that connect all of the six legs cross each other like the spokes of a wheel. Four of the legs run up to support the back, which has panels of cane. It has been surmised that some examples of this type may have been of Eastern origin. In these forms bamboo pegs and fine cane were used. Characteristic especially of the Queen Anne types is the front leg, terminating in either a Spanish or a Dutch foot, while the other three legs end in simple knobs.
The roundabout chair soon after its appearance became a popular form of furniture. Examples that have come down to us reflect not only the Queen Anne cabriole legs and curved chair fronts, but also, as the eighteenth century advanced, many features of the later style we know as Chippendale. On roundabout chairs in Chippendale style the ball and claw foot and intricately designed splats in pierced patterns familiar in furniture of Chippendale's time are incorporated.
The roundabout chair, being first developed in the age of walnut, is naturally first found in that wood, with the later styles in mahogany. In America, chairs of hickory and maple, generally in simpler styles than those in the harder woods, were popular. Most of these were rush seated. The more pretentious chairs had upholstered seats.
About the last quarter of the eighteenth century the roundabout chair ceased to be manufactured. It was not considered quite elegant, and dress fashions were changing. Apparently other forms were experimented with, and a chair made about this time shows all the characteristics of the roundabout adapted to an ordinary square chair.
While it lasted, its vogue supplied work for the many chair makers of Colonial days. The making of chairs was a craft, distinct from that of the joiners, who made simpler bits of furniture, and of the cabinetmakers, who spent their time on the more elaborate pieces. Chair making must have been a profitable industry. As the country developed and families grew more prosperous, chairs would be bought for greater convenience or to take the place of stools. From the first part of the eighteenth century, when the roundabout appeared in America, the use of chairs increased greatly.