Monday, September 16, 2013

Antique chairs: What to look for?

The construction, style and decoration of a chair will reveal where and when it was made. Analyse the clues to work out your antique chair's rarity and possible value.

The underside of a chair holds many pointers to its construction and age. The earliest chairs were held together by wooden pegs; if the components of your chair are joined by screws, pins or glue then it dates from the 19th century or later.

Look for the marks made by the saw as it cut the wood: circular marks suggest a machine saw; irregular marks are likely to have been made by a hand-saw at an earlier date.

Decoration also holds vital clues. Is any carving part of the frame, or was it added afterwards? Compare the back, legs, knees and feet of the chair with examples in some reference books or catalogues for additional clues. Also consider whether the parts match each other and the style of the chair. Copies of earlier chairs, particularly those made in the 19th century, can easily be confused with originals, so look for genuine wear to the seat, back and feet, but remember that all of these can be faked.

Until the mid-17th century, chairs were often made of oak, square in form, with carved pabel backs. After 1660, walnut, which was easier to carve, became the principal material. Chairs became lighter and stronger in the 18th century, following the introduction of the cabriole leg c. 1710 and the widespread use of mahagony after 1730.

Decorative chairs were usually designed to stand against the walls of a room and were often painted, ebonised, gilded or inlaid. During the late 19th century, Neoclassical style became fashionable again and its chair designs were often copied, particularly painted examples by the English designer Thomas Sheraton. These later chairs tend to be more ostentatious than the originals and made from mahagony. As with chairs of any era, the more elaborate the carving, the better the quality and the more valuable the chair is likely to be.

Upholstery became more generous in the middle of the 18th century, when women began to entertain more. Upholstered chairs, based on French designs, were more comfortable than any that had been made previously, and were arranged in groups rather than around the edge of the room as had previously been the fashion.

The 19th century saw great changes to upholstered chairs as the growing middle classes sought increasingly comfortable seating to reflect their new-found prosperity. Deep-buttoning emphasised the curves and luxuriousness of Victorian seating. Chairs with original upholstery, even in poor condition, tend to be more valuable than ones that have been reupholstered.

The more pieces in a set of chairs, the more valuable it will be, especially if the set includes a carver or - even better - two. A carver seat should be at least 5 cm wider than the others in the group. The larger a set of chairs, the higher the value of each individual chair. Use this ratios as an easy way to calculate the sales potential of a set of chairs:
  • A pair of chairs is worth three times as much as a single chair
  • A set of four chairs is worth six to seven times more than a single chair
  • A set of six chairs is worth ten to 12 times more than a single chair
  • A set of eight chairs is worth over 15 times more than a single chair
If you have an odd number of chairs in a set, it may be worth adding one more of a similar design to turn it into what is known as a harlequin set, which you will be able to sell for a greater profit than an odd number. 

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