Antiques: Collecting chairs

PUBLISHED: 16:24 17 May 2010 | UPDATED: 17:10 20 February 2013

Antiques: Collecting chairs

Antiques: Collecting chairs

Are you sitting comfortably? Then consider investing in a piece of antique furniture that's practical and rewarding, says Andrew Beeston, senior auctioneer and valuer at Halls, Shrewsbury

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Are you sitting comfortably? Then consider investing in a piece of antique furniture thats practical and rewarding, says Andrew Beeston, senior auctioneer and valuer at Halls, Shrewsbury

The thought of bringing a piece of the 17th century into the home in the form of an item of furniture is very appealing.But, in these days of reduced room sizes, when neither a coffer nor dresser will fit into a house or lifestyle, what does one opt for that is functional and of the period? An answer to this quandary is a chair, but which style and timber to go for?
Most early seat furniture was made using oak as it was readily available. The growth of the middle classes gave rise to the demand for chairs that could not only be used for domestic purposes but also for displaying the wealth of the individual to the outside world. This meant an increasing quantity of high quality chairs often decorated in a localised taste.

Many chairs would have been made to order and would not only reflect the specific requirements of form and decoration but would often be dated and initialled, sometimes commemorating a marriage or birth in the family. Also the chair, particularly the armchair, has long been regarded as a symbol of rank. The old courtly convention dictates that only the leader of a meeting (still called the chairman) is seated on a chair while the majority of members are seated on benches and back stools.

The joined armchair of the period tended to have panelled a back and solid seat. Joined single chairs became more common by the middle of the 17th century and were beginning to replace the stool and bench as secondary seating for dining use. At the time and up until the 19th century, it was usual practice to place dining chairs around the side of the room with their backs facing the wall.The rear surfaces of the chairs were seldom decorated as they were not normally seen. This convention has continued in chair-making up to the present day even though the backs are more likely to be visible in modern arrangements where chairs are left arranged around the dining table.

Both joined arm chairs and joined single chairs of the 17th century tend to appear somewhat hard and unyielding to modern eyes and it is sometimes noted that their design was not calculated to promote slovenly posture although separate seat cushions were often provided.

On choosing a chair some important points to bear in mind are: firstly, is the carved decoration contemporary with the construction of the chair? The Victorians had a vogue for improving plainer pieces of 17th century oak. Should the piece have been improved by the Victorians its value will be much lower than one in its original form.

Secondly, it is important to confirm that the stretchers are original along with the seat rails as this will also have a deciding factor as to how desirable the chair may be to future purchasers. Finally, you may find a chair to have had repairs to its feet and back legs along with additional strengthening blocks to the interior of the seat rails. Of course any repair will affect a pieces value but these less so because after 300 plus years one would expect it to have some history.

The purchase of a chair as an antique and as a functional addition to the home can be rewarding at the same time as being a future investment.

Andrew Beeston can be contacted at Halls, Welsh Bridge, Shrewsbury, tel: 01743 284777.

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