Conversations with Chairs

“Well aren’t you…..”

I spent much of the summer wandering estate sales, yard sales and such looking at chairs, taking pictures of chairs, and, yes, talking with chairs*~. If you ask my husband, he will likely roll his eyes and tell you it was annoying.

Let me first introduce you to the two chairs that have accompanied me to events for the past two decades. They are like old friends.


This plain, somewhat paint splattered chair is quite loved, especially by my bottom. It is essential a chair’s seat be pleasing to the bottom, whether it is layered with petticoats and a wiry cage or lightly draped in minimal layers.  The nearly perfectly shaped seat fits my bottom just right. The front of the seat has a nice curve so it doesn’t cut into the back of my legs when I sit there for an extended period of time.

You may say “but there is a crack down the center!?” Yes, that crack goes all the way through, front to back. Yet, it is quite solid thanks to someone’s supportive work at some point in the past.

This chair sat at my bedroom sewing machine for about a decade, making trips to events when ever needed. Dad used to refer to this as one of my farm chairs. It is quite similar to this side chair, ca 1840-1880, at the Henry Ford Museum. It has a hint of a fan back, though it isn’t really. The seat is much like the shaped solid seats in this pair of thumb back chairs, from 1825. (I am not sure it can be called a thumb back because the top goes all the way across the spindles, rather than having the two shaped sides com all the way up.)


For two decades, this next chair has been the companion to the one above. This is likely the least nineteenth century appropriate of my chairs based on the seat itself. The plain lines just are not quite it. The back is almost a bowback, but not quite.

That said, this chair has some nice advantages. This back, with the center splat, is a nice back for sitting in a corset, with just the right angle and support. One can sit pleasantly in this chair for quite some time.

Until the winters in our very dry carriage house, this was a solid chair. I even stood on it regularly to decorate and hang curtains. As you can see by the bungee cords, the rungs have dried loose. They are being encouraged back into place. I am trying to avoid gluing until it has a more settled environment. As such, this chair may be retired to at home life.

A few chairs were conversational enough to find their way into my car and on their way home with me this summer.


In the last room of a beautiful old barn, that clearly missed having horses*, sat this chair a stylish misfit among later twentieth century companions.  The Hitchock*^ style shape is quite similar to this chair from Harvard’s General Artemas Ward House Museum. Being quite sturdy, giving the illusion of being light weight due to nice balance, and a silly little price tag, it found its way to my car. It has a rope seat that has been treated with some white substance I have yet to identify.This will likely become my painted chair. (It would be great to find a second, similar chair to paint as well for Lily.)

This chair is much like the chair I sat on while demonstrating in the Foster-Tuffs house during the War of 1812 straw demonstration. The height is just about perfect for my quasi-average 5’4″ height, while the back is at a supportive angle. I can comfortably sit, knees at a proper angle without sliding forward/down, nor cutting off good flow to my lower legs. Let me tell you, there is nothing so silly feeling as not being able to keep ones butt in the right spot in a chair, and there is nothing so miserable as the swelling in the feet from sitting three days in a chair that cuts.

This ladder back or slat chair sat at the edge of an estate sale tent, the tent where they placed all the ‘special’ items. When I inquired, I was quoted just the right price. The whole length of the driveway, I had every intention of passing it along. By the time I made it across the road and it was loaded into the car, we had bonded. By the time we were home, I became attached.

The wood is just beautiful with such a nice patina. Do you see the seat?!?! It is done so nicely. I highly doubt it is original. Whoever rewove the seat did an amazing job. The funny thing is, it is shorter than my other chairs by just a few inches. So, it isn’t even ideal for sitting for me. This may end up being an at home chair.

I am looking to learn more  about the back of this chair. The vertical pieces curve/splay out slightly. They also have just a bit of shaping, rather than going straight up like we see in Shaker ladder back chairs.

Several chairs I talked with did not come home with me. I simply do not need that many chairs, nor do we have space for chairs not in use.



What does a collector of patent folding chairs take to living history events to sit on?

Not patent folding chairs. These are to look pretty and fill an obsession (as well as an over full storage closet.) In our house there are chairs you sit on and chairs you look at. Never the two shall intermix.


Of the spectrum of patent folding chairs, only a small number were produced during the Civil War. Of those, even fewer were made for the civilian market. That small selection was intended for use in the parlor (some were produced specifically as deck chairs), making them highly unlikely to be the chair a refugee or fleeing family would choose to take with them. In the instances of civilian, domestic recreation where a civilian marketed pre-1864 design would be appropriate , I feel accurately constructed reproductions are a better choice over an original folding chair.

What do I look for in a chair?

  • The visual/artistic lines of the first half of the nineteenth century. I rather love federal lines.
  • Construction appropriate to the first half of the century.
  • Solid wood and construction. A chair that does not wiggle.
  • A seat that is not going to split. It is an unusual and somewhat disorienting feeling when a seat splits beneath you. It is a swaying as though the earth has given way.
  • A price tag under $20.



Recommended Library Requests:

Primary References


*~ I want to say I have not spent much time thinking about or reading up on furniture details since Dad died. Furniture was very much his area. Therefore this is very much a dabbled only, daughter of a furniture lover’s perspective, not a well researched furniture perspective.

* I later found out my mother’s horse, Goldie, came from this barn before I was born.

*^A note about Hitchock style chairs – There are original chairs of the first half of the nineteenth century and revival chairs of the mid twentieth century. The latter are good options for events as they are not antiques, yet closely resemble the originals in style and construction.

Published in: on September 21, 2016 at 6:20 pm  Comments (1)  

One CommentLeave a comment

  1. I’m so happy chairs talk to you too! Alan just smiles and rolls his eyes when he thinks I’m not looking. Then he puts it in the truck! I’m looking for a chair like your “happy bottom” chair.

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