Vic­to­rian chair likely set the tone of the home for guests

Austin American-Statesman Sunday - - HOMES -

Dear He­laine and Joe:

I have in­her­ited what I think is a 19th cen­tury ma­hogany chair. I have done re­search in the li­brary but can­not find any­thing that re­sem­bles this style. I would ap­pre­ci­ate any help you can give me. Thank you, I.S.

Dear I. S.:

We do rec­om­mend li­brary re­search over in­ter­net re­search be­cause it is gen­er­ally more fruit­ful and there is of­ten a ref­er­ence li­brar­ian to help. Un­for­tu­nately, both forms of re­search can be frus­trat­ing un­less you know where and how to be­gin, and this re­quires a lit­tle more ex­pe­ri­ence than most peo­ple have.

What I.S. knows is cor­rect, at least to a point. This is in­deed a 19th cen­tury chair and it does ap­pear to have been con­structed from ma­hogany. But a care­ful ex­am­i­na­tion of the pho­to­graph sug­gests the chair back is dec­o­rated with strips of burl ma­hogany ar­ranged in a chevron pat­tern, and un­der­neath this may be ma­hogany or some other hard­wood.

We are sure I. S. would like us to nar­row the dat­ing down on her chair. Af­ter all, the 19th cen­tury was 100 years long. The style helps us do this very nicely. The chair has slen­der cabri­ole legs, side pierc­ings ac­cented with large “C” scrolls and an elab­o­rate crest with scrolls and leaf ten­drils.

All this com­bines to tell us the piece is in the Vic­to­rian ro­coco re­vival style that was pop­u­lar be­tween about 1840 and 1865. So, the chair is prob­a­bly circa 1860, and it might have served one or per­haps more pur­poses in an el­e­gant Vic­to­rian home.

No mat­ter how plush the cush­ion placed upon the chair’s plank seat might have been, the chair was not meant to be used for a long pe­riod of time. It might, for ex­am­ple, have been used in a ball­room as a place for an in­terim rest be­tween waltzes, or per­haps it might have been placed in a mu­sic room to be used dur­ing a pi­ano recital.

But most likely, the chair plus a match­ing com­pan­ion piece would have been used in the en­try hall so guests could have a place to sit be­fore be­ing ad­mit­ted to the draw­ing room. The piece was meant to set the stylish tone of the house for vis­i­tors and guests, and it was not de­signed as a com­fort­able place to read a book, take a nap or even eat din­ner.

It is un­for­tu­nate, but sin­gle chairs are not highly val­ued in the cur­rent mar­ket­place. To be sure, col­lec­tors might ad­mire the work­man­ship, the style, the beauty of the wood, but upon see­ing the piece would con­sider it to be a frag­ment.

It is sad, but many col­lec­tors of Vic­to­ri­ana would pass over the piece be­cause it is a sin­gle — lonely and soli­tary — the curse of the sin­gle side chair. For in­sur­ance pur­poses, the piece should be val­ued at less than $100, and at a big city es­tate sale, it might strug­gle to find a buyer for as lit­tle as $35. We are sure, how­ever, I.S. val­ues it much more as an heir­loom.

Do you have an item you’d like to know more about? Con­tact Joe Ros­son at 2504 Seymour Ave., Knoxville, TN 37917, or email trea­sures­knol­ogy. net. If you’d like your ques­tion to be con­sid­ered for the col­umn, in­clude a high-res­o­lu­tion photo of the sub­ject, in fo­cus, with your in­quiry.

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