Antique Chippendale Chairs


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homas Chippendale's Gentleman and Cabinet Maker's Director, published in three editions (1754,1755 and 1762) had a historic influence on mid-18thC chair design. In it, Chippendale applied popular rococo and Gothic design motif to already fashionable shapes for both grand and simple household furniture. Few designs were copied precisely. Chair makers at all levels London, provincial and country - adapted and modified their designs to suit their own capabilities to their clients' tastes and pockets. 

Lower backs than previously, with serpentine crest rails, generally ending in outward-curving scrolls. (Rounded shoulders rare). Carved and pierced sprats of varied design in eluding rococo C-scrolls, 'ribb-and-back', Gothic arches, tracery and quatrefoils, scrolls and many other interlacing patterns. Chinese chairs with Chinese fretwork instead of a splat with a pagoda-shaped cresting. Space under arms sometimes similarly filled with fretwork. (Because of their fragility and because chinoiserie was often confined to bedrooms, not many of these chairs survive.) 

Side uprights were flat and either plain or fluted. Carving not unknown, but unless of high quality and obviously by the same hand as the crest rail, be suspicious. 

A design often seen today, but not illustrated in Chippendale's Director, was the ladder-back, in which the pierced and carved I horizontals echo the crest rail in shape and design. Thought to date from the 1760s onwards, 
Seats were flat and straight (dished seats not introduced for dining chairs until about 1750). Square corners with straight legs, rounded with cabrioles, the latter usually indicating an early date. Stuff-over (occasionally with show-wood rail) or drop-in seats; stuffover seats correctly finished with close brass nails, not gimp (a 19thC method). 

Comfortably shaped arms with supports rising two thirds from back. 
Front legs could be cabriole, with foliate carving on knees and claw-and-ball feet, or, more commonly straight, either plain or with simple moldings. Sometimes chamfered inner edges. Blind fret-carving or legs composed of carved Gothic cluster columns occasionally seen on highest quality chairs. On both types, rear legs raked backwards. As a very general rule. the steeper the angle the poorer the quality. 

Instantly identifiable when made in woods other than mahogany. Often less well proportioned and slighter overall. Can appear a top-heavy.  Simpler, less  design of splats with very little, or no, carving. Legs often completely plain; :abrioles end in pad feet. Crudest versions may have wooden seat with side-to-side planking nailed to seat frame. 

Value always depends on a combination of factors - well-proportioned correct design and quality of craftsmanship being the most obvious reasons for a high price. Repairs, even when skillfully made - will detract from the value of the piece, especially if there are replacement parts. 

The price of a good single chair of this period is often into four figures and in exceptional cases close to five. As a very general guide, a pair of chairs of any date is worth about three times as much as a single, a set of four six times, and a set of six or more at least ten times as much. Until fairly recently six was thought to be a desirable number for a set, but this has not increased to eight. Examine long sets carefully for 'enlargements'. 

A chair with arms will invariably be worth more than a similar chair without, though not as much as a pair of singles. 

These have a particular tendency to be smaller and narrower than originals, a necessity for many of today's smaller dining rooms. If you are thinking of buying set of old chairs to fit around a modern table - or vice versa - it may II be worth marking out the floor to sure that they all fit comfortably. 


English furniture making was significantly altered in 1754 by Thomas Chippendale. He preferred to work in mahogany and had taste preferences drawn from French and Asian examples. But he was also inspired by native English Gothic. He brought together Rococo shells for instance with late Gothic elements.

His greatest love was probably for chairs. Following; on from his Chinese and Gothic influences he produced chairs with square legs and the merest hint of decoration. All his creativity went into the decoration of the backs of his chairs. 






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