Antique Country Country Chairs - Ladder and Spindle Back


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Good example of an antique country slat back chair from the Shaker era. In the 1870s Shakers warned potential buyers about competitors whose furniture imitated shaker chairs but were not as well made.

Today's buyers should continue to heed this warning, since many of these imitations and other more recent shaker inspired pieces are still mistaken for the real thing today.

Authentic pieces will show wear, especially on the slats stretchers, and bottoms of the feet.



Traditional ladder-back, spindle and other turned chairs were made in all parts of Britain throughout the 18th and 19thC. Although regional variations exist in the shape of turnings and so on most follow the same basic patterns. Some arts and crafts designers were influenced by the tradition and from the 1860s onwards the style appeared in more sophisticated interiors than previously. Between the wars many authentic reproductions were made of both spindle. and ladder backs; if well worn these are difficult to identify and many are sold with an earlier date. 

Ladder-backs originated in 17thC Holland. Between four and seven horizontal, usually waved, slats, sometimes curved to fit the sitter's back; with or without a turned or shaped top-rail, sitting on rather than between the I uprights.  Turned front legs (on armchairs continuous with arm supports) and decoratively turned front stretcher. Often modified version of pad foot. Always two plain side stretchers and one or two at back. Arms flat and slightly curved for comfort. 

Principally from Cheshire, Lancashire and Northern England, were similar, but with square-sectioned horizontal cross rails in back enclosing arrangements of small turned spindles. Over-riding waved crest rail. On armchairs generally three rows, on singles only two.  Both types commonly had rush seats, but some had wooden seats with a raised and moulded edge. 

Antique chairs with flat slat backs -- rectangular rails usually set horizontally across the chairs back -- span the 17th to 20th centuries. The style is best represented by the slat-back chairs made in 19th-century Shaker communities, where simple craftsmen perfected and simplified the traditional form. The subtle nuances of Shaker chairs distinguish them from less simple but similar chairs made by other 19th-century rural craftsmen and early factories. On early chairs slats were generally thick but they became thinner and sometimes curved in the 18th century. 

Single ladder- and spindle-backs are still three figures but sets of eight are well into four. Same applies to 19thC adaptations, and even later reproductions.  Despite their arts and crafts appeal, single Sussex chairs are often still in two; sets cost more, but are still relatively affordable, mostly because they were made in large numbers. Distinctive, one-off designer example will be considerably more expensive.  

Country style and other simple chairs are difficult to date today because their forms remained so consistent over the decades.

Similar chair designs made a century apart, for instance, differ only slightly in the thickness of the slats or the kind of turnings on the legs. 

Whether traditional or moderately stylish, these chairs tend to be well constructed and sturdy. Many were painted, and pieces with original paint are highly desirable. However, many originals lines have been painted and could hardly be recognized as the original chair. Once regarded by collectors as crude and primitive, most of the simple forms of country chairs are much sought after today.

17th century antique slat back chair

A nice example of what was called a "Great Chair". Typically these Great chairs had arms but a few very rare examples have been found without arms. 

A hint for antique chair collectors: An important indication of the age of chairs is the proportions in the size of slats -- larger slats were characteristic of earlier pieces (prior to the 18th Century). During both the 18th and 19th century, slats became lighter and more delicate. 






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