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.
Never miss a local story.
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.
Helaine Fendelman and Joe Rosson have written a number of books on antiques. Do you have an item you'd like to know more about? Contact them at Joe Rosson, 2504 Seymour Ave., Knoxville, TN 37917, or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you'd like your question to be considered for their column, please include a high-resolution photo of the subject, which must be in focus, with your inquiry.