American Windsor chairs have never gone out of fashion. When I wrote about them several years ago, authentic 18th and early examples were rare and costly. As Antique Roadshow episodes have recently shown prices and collector interest for 18th century antiques is on a downer. A few years ago even 20th century reproductions could cost $300 or more. There have been many variations with such descriptive names as “fan back, bow back, birdcage, sack back and comb back.” There were also versions made for children and as highchairs. Reproductions are still being made.
Historically they have been made non-stop in America and England for over three hundred years. Until recently when an 18th century American Windsor, with original paint and in a rare sack back form was offered at auction the price could have been over $12,000. A current dealer price can be under $2,000.
According to legend the Windsor had its origins with its discovery by
King George I in a peasant’s cottage near Windsor Castle. Although crude in design the King found it so comfortable he had his cabinetmaker copy the design. This first version was unpainted and had bark-covered stick legs, a plank seat and a back with spindles. As it evolved it was next painted with chalky green-blue paint and the bark legs were replaced with turned carved legs.
By the early 18th century Windsors were being made in quantities in
England. By 1740 the American versions first appeared in Philadelphia.
However, instead of the straight legs made for English Windsors, American craftsmen set the legs at sharp angles. Some buyers felt that reflected the growing independent feeling in the Colonies. Between 1797 and 1800 American Windsors had become so popular that they were exported out of the country by the thousands.
There are six basic types of American Windsors. They are sack back, low back, comb back, hoop back, New England arm, fan back and loop back, with many variations. All types have slender, round, upright spokes or spindles, turned and usually tapering upward. Spindles may vary in number.
Those having the most spindles are considered “choice” by collectors. The use of bentwood often formed the back and arms.
- CLUES:Here are some important facts to consider.
18TH and early 19th Windsor chairs weren’t made from a single wood. Several woods were used. American Windsors usually had the bow or hoop back of hickory, legs of oak, hickory of maple. The spindles were of hickory or ash. Mahogany arms are a clue to the mid to late 19th century. Seats were of pine, whitewood or beech. To hide this diversity of woods the chairs were painted. Green, dark and apple green, Indian red, black, gray, brown, blue and sometimes gold accents were used. Early chairs were rarely stained.
Since by now most of these chairs have been stripped look for traces of original paints. Be suspicious of new paint that has been artificially aged. See if the feet have been “pieced” or cut down. Check the spindles. If handmade they will not be uniform.