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- The Beloved Windsor Chair and its History
The Beloved Windsor Chair and its History
The classic, antiquated design of the well-known Windsor chair can be identified through its round-tenoned chair back and legs. Oftentimes, these chairs will also have a saddle-shaped indentation in the seat for maximized comfort. Popular in Colonial America, these chairs have a rustic design that brings a touch of character to any room. Our selection features several variations on the Windsor chair, but what do you know about its history? Why is it still so beloved centuries after its first appearance?
There are several similar accounts regarding the Windsor chair's origin, but none of them have been fully confirmed. According to legend, King George III was foxhunting near Windsor Castle when he was forced to seek shelter from a tumultuous storm. While sheltering in a tenant's cottage, the King was given a simple stick-built chair to sit in. He was so impressed by this simple chair that he ordered his carpenters to make several for the castle, and eventually, its popularity spread throughout England.
Myths aside, concrete historical evidence gives insight into the geographic location and time period these chairs originated. Some of the chair's most recognizable components date back hundreds of years before the first Windsor chair was even created. Its basic design, comprised of a set of legs socketed into a plank seat, can be traced back to low stools from Egypt around 1567 - 1320 B.C. Paintings and art from the thirteenth-century feature illustrations of stools, tables, and other furniture built with socketed parts -- an artisan technique that would remain popular for centuries.
Though an exact date is unclear, the manufacturing of actual Windsor chairs dates back to the sixteenth century, when wheelwrights started creating chair spindles similar to how they made wheel spokes. The first Windsor chair was introduced in Buckinghamshire, and later, production moved to High Wycombe. Thanks to the advancement of technology, the eighteenth century brought the ability to steam bend the wood transforming its appearance from a comb-back to the characteristic bow style of the Windsor chair.
Since the chair derives from rural origins, and its appearance is relatively unembellished, there are few definitive recordings of its appearances throughout its early history. One of the first references to the Windsor chair was found in a will from 1708 stating: "A John Jones of Philadelphia, merchant who died possessed of a Windsor chair." Another reference was made in 1724 by Lord Percival, Earl of Egmont. He describes a walk in a garden where his wife was "carry'd in a Windsor chair." The chair is featured in several pieces of artwork, including a painting by Edward Haytley in 1746 that depicts Sir Roger and his wife Dorothy, Lady Bradshaigh, standing in front of Haigh Hall next to a pair of Windsor chairs. Georg Lisiweski's 1737 Das Tabakskollegium features several gentlemen seated in Windsor chairs surrounding a long table.
The market town of Windsor, Berkshire, shipped the first steam-bent chairs to London in 1724. Since the town of Windsor became the center of trade between consumers in London and the chair manufacturers, this may be where the chair got its name. In modern times, however, the term "Windsor Chair" is an identifier of the chair's design rather than each chair's place of origin because many variations of the Windsor chair are made across the globe.
Though the chair may appear simple, its construction traditionally required three types of artisans to achieve its classic look. The chair bodger, benchman, and framer worked together to assemble different crucial elements of the chair's design. The chair bodger worked in the woods to create the legs and stretchers. This was typically done on a pole lathe that uses the elasticity of a long pole to turn and cut wood. Seats, backsplats, and other sawn parts were produced by a benchman in a town or village woodshop. Once all of the chair's pieces were produced, the final craftsman, the framer, would assemble and finish the chair, ensuring it was sturdy and ready to be placed on the market.
The Windsor chair made its way to North America around 1726 when English settlers began colonizing the northeast. The lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania at the time, Patrick Gordon, imported some of the earliest known chairs into the states. Though it is not confirmed, there is speculation that the first Windsor chair made in America was produced in Philadelphia around 1730 before its popularity spread throughout New England.
Once in America, colonial craftsmen worked to enhance the chair's design by tweaking some of its classic elements while maintaining its structural integrity. The central splat on the original chair's back was eliminated, and the splats and legs were slenderized, allowing them to create a continuous arm. Not only did this change the chair's appearance, giving it a more light and airy look, but it also strengthened the chair by eliminating extra standalone pieces.
The founding fathers are partially to thank for the popularity of the easily manufactured Windsor chair because they all owned several. Since the chairs were built from separate components, it was easy for them to be made and shipped to local craftsmen around the country for on-site assembly. Though furniture historians claim that 1725 to 1860 was the Windsor chair's prime, many regard it as a beloved household staple even centuries later. Renewed interest in the design surfaced around 1910 during the Colonial Revival movement and the 1980s with increased interest in indigenous American arts. Today, original Windsor chairs are so desired that eighteenth and nineteenth-century pieces can easily sell for four to five figures.
Centuries after its first debut, the Windsor chair is still proudly regarded as America's first chair. Though originating in England, its design has been uniquely developed, similar to how American culture has morphed into something new, straying the traditions of its English settlers. The Windsor chair's classic wooden design has stood the test of time and remains widely revered by patrons of antique furniture.
If you are interested in adorning your home with an heirloom quality Windsor chair, check out our selection that pays homage to the different styles of an authentic design. Armchairs, fan back, and miniature Windsors are available for customization.
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