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The Hitchcock Chair: Early American Furniture Design

Reviewing: H Itchcock Slat Back Rush Seated Side Chair  |  Rating:
alexsandralyn By alexsandralyn on
Badge: Advisor | Level: 17 | Furniture & Appliances Expertise:
A pair of unsigned Hitchcock chairs

Hitchcock chairs were made in Connecticut from 1825 to 1852 and sold for $0.50 to $1.50. All original Hitchcock chairs are signed with a gold stencil on the back of the seat rung, a feature which is important to antique collectors, but not a decorative feature that I care for. The Hitchcock chair furniture style fell out of favor around 1860, at the start of the Civil War. In 1946, soon after World War II, the Hitchcock Chair Company was revived in Connecticut and a registered trademark stenciled signature was used for the modern Hitchcock chairs. A signed 19th century Hitchcock chair in good condition can sell for as much as $200-300. An unsigned imitation Hitchcock chair from the same 19th century time period still has some collector's value, particularly for people who are looking for Early American or New England decor for their homes.

Hitchcock was one of the first companies in America to use assembly line manufacturing for the mass production of his chairs, and the Hitchcock company made about 200, 000 Hitchcock chairs in the early 19th century. Hitchcock chairs were popular along the Eastern seaboard because of their bright, colorful, decorative stencils and because of their affordability. Due to their popularity, many business competitors copied the Hitchcock chair furniture style and undercut Hitchcock's prices, and the Hitchcock company declared bankruptcy in 1829, changing their warranty signature stencil when the company reorganized. Unlike the expensive hand-carved chairs of that time period, Hitchcock chairs were inexpensive but strong square chairs for the average income household, usually made out of hardrock maple that was painted black or brown-black. The front legs were turned on a lathe, and often ringed in gold paint halfway around. The legs are footless or have ball feet. The seats of the chair are a little wider in the front than in the rear, and often made of hand woven rush. Popular stencil motifs were cornucopias, flowers, fruit, leaves and lyres.

My own Hitchcock slat-back side chairs are most likely a 19th century competitor's copy of the original signed Hitchcock chair. The rings of the chairs are painted halfway around in gold, but the stencil design of the lyre and leaves are painted in yellow ochre, which was typical for Hitchcock chairs of that time period. These Hitchcock chairs appealed to me because of their music motif and unusualness as a household decor conversation piece. I didn't pay too much for the Hitchcock chairs, $30 for the pair at an antiques and collectibles auction, and their general condition is "needs work". But I can still sit on the chairs for practical daily use and see most of the original stencil design. The top bolster rung feels like it was curved to fit my hand and is very comfortable to grip as I move the chairs around. These chairs are sturdy but lightweight, weighing about half as much as my solid wooden seat dining chairs. The joy for me will be in repairing and restoring these Hitchcock chairs back into something that resembles their original 19th century condition.