Windsor Chairs - Part I
A good Windsor chair has sculpture. Understand this, and your chances of ferreting out a valuable specimen are immediately improved. Next time you're at an auction preview or busy antique shop where a handsome example is displayed, observe how people look at Windsors. The ritual is distinct from all other categories of antiques. You'll see interested couples nestle the chair back and forth on the floor, touching it with only with their thumbs and one finger for each hand, until they've positioned it just right. Next, they'll take a step backwards and give it a long appreciative gaze. Then, they'll begin to circle. Walking slowly around the chair, taking it in from every angle, because, like all good sculpture a Windsor must be please the eye from every vantage. This is when commentary ensues.
"Great form, the chair has great form!" The man will say.
An alert sales assistant will assert, "You have a good eye, sir!"
"I love how the legs splay outward. It beautiful," the wife will reply.
"Gutsy turnings," the gentleman will add. Commenting on the bold design of leg and arm supports achieved by the old-day wood "turner" on his lathe. Finally, just as the vender thinks she has found a deserving home for the chair, all spirits are squashed by a single question. "Can you sit in this thing?"
Windsors, sometimes crudely referred to as stick chairs, have a light, airy appearance. They are distinct from other seating in that their rear legs and backbrace are attached on separate lines to the seat rather than as a continuous element. Although many of the chairs and benches look like they would collapse under a man's weight, they are stout due to employment of multiple woods, and well braced by sturdy construction. Legs, usually turned from maple or oak, are forced through drilled holes in carved plank seat that is made of a softer wood like poplar or pine. Fox wedges and wood-shrinkage from the drying of the carefully selected green stock secures this marriage. For the thin back spindles, hoops, or rails present in most Windsors, the turner selected even stronger lumber-hickory or ash. Finally, a coat of paint was usually applied by the "joiner" to mask the varying woods.
Windsors originate from the first part of the 18th century when they were said to be born in Windsor England. One story is that King George I, while taking refuge from a storm in a peasant's cottage, was forced to sit down on a crude chair with upright spindles. It was not the throne he was used to in Windsor Castle, however, the king was so impressed with the chair's simplicity and comfort, he had it copied by his cabinet makers. News spread, and soon the "Windsor" chair was the vogue.
A 1730 London newspaper ad by chairmaker John Brown offering "All Sorts of Windsor Garden Chairs painted green or in the wood" adds weight to the argument that the first Windsors were made as outdoor chairs. This explains the airy design and green pigment that is often found in the cracks of old scraped-to-the-wood Windsors. By 1740, the line would come to America where it would reach its zenith in design. Shortly after the signers of the Declaration of Independence quilled their names while seated in "sack back" Windsors, the line would outsell all other forms of seating combined. Thus, old windsors do appear in great numbers today and a few of these have now attained a throne-like value. For those of you who just stood up, wondering about that ol' creaker you've been sitting in all these years, we'll talk again next week.