At one time seating reflected social status and in the Middle Ages only the head of a household had a chair, while everyone else sat on benches or stools. During the 17th century, chairs were made with upholstered seats. Most sets of dining chairs date from after 1700. From the mid 18th century onwards fashions for seatings were established by the designs of the leading furniture makers such as Thomas Chippendale, George Hepplewhite and Thomas Sheraton.
Chairs began as basic oak stools and settle. It was during the 17th century that chairs began to be elaborately turned and carved. Some incorporated inlaid marquetry decoration.Armchairs
It became more important in the 18th century to increase comfort and luxury and this led to the development of a wide range of sumptuously upholstered open armchairs. Although seats were generally stuffed and not sprung yet, many had loose feather-filled cushions that made them feel very comfortable. Armchair design was led by the French. Many English armchairs produced in the 18th and 19th centuries are based on French prototypes of the Louis XV and Louis XVI periods. From 1830 onwards most chairs and sofas were upholstered with coiled metal springs covered with padding and webbing, making them far more comfortable.
Chairs made by leading manufacturers in the 19th century were occasionally marked with their names. If you find the manufacturer's stamp (it is often under the seat rail or inside the back leg), it can dramatically increase the value of the chair.
NAMES TO LOOK OUT FOR
Many upholstered period chairs that are not stamped are still of very good quality and comfort and are interesting in their own right.
French chairs often had wooden casters so that they would not scratch wooden floors. In England where carpets were generally favoured, casters in the 18th century were often made from brass. Some were stamped by their makers (Cope & Collinson are particularly well known). In the 19th century chairs were also made with ceramic casters. Chairs have a higher value with original casters.
Try to choose a good quality fabric that is appropriate to the date and style of the chair. Natural fibres work well whether the pattern design is flamboyant or subtle. The fabric plays a vital role in the overall look of the chair and the presence it has in the room. Never put springs in an 18th century chair that originally had a stuffed seat.
Dates and British Periods
1688-1694 William & Mary
1694-1702 Willaim III
1702-1714 Queen Anne
1714-1760 Early Georgian (George I & II)
1760-1811 Late Georgian
1812-1830 Regency (George III & IV)
1830-1837 William IV
The dates given are intended as general guide lines only and are approximate indicators of when the woods were used.