Collecting Miniature Chairs

100_6937I didn’t plan to collect miniature chairs. My original idea, once I discovered the intriguing world of artisan-crafted miniature furniture, was to furnish a dollhouse. Not long after I purchased my first pieces of miniature furniture, I bought an unfinished dollhouse and then started going to miniature shows (and, later, conventions). This burgeoning interest coincided with my first time having disposable income, a factor that dismayed my husband, who was more interested in purchasing a full-sized abode than a miniature one.

After I’d been collecting a while, I decided I’d start with a simple room scene, and took stock of my numerous acquisitions. I had a couple of tables, some teeny shoes and glassware, a miniature snack tray with a cheese ball and some minute Ritz crackers… and a very large number of chairs. Seeing everything laid out before me crystallized something for me. I wasn’t really interested in furnishing a miniature house or even in making a room — except possibly a chair museum. I was interested in the chairs themselves. Something about the infinite variety that could be achieved within the relatively rigid parameters of a seat, a back, and some supports intrigued me. I think it’s the same reason that I like typefaces.

Anyway, I sold my dollhouse and concentrated on acquiring miniature chairs. I also started collecting miniature books, but that’s another story.

Red Leather Wing Chair

Red leather wing chairThis beautiful wing chair is one of my earliest miniature chair acquisitions. Covered in genuine leather and featuring hand-carved cabriole legs (in mahogany, I believe), it has a high back and a removable seat cushion. Cabriole legs were particularly popular in the 18th century, and are most often associated with the Queen Anne period (1702 – 1760). My fondness for 18th century literature may be a reason that I’m so attracted to miniature furniture from this period. Most of my collection centers on the Queen Anne and Georgian eras.

This chair was purchased from Chestnut Hill Studios; at over 4 inches high is the largest chair in my collection. It is perfectly in scale (1:12 or one inch to the foot); the original was over 4 feet tall! Chestnut Hill Studios.

An Assortment of 18th Century Chairs

Windsor Chairs: Delicate and Detailed

Here is a grouping of Windsor chairs by various artisans. The delicacy of these complex pieces is almost unimaginable, especially when you consider that some of them were carved with a penknife!

windsor chairs

Described from left to right, back row first:

  • Bow-back side chair in maple (also known as a brace-back because of the 2 diagonal braces), by Ed Norton. It has 7 swelled spindles that make toothpicks look fat; they taper to the thinness of sewing needles and each is set into a little hole in the saddle. The spindles in the chair backs make toothpicks look fat; some taper to the thinness of sewing needles (and I don’t mean the hefty ones). Saddle-shaped seat. The legs are turned and angled and there are stretchers as well. A bit over 3-1/4″ high.
  • Fan-back arm chair by Lou Murter, done in mahogany. I watched him carve the spindles for one of these chairs — with a penknife — and he had big hands. This is a more formal style than the Ed Norton chair. It has 5 straight back-spindles flanked by 2 carved ones. Curved arms are supported by 2 straight spindles plus a carved and angled one. Legs have carved stretchers. The carved saddle seat comes to a point in front.
  • Curved-back Windsor arm chair by William Stout. Beautifully crafted: each spindle and leg goes completely through the seat, making this piece surprisingly sturdy for the fragility of its parts.
  • Another Lou Murter Windsor; the back has 8 swelled center spindles and carved “turned” outer ones. Each spindle, leg, and stretcher in Lou’s chairs fits into its own hole (top and bottom), not just glued in place.
  • (center front) This tiny fan-back Windsor chair by Ed Norton is just 1-1/4″ tall. I believe it’s supposed to be 1:48 (quarter inch) scale, but is perhaps a little larger. Remember, this was hand-carved without aid of precision tools such as lasers that are used today to achieve exactness.

The Chair That Started My Obsession

Shaker Rocking Chair by the Hoffmans

shaker chair by hoffmanI found this chair in a little shop while visiting my aunt and uncle in Boonton, NJ one summer. I’d seen miniature furniture before, of course, but hadn’t yet been exposed to furniture that really looked as though someone had magically shrunk a full-size piece. The woven “rush” seat, in particular, enchanted me. I immediately purchased it and the accompanying little stool.

I didn’t know anything about miniatures as a venue for collecting or as an artistic showcase, and at that point the name George Hoffman didn’t mean anything to me, but this little chair started me on my hunt for more examples of finely crafted miniature furniture.

Swan Chair by Susanne Russo

russo swan chair

Curved back, upholstered, 3-legged chair with intricately carved swans forming both arms and 2 of the legs. By Suzanne Russo.

A Pair of Queen Anne Chairs

queen anne.JPG The chair on the left is from The Miners and has been faux-finished in a malachite-look glaze with a tomato red/green iridescent Thai silk. This one is not about the carving but about the finishing. On the right is one of my very favorite chairs. I’m pretty sure this is by George Passwaters (initials G. R. P.) and it practically glows, due to the wood he used. I’m thinking it’s lacewood but might be something else. It has wonderful grain that is well-displayed in the masterful carving. I think this design is called fiddleback. I don’t know what the design of the feet is called but they are elegantly fluted and echo the carving on the top of the chair.

A Matter of Scale

small and smaller chairs
1:12 scale chairs on ends are by Chestnut Hill Studios and Lou Murter. Tiny chairs by Mel Prescott and Ed Norton (1/2″ and 1/4″ scale respectively).

All photos by RSBingham.

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