The first thing to consider when buying an antique chair is whether it is comfortable. Some antique chairs are too small for the modern body and others catch you in the wrong part of the back. So make sure you sit in a chair before buying it.

A Chippendale period mahogany wing armchair, one of the most comfortable types of antique chair.

A chair is made from stiles, the uprights, and rails, the horizontal elements with either a drop-in seat or a stuffover seat. A drop-in seat literally drops into the frame fo the seat rails whereas with a stuffover seat the fabric goes over the top of the seat rails.

A Hepplewhite armchair with a drop-in seat.

The next thing to check is that all the elements of the chair are original and unbroken. As with any item of antique furniture a good colour and patination will suggest that the chair remains in good condition. Damage to a chair will usually be found at the bottom of the legs or at the joints. When you are looking at two or more chairs the graining of the wood should be similar throughout and the weight of each chair should be the same- inferior mahogany used in later chairs will be lighter.

As Eighteenth Century chair designs come back into fashion in the late Nineteenth Century it is often difficult to tell them apart. The easiest way to tell them apart is in the construction details. With an Eighteenth Century chair the splat will run from the top rail into a shoe which should be a seperate piece of wood. In the Nineteenth Century the shoe and splat were usually made out of one piece of wood.

Detail showing how the splat tenons into a shoe.

The second detail is that mid-late 18th Century chairs were strengthened by corner brackets across the seat rails whereas in the 19th Century they used solid blocks glued or screwed into the seat rails.

Detail showing the corner brackets.

Due to all the different types of chair such as Gainsboroughs, salon chairs and dining chairs it is very difficult to give a guide to value. However when considering a long set of chairs you should expect the value to go up exponentially with each additional pair of original chairs.

To view a selection of fine antique chairs please visit our website at


January 14, 2010 — Peter Alexander