When it comes to valuing antique chairs, it is necessary that you pay attention not only to the brand but also its history. The little differences you find may be what tips the scale in your favor when valuing an antique chair.
The hand-crafted Eileen Gray designed Dragon’s chair previously owned by Yves St Laurent currently holds the title of the most expensive antique chair ever sold. It was reportedly sold for a whooping sum of approximately $28 million at a Christie’s auction in 2009.
What are Antique chairs? Are they any different from the chairs of today? What makes them valuable? And how can you spot an original from a knockoff? All this you will learn as you proceed in this article.
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What are Antique Chairs
From rocking chairs to armchairs and even wheelchairs, chairs that belong in the antique chair gang are those with production dates no less than 100 years.
These chairs come in varying styles, designs and manufacturers and so will not be valued equally. Also, among the several factors that play huge roles in determining the value of these chairs, the materials used and how old the piece are major players.
15 Most Expensive Antique Chairs
Carefully curated by us, here you have 15 of the most expensive antique chairs today.
Armand Albert Rateau Bronze Armchair
Imperial Carved Zitan Dragon Throne
Chippendale Carved Mahogany Easy Chair
The John Cadwallader Chippendale Carved Mahogany Side Chair
A Four Corner Exposed Official’s Hat Arm Chair, Sichutouguanmaoyi
A Chippendale Carved Mahogany Easy Chair
A Pair of Early George III Mahogany Chairs
Queen Anne Carved Walnut Chair
The Deshler Family Chippendale Carved Mahogany Side Chair
The Waln-Ryerss Family Queen Anne Carved Mahogany Side Chair
A Queen Anne Carved Walnut Side Chair
The Charles Thomson Chippendale Carved Mahogany Side Chair
Queen Anne Carved Walnut Compass-Seat Side Chair
The Morris-Murray Family Chippendale Mahogany Easy Chair
A Queen Anne Carved Walnut Easy Chair
15. A Queen Anne Carved Walnut Easy Chair
The Queen Anne Carved Walnut Easy Chair is a piece that embodies all the characteristics of an 18th century Philadelphia furniture. It belongs to a part of the collection made for May and Howard Joynt of Alexandria, Virginia.
The couple collected many pieces of furniture and sold all of it alongside this Queen Anne chair in 1990 to Christie’s.
Do not be ashamed if you mistake a Queen Anne chair for a Chippendale chair; this is because they were very famous in the 18th century and so many furniture makers made similar styles.
14. The Morris-Murray Family Chippendale Mahogany Easy Chair
Interestingly, the side Chippendale chairs are not the only ones with value, this Morris-Murray C scroll style antique chair is also quite valuable due to the comfort and upholstery it offers.
The history of this chair is recorded by Donald Webster, where he informed us of the former owner John Colhoun. The chair initially was made for Samuel Morris who left it to be inherited by a member of the Murray family who happened to be a relative of Colhoun.
13. Queen Anne Carved Walnut Compass-Seat Side Chair
Here we have the Samuel Harding carved Queen Anne style chair which passed its estimated value at an auction in 2013. Its major selling point was the original markings that were still visible.
You may wonder how a piece that looks so simple can cost so much? Well, it might interest you to know that the smallest detail on this side chair makes all the difference. From the shell carvings, to the shell-carved crest and even rails, all these were major factors that upped its price.
12. The Charles Thomson Chippendale Carved Mahogany Side Chair
This John Pollard carved piece is one of the most valuable antique chairs available. It dates to as far back as 1765 and was quite popular during the years that preceded the American Revolution. This chair was owned by Charles Thompson who was a revolutionary in Philadelphia. Interestingly, at that period he was the secretary of the continental congress.
11. A Queen Anne Carved Walnut Side Chair
If you were looking for a period where the design for the Queen Anne Chair made the most success, then the walnut side chair era is your best bet.
When you examine closely the features of this antique chair, especially the crest, railings, seat, knees and legs, you will find that it embodies the full characteristics of the Queen Anne type chair.
The artistic features on this particular chair is best traced to the works of Samuel Harden who was famous for his exceptional carvings.
10. The Waln-Ryerss Family Queen Anne Carved Mahogany Side Chair
In 2003, this Garvan Carver carved mahogany side chair was famous for its design and because it is a Queen Anne style chair, the carvings radiate elegance.
As expected, it surpassed the estimated bid, and many furniture makers still draw inspiration from the design. These sets of chairs are often considered as the greatest styles of the pre-rococo era.
It was even referred to as the best American Queen Anne Chair ever found in the Blue Book of Philadelphia Future.
9. The Deshler Family Chippendale Carved Mahogany Side Chair
This John Pollard carving is valuable due to its artistic designs. It was estimated to sell for at least USD 500,000 but ended up going for more. why not? Afterall, it was referred to as the acme of artistic decoration by the Blue Book Philadelphia and was designed by John Pollard a craftsman of unquestionable talent.
8. Queen Anne Carved Walnut Chair
Armchairs were most popular at the beginning of the 18th century, the same period the Queen Anne chairs gained their popularity, so it is only expected that the Queen Anne armchairs would be a customer favorite.
The earliest owner of this antique chair is Job Bacon, a hat-maker who was born in Greenwich, New Jersey. It was inherited by his son John Bacon and then made its way to George Bacon Wood.
All of these names appear on the seat frame in two impressive marks.
7. A Pair of Early George III Mahogany Chairs
In 2007, a pair of early George III mahogany chairs, although estimated to be worth about USD 300,000-500,000 ended up selling for far more.
The elegance of this pair is the major reason for its high value. This chair also belongs to those inspired by the work of Thomas Chippendale.
6. A Chippendale Carved Mahogany Easy Chair
There is no doubt that Chippendale chairs are at the top in terms of value, but what makes this Benjamin Randolph Carved chair more valuable than others?
Well, for one, this antique chair appears to have retained its original upholstery. Any collector with this piece will be the envy of other professionals who will wish they had this piece in their possession.
From the carvings on the knee, you can tell that this piece was put together in the shop of the famous cabinet maker Benjamin Randolph. While the original carver may not be identified, the patterns on the chair are consistent with items made at Randolph’s shop.
5. A Four Corner Exposed Official’s Hat Arm Chair, Sichutouguanmaoyi
Here we have an elegant Chinese masterpiece. It is admired for its design that dates back to the 17th century. It’s no wonder it surpassed its estimated bid of USD300,000-500,000 in 2015.
In addition to this, you would be pleased to know that it belongs to one the earliest forms of the Huanghuali furniture design. This rare piece features no decorations; its solid form and carefully carved design makes it the center of attraction.
4. The John Cadwallader Chippendale Carved Mahogany Side Chair
This Chippendale-style chair is valuable mostly due to the style it spots and impeccable craftsmanship. The chair has been referred to as the “masterpiece of aesthetics”. Carved by furniture maker John Cadwallader and his wife, these pieces caught the attention of George Washington.
There were about twenty of this original style chair but only seven of them can be confirmed to still be available.
3. Chippendale Carved Mahogany Easy Chair
What’s so special about this chair, that sits it at the number 3 spot on our most valuable list you ask? Well, for one, this chair has been able to remain valuable even without its design.
It has been tagged the highest development of an American Chippendale wing chair and a collector’s dream in the book Fine Points of Furniture. The rails, wing and arm rest are made from yellow pine while the seat is made from oak.
This piece is practically any collector’s dream since it has retained all of its original qualities and is still in pristine condition. The initial upholstery was castor filled before it was removed leaving the frame.
While the collector valued the chair at an estimated bid of USD 600,000-900,000, Christie’s sold it at an even higher price.
2. Imperial Carved Zitan Dragon Throne
This antique piece is of Chinese heritage; and is referred to as a Zitan throne from the late Qing dynasty, which around the 17th century belonged to a tentative heir of the dynasty named Aixinjueluo Pujun (1885-1942).
The Zitan is considered to be one of the most prized types of hardwood by the Chinese. It gave carvings and designs a regal outlook which can be said to be one of the many reasons this chair remains valuable till this day.
1. Armand Albert Rateau Bronze Armchair
The estimated bid for this bronze armchair was between USD 1,500,000 – 2,000,000, but it sold for USD 98,500 more.
Also, this is only one out of the eight documented types of this model. Six of them were created by Armand Rateau for the American collectors George and Florence Blumenthals, who were also his first customers.
George and Florence had requested this model because they presumed it would go well on their patio which was surrounded by their indoor pool in their Manhattan home.
It was to this effect that Rateau created the magical bronze suite made up of six arm chairs, two tables and a lamp. After George’s death, the suite was passed down to a relative in Florida where it was acquired by two auction houses.
How To Identify an Antique Chair
To identify antique chairs and avoid being ripped off by people who specialize in making and selling counterfeits to sell as original, check out this section. Here we’ve curated signs that will aid in identifying authentic antique chairs
The maker’s mark is quite crucial when verifying the authenticity of not just antique chairs but antiques in general. Usually, you should find a mark adopted by the chair manufacturer on an original antique chair. This mark usually is the manufacturer’s name, the location of production and even the year of production.
To locate this mark, check the back, bottom and sides of the chairs. These marks can be located at the back, bottom or side of the chair. However, do remember that not all chairs were marked when they were first manufactured, so it is possible to have an antique without the maker’s mark.
A genuine antique chair maker’s mark is expected to have darkened or faded due to aging. Also, due to rebranding and re-selling, companies tend to change their markings, but if you find a chair that still carries the mark from the first manufacturer, you can be sure you have an antique chair.
A classic example of this change is the original Hitchcock’s chair company with the mark ‘L Hitchcock. Hitchcock’s-Ville. Conn. Warranted’ which later became ‘L. Hitchcock. Unionville. Conn. Warranted’ after merging and selling.
It would be best if you were incredibly patient and careful when identifying these marks so you do not get them wrong.
Below is the maker’s mark for the company Howard and Sons.
You may wonder, how will a saw mark help to identify if that antique chair is genuine and not a knockoff? Well, you may have forgotten about the age of the industrial revolution.
Initially, prior to the time antique chair producers began using mechanized saws, the saw marks on any piece of furniture were almost straight because they would have been cut using an ax or simple hand saws.
With the age of the industrial revolution, mechanized saws were invented, and this did not only make the production of chairs faster, it also allowed for circular cuts on any piece of wood used for a chair.
This change is reflected in how the artisans cut the wood and its final designs. The hand saws allowed for a more squarely shaped chair, while the mechanized ones did not limit the manufacturer in the design of their chair.
So, if you find an antique chair with a more squarely shaped design, examine the saw marks on the chair closely. If it is a straight mark, it was likely made before the industrial revolution, which makes it an antique.
Note: This does not mean that all chairs manufactured after the industrial revolution are not antiques. The industrial revolution is more than a hundred years already, so it is possible to have a chair with machine sawmarks.
Different periods have different types of joinery. Some joinery patterns were famous at specific periods in history, so if you can identify the type of joinery your antique chair has, you can date it back to when that style was most popular.
Identifying the joinery is beneficial when you need to verify an antique chair, especially in a case where there is no maker’s mark on the chair. However, do note that this move is only relevant in a case where the chair in question is made from wood.
Now let us examine some famous joinery techniques from different eras.
- The early parts of the 1600s were more famous for the hand-crafted pegs that would hold the mortise and tenon links together while slightly elevated.
- From the 1700s, manufacturers of these chairs would cut out a dovetail outline at the end of two separate woodsand join them together. This style was also popular well into the early 1800s.
- After the mid-1860s, a machine-based technique was invented known as the Knapp joint. It was sometimes referred to as the Halfmoon or the pin and scallop, and it was more effective for mass productions.
- By the 1900s, a machine-based dovetaillink took over from the Knapp joint.
Now that you are familiar with the joinery techniques used in furniture making in the older times, you can carefully examine your chair and see if it fits into any of these techniques in joinery to allow you to place your piece and verify its authenticity.
When you see some styles and designs of some chairs, you can deduce that the chair and the materials it is made from do not fit into the aesthetics of the modern world.
For specific periods, some designs are popular for their famous aesthetics, so if you see a chair that looks like one, you can inspect it to verify that it is indeed an antique.
For further understanding, the table below shows the different design eras you can date your antique chairs.
|Early American Style
|Queen Anne Style
|American Empire Style
|Arts and Crafts Style
|Art Nouveau Style
If you can date a piece to any of the periods above, you can verify that the chair is an antique piece.
Antique chairs that are stuffed and covered most times have a particular look. The fabric commonly associated with these kinds of chairs is a flowery patterned design that is often hand stitched.
Note that some collectors may change the material; to avoid this, look closely at the fabric. You can be sure that the effect of aging, that is, wear and tear, will be quite obvious, and this is how you verify your antique using the fabric.
For a more detailed explanation of how you can verify specific antique chairs, you can watch this eight-minute video on identifying antique chairs and what makes them valuable.
Are Antique Chairs Valuable?
Depending on some factors, antique chairs can be quite valuable. However, do note that not every antique chair might fetch you a hefty sum, so here are some signs to look out for:
The state of an antique chair before it is valued matters a lot. You cannot expect a chair with broken legs or torn fabric to sell at a very high price. Some companies tend to refurbish these kinds of antiques, making them questionable as antique pieces.
This act means that if you find any antique chair with all its parts intact, it can sell at a high price.
Some materials obviously will be more expensive than others. For antique chairs, your best bet is to verify the quality of wood used. The suppliers of genuine wood would sometimes tag their wood with their seal to help customers verify that they are buying a good product.
If an antique chair has this seal, it is likely to sell at a higher price due to its quality.
This change is a common determinant of the value of antique chairs. It is normal for these chairs to be missing a part or two because of how old they are, which creates the need for refurbishing.
The refurbishing trend tends to affect the value of these chairs negatively because the authenticity of the piece being an antique becomes questionable.
Some chairs were not mass produced; they were hand-crafted specifically for some people or used as a display. Antique chairs like this will be generally more expensive because even in their own time, they were rare and even more so now.
You can expect that an antique chair requested by many will be going for a higher price in the market. These chairs sometimes have a history that makes people want to acquire a piece that most times is auctioned off.
Auctioned antiques tend to be the most valuable kind as a result of the demand for them.
Antique Chairs Price Guide
Here, you will find helpful guides that will help you understand how you can determine the worth of these antique chairs better.
Books on Antique Chairs
There are indeed several books out there that discuss in detail how to determine the prices of antique chairs and here are a few of them worth mentioning
- Early American Furniture: A price guide for collectors written by John Obbard
- Fake, fraud or genuine? : Identifying authentic American antique furniture written by Myrna Kaye
- The Bulfinch Anatomy of Antique Furniture: An Illustrated Guide to Identifying Period, Detail, and Design Hardcover written by Tim Forrest and Tom Attabury
- Field Guide to American Antique Furniture: A Unique Visual System for Identifying the Style of Virtually Any Piece of American Antique Furniture written by Joseph Butler and Ray Skibinski
These guides are best if you decide to value an antique chair on your own. You also have the option of outsourcing and getting your information from professionals.
You will find websites with professionals available to answer any questions you may have about your antique chairs. This site offers free valuations and answers any question about different ranges of antique collections.
Asides from the online presence, you can visit physical shops with people that can guide and direct you on how valuable your antique chair is. All you need to do is look out for specialized shops, and you will find someone that can help you.
Many chairs produced in more recent times have drawn inspiration from the designs and styles of antique chairs, making them still valuable today.
On that note, remember these clues you can easily use for verification.
- Confirm the maker’s mark on the chair, usually the company’s name or where the maker produced the chair.
- The joinery used can help you place the period the maker produced the chair.
- The pattern of the saw marks can tell if an artisan made a chair before or after the industrial revolution, which can tell you how old a chair is.
- If you are familiar with the different design periods, you can date an antique chair by looking at the period the design was most popular.