Chair Page 1

Great Canadian Furniture

Victorian Pressback Chairs - 1901

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure

A fabulous once-in-a-lifetime discovery: a Queen Victoria pressback rocker, from 1901, in original finish and in fine condition.

This is the finest Canadian pressback rocker ever made and shows the decoration that made them a work of art even though they were entirely machine made. The swirling plant decoration is art nouveau style which flourished at the turn of the century.

Far too often these pressback chairs have been stripped down to their original wood surface losing the dark rich patina that it took a hundred years to put on the wood surface. There is alligatoring where the varnish surface has become pebbled showing this is the untouched original finish.

Queen Victoria Pressback Rocker - 1901
Orig. chair - Size - 102 cm h
Found - Dundas, ON
Great Canadian Heritage Treasure

A fabulous find in very old original dark condition.

This is the way you hope to find Victorian chairs, blackened through time, and untouched by ruinous refinishers since.

This chair came to auction in a remotely located, 1833 stone house, which still had its thick pine plank floor.

This rocker is the same age as the one above but is slightly smaller in height and width.

Still it's a comfortable seat and a fine example of memorabilia furniture in unrefinished condition.

Queen Victoria Pressback Rocker - 1901
Orig. plate - Size - 95 cm
Found - Waterdown, ON

The chair shows the handy grip rail that sits under the front of the seat to allow one to pull the chair forward easily by just lifting the butt slightly to sit closer to the fire, the card game, or the bottle of booze on the table.

Someone has tied string between the stretchers because the glue has dried out and some ends have come loose. A glue job will make them as good as new.

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure

An extremely rare - It is the only one we have ever seen anywhere - 1902 Edward VII and Queen Alexandra coronation chair in very fine original (unrefinished) condition.

This chair shows it has been well used in the past 100 years; historical pressbacks were not merely memorabilia but designed for everyday use. This was probably in a household kitchen and may once have been part of a set. Sadly this is the only one remaining.

The design is more minimal than the others and not as deeply pressed but still gives this chair an appeal beyond the ordinary and firmly gives it a time of manufacture tying it to a historical celebration.

Below the more common portrait associated with Edward and Alexandra on plates, pitchers, cups, mugs, and beakers.

Edward VII & Alexandra Coronation Chair - 1902
Orig. chair - Size - 92 cm h
Found - Paris, ON

Refinished to Death - A set of Queen Victoria pressbacks that have been refinished to death.

One of the worst casualties of refinishing is the medallion of the Queen which gets its definition from the residue that time nests in the crevices. Refinishing removes this so robbing the portrait of the Queen has lost much of its punch as a result and almost looks like it was sanded or rubbed off too vigorously.


























Another refinished set of historic pressbacks from the same period feature Canada's Prime Minister at the time, Sir Wilfrid Laurier (1896-1911).

This set of six chairs found no buyers even though they are seldom seen, because they had been completely refinished and covered with a urethane finish betrayed by a silky sheen. All the wrong things to do if you want to maintain the value of your antiques.

It's hard to feel you are in the company of history when you sit on chairs that look like they came out of the Vilas furniture factory last week.

Both the Victoria and the Laurier set will have a similar history. They will sit lonely in antique dealers' garages waiting until the patina returns - say 60 years - and buyer interest...































The photos look nice but the chairs look like they were made last week. Not the way an antique should look, but the way many fakes do.

But fake pressbacks of this type are not known; just grossly abused originals...

Americans who fought the Spanish-American War, for a few months in 1898, used their naval heroes like Admiral Sampson to adorn their pressback chairs and clocks. You can find others featuring Admirals Dewey and Schley. The wicker seats are a nice touch but fragile to sit in.































An Admiral Sampson rocker and chairs left, and an Admiral Dewey rocker above show the American style of pressbacks of the time.

The chairs left show one in original condition and the others after being stripped and revarnished.

Unfortunately many antique furniture dealers do this to antiques which really destroys their value and appeal to those who collect.

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure

Of course the most fabulous chairs are those that also took part directly in great historic events.

A superb discovery is this fine Arts & Crafts style corner chair made from the teak of famous British Victorian cruiser HMS Powerful (1895-1929).

Powerful and her sister ship Terrible were to play a big role in the early months of the Boer War, even though the Boers had no navy of any kind.

But they had huge guns, protecting Pretoria, modern French Creusot guns that British experts dismissed as too heavy to move about the theatre of war and so be a threat to them.

Trouble was, no one told the Boers the guns couldn't be moved; they soon dismounted them from their fort at Pretoria and transported them across country to pound the garrisons at Ladysmith and Mafeking.

What could the British do?

Capt. Percy Scott, commanding Terrible, suggested dismounting the huge 4.7 inch and 12 pounder naval guns from the HMS Powerful, mount them on mobile carriages of his design, and have naval ratings pull them across the veldt. The Boers had met their match...

Admiral Sir Percy Scott is considered the Father of Modern Gunnery in the British Navy.

When the Powerful was finally broken up, in 1929, the ship breakers used the ship's teak decking to fashion mostly small souvenirs to bring in extra money. Lots of people were interested in this famous ship so sales were brisk. This is by far, the largest souvenir item of Powerful and Terrible we've ever seen.

Go to HMS Powerful

Corner Chair, HMS Powerful, (1895-1929)

Orig. teak corner chair - Size - 69 h x 71 w cms
Found - Stayner, ON

This chair is not souvenir size, but designed for everyday use. The arms extend out far enough that a person of considerable girth can still sit in it comfortably and rest his elbows on the extremities. The chair is entirely pegged and glued together; no nails were used in its construction.

Copyright Goldi Productions Ltd. - 1996, 1999, 2005

Pressback Chairs: Up to the 1870s chairs in North America had been made by hand. Then gradually machines were harnessed to do the carving, turning, and crafting that the hands of talented men had done before.

Pressback chairs resulted when a heavy steam-driven press punched a design into the backs of chairs.

Admittedly, the relief was shallow, not as three dimensional as a carver's work would have been, but it was decorative enough and was done almost instantly, whereas a carver would have taken days to finish a similar work.

This set of six pressback side chairs, and an arm chair, recently appeared at a rural Ontario auction.

Of note was that they had never been refinished in 105 years; they still had the original factory varnish and patina.

The back of each chair featured a pressed medallion of Queen Victoria and underneath the letters 1837 Victoria 1901, so these were made to commemorate her reign after her death. The chairs were likely manufactured in 1901, to take commercial advantage of the widespread mourning for a monarch who ruled for 64 years and whose Empire ruled the world.

100 years had turned the varnish dark, and slightly alligatored the surface. Alligatoring is the slight roughness or corrugated feel that the surface of the varnish gets with decades of drastic variations in temperature. You often find alligatoring on gingerbread clocks that have sat on mantles over fireplaces and are alternately, baked in the evening and frozen by morning, when the fire has been out for hours.








Update: These six chairs and armchair resulted in a bidding war at the auction with the chairs ultimately selling for an astonishing $9,300 or some $1320 a chair...

Is that what these were really worth?

It turns out that the family was bidding against a rich person who wanted them even though the price was outlandish. You know, the rich who know the price of everything and the value of nothing...

The family won; after all the money they spent just went back into the proceeds from the auction which they would get back.

You have to watch out for family bidding at auctions; they often bid people up and then drop out or take it at any price. They're not bidding with real money...

Pressback chairs were not really found in rich people's houses, who continued to prefer real carving by skilled craftsmen.

Pressback chairs were commonly found in farm kitchens or parlours. The arm chair up top shows wonderful wear on the arm rests where the man of the house held forth while smoking his pipe and discussed the state of the country and the Empire. How important it all seemed at the time...

It would be interesting to know all the conversations that Queen Victoria above has overheard in 100 years, as family members came and went...

Now the chairs sit lonely in the auction hall, waiting for a new owner, after having been in the same family for 100 years...

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure

Another fabulous historical pressback chair, manufactured at the same time as the Queen Victoria ones above, featuring her son Edward VII, who inherited the throne after she died in 1901.

Edward lived only nine more years, dying in 1910, so the chair featuring his medallion are the same age as the Victoria ones, and was probably manufactured in 1902.

Both chairs above & below show the flowery decorative style of 1900 Art Nouveau.

They look different in tone because the Edward chair - one of a set of two we found at a local auction - was refinished, probably in the 1930s or 40s. But the patina is still very nice compared to chairs that have recently been refinished and look like they came out of the Brick, Leon's, or IKEA last week...

This is the second tier of quality pressback chair, ranking just below the rocker or armchair above and could be used in the dining room or a fancy kitchen or parlour.

Edward VII Pressback Chair, 1902
Orig. chair - Size - 102 cm
Found - Milton, ON

This chair has a more modest back panel - another way to keep the manufacturing cost down - yet it still remains a marvelous chair.

Pressback chairs of Queen Victoria and Edward VII in original condition are extremely rare to find.

These two sets - a fabulous echo of an era now long gone - are the only ones of this type we have ever seen...

Like Victoria above, Edward would have heard generations of squabbling around the kitchen table...

The spindles (in the back) and the stretchers (reinforcing the legs) of the chair, which were traditionally left as round rods - at the back and sides they still are - were now easily and swiftly, decorated or "turned" on a machine in a frenzy of ornamentation.

The chair also has a most unusual addition, a "hand grip" under the front lip of the seat, appreciated by all those who've tried to pull a chair forward by the front of the seat against a rug.

The chairs were mostly made of oak, often with maple seats, spindles and stretchers.

Traditionally, pioneer chairs before the 1870s, had "one-piece" seats, in the days when huge trees could be found everywhere, resulting in large boards for making furniture.

The seat above looks like a one-piece, with uniform "age-burn" across the entire surface, though it looks like a crack had developed at one time, which often happened with single boards.

But don't be fooled. That crack looks mighty straight for an act of nature! Flip it over and suspicions confirmed. That crack is a man-made saw cut betrayed by the grain converging, and being cut-off, instead of flowing naturally across the entire surface.

So always look underneath, behind, or inside any piece of antique furniture, where usage and finishes haven't disguised the real story behind the piece.

This is not a fake! This is a real antique but from the period of machine-age technology, when smaller lumber was glued together for chair seats and the tops of tables, and chests. It's one way to tell if a piece of furniture is late 19th century "settled" manufacture instead of early "pioneer" made.