Humanity has used chairs for a significant part of human history, although the designs and production techniques have evolved over the millennia. The earliest records of chairs originated from Ancient Egypt, where chairs appeared in several Egyptian tomb paintings and date as far back as the 3rd Dynasty (circa 2650-2575 BCE).
Ancient Greece also had a commendable history of chairs with the invention of the klismos in the 5th century B.C., one of the most impressive chairs of the ancient world. The use of chairs quickly spread into other western civilizations, and by the 12th and 14th centuries, the Chinese and Aztecs joined the party, thanks to the chair’s style and functionality.
People are fond of collecting antique chairs today because of their sentimental and historical value. One of America’s founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson, was a notable chair collector. Jefferson’s French contemporary, Napoleon, also had a thing for collecting chairs. These trends led to the establishment of a substantial antique chair market.
We’ll kick off by apprising you of the difference between antique and vintage chairs before guiding you on how to determine the cost of valuable antique chairs. You’ll also benefit from the comprehensive buyer’s guide attached to this article.
Antique Chairs vs. Vintage Chairs: What’s The Difference?
Although search engine results and many e-commerce sites may use “antique” and “vintage” interchangeably, the terms have distinct connotations. “Antique” refers to objects originating from ancient times (antiquity) at least 100 years ago. On the other hand, “vintage” pertains to aged objects from more recent times, typically between 40 and 99 years ago.
Antique chairs tend to be more valuable than vintage chairs, and many chair collectors are obsessed with acquiring them due to their age, historical significance, and rarity. Still, vintage chairs are valuable collectibles and are included in various reputable chair collections.
This guide focuses on valuable antique chairs, which we’ll discuss in subsequent sections.
- Antique chairs: Older than 100 years
- Vintage chairs: Younger than 100 years but older than 40 years
Antique Chair Identification Guide
Here, we’ll briefly journey back through the sands of time to when present-day antique chairs were the vogue and return to point out the various methods to identify valuable antique chairs.
A Succinct History Of Antique Chairs: The Evolution Of The Sitting Culture
A couple of millennia ago, the human sitting culture involved settling on the bare ground like other great apes. Some civilizations later began sitting on floor mats as culture evolved. However, the ancient Egyptians began sitting on seats more than 2,000 years before the common era. The commoners sat on stools, while the elite got chairs with armrests or backrests.
Many centuries later, the Greeks invented the klismos in the 5th century B.C. The klismos featured plaited cord, a curved backrest, and curved legs and is respected by chair collectors, antique enthusiasts, decorators, and architects as one of the most elegant chairs ever made. Soon, many civilizations and cultures started using chairs.
The Romans designed the scissor chair (X-chair) — a chair supported on an X-shaped skeleton. This seat was prevalent in the 14th and 15th centuries in Western Europe and remained outstanding in Renaissance Italy.
The 18th century marked the introduction of several flashy pieces of furniture, such as the Chinese/English cabriole-legged furniture and the French Louis XV armchair. The cabriole-leg design first appeared in England in the Queen Anne period.
In America, furniture makers occasionally constructed simpler models of English-style chairs from the late 17th century. Antique Windsor chairs were fashionable in America in the late 18th century. Meanwhile, Thomas Chippendale invented the Chippendale furniture style in England during the third quarter of the 18th century, which became a popular name when considering historical English furniture. It was the first English chair to bear a cabinet maker’s name instead of a monarch’s.
Numerous chair models have emerged since the 18th century, including antique, vintage, and contemporary designs.
Note: The Greek Revival movement facilitated the reintroduction of the Greek klismos seat design in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
Several contemporary furniture makers have designed antique chair replicas. These duplicates are less valuable than their original counterparts due to younger age, changes in production technique, material substitution, and inferior quality, among other factors. Thus, learning to tell original antique chairs from less valuable replicas is a technical but integral part of collecting chairs.
The following elements define an original antique chair:
- The furniture maker’s mark
- The furniture’s proportion
- The joint construction
- Saw marks
- The visual style and pictorial significance
The Furniture Maker’s Mark
Many antique chairs possess signatures or labels indicating the furniture maker that manufactured them. These marks are typically located on the posterior of the piece, on the bottom, and on parts of the fabric if it’s an upholstered chair. Before purchasing an antique chair, check for the furniture manufacturer’s mark to determine its authenticity.
The maker’s mark remains one of the most effective means to identify a valuable antique chair due to its specificity and documentation.
You may confirm the significance of a furniture maker’s mark from various antique furniture reference guides, such as:
- Arts and Crafts Collector: This guide contains a list of arts and crafts furniture designers and their specific marks.
- Mark & Patterns library: The Mark & Patterns library lists several furniture makers on Worthpoint.
The Furniture’s Proportion
It’s crucial to scrutinize a piece of furniture’s proportion when determining its age and value. If the chair’s legs are of disproportionate sizes or its top lacks equilibrium with its lower portion, the piece may likely be an outcome of furniture marriage.
Furniture marriage involves the junction of two different furniture pieces or sections. Here, the constituent portions aren’t from the same original piece.
It’s best to go for an antique chair with symmetrical portions, as pieces produced from furniture marriage may contain non-valuable segments that don’t count as antique, devaluing the entire chair.
The Joint Construction
Valuable antique chairs have joints suggesting their manufacture period. Thus, you may determine an antique chair’s age from its joint construction.
Let’s look at some joint types found in antique chairs and their relevant periods:
- Mortise-and-tenon joints (Until the late 1600s): Chairs manufactured before the late 1600s featured mortise-and-tenon joints held together by handmade dowels or pegs. The handmade dowels and pegs were lifted a bit above the joints.
- Dovetailed joints (From the 1700s to early 1800s): Seats designed in the 1700s possessed dovetailed joints. These joints were supported with glue and became more sophisticated from the 1700s to the first half of the 1800s.
- Knapp joints (From the 1860s to 1900): Antique chairs developed in the 1860s and late 1800s had a Knapp joint. The machine-made Knapp joint was popularly called Pin & Scallop, Half-Moon, Pin & Crescent, Scallop & Dowel, or Pin & Cove.
- Machine-made dovetail joints (From 1900): The machine-made dovetail joint was intended in the late 1800s. By 1900, it completely replaced the Knapp joint.
Saw marks are another important element to consider when identifying antique chairs. Furniture makers sawed the wood for antique pieces of furniture by hand rather than with machines before the 1800s. Hence, pieces made before the 1800s may possess straight saw marks.
On the other hand, antique chairs made after 1800 were cut with circular saws and thus had circular saw marks. It’s crucial to look for visible saw marks when determining a piece of furniture’s age.
The Visual Style and Pictorial Significance
You could evaluate the visual style of a purported antique chair and compare it to pictures in various price guides to discern its value and authenticity. Although these elements aren’t the best means to identify antique chairs, they may considerably help your identification process. They’re particularly useful when you have no other leads, such as the furniture maker’s mark and joint construction.
Antique Chairs Valuation Guide
We’ll begin this section by citing various factors influencing antique chairs’ value and cite several valuable antique chairs and their probable market prices.
Antique chairs come at various prices, and several factors determine these values.
Before purchasing antique chairs, it’s vital to examine these relevant facets:
- The chair’s age and historical significance
- The chair’s condition
- The chair’s manufacturer
- Appeal and artistic touch
- The chair’s size
- Quality and materials
The Chair’s Age and Historical Significance
Age defines the value of antique items in the general sense. Therefore, the older a chair, the greater its value. For instance, a Roman scissors chair from the Renaissance may cost more than a regular chair from the early 1900s.
Although this principle is typically true, a younger antique chair may be more valuable than an older piece on some occasions due to other factors like demand and appeal.
Similarly, an antique chair’s historical significance also influences its value. For instance, a chair model which British royalty or American founding fathers sat on will be more expensive than a piece with less historical relevance.
The Chair’s Condition
A chair’s condition is a fundamental factor to consider when buying an antique chair. Antique chairs that have been repaired or restored often have lower values. Meanwhile, well-preserved antique chairs typically have higher prices.
The Chair’s Manufacturer
Antique chairs with their maker’s marks intact are like branded products. Antique vendors sell pieces from prominent furniture manufacturers at greater prices than chairs without recognizable marks. Hence, be prepared to spend significant amounts of money when going after a chair from a well-known manufacturer like Thomas Chippendale.
If the antique chair dealer possesses the documentation proving where and when they acquired the piece from the original owner, they’re likely to sell the chair at a higher price at auction.
Highly demanded antique chairs usually have a higher market value than those with lower purchase rates.
Most times, rarity and demand are closely associated. Rare antique chairs are usually more demanded than readily available ones and thus quite expensive in the antique market. Still, this tendency doesn’t apply to every situation, as a readily available piece with good quality and conditions may have a greater value than a rarer one.
An antique chair’s value depends on its specific design. Pieces with more sophisticated designs like cabriole-legged chairs are typically more expensive than relatively plain models.
Appeal and Artistic Touch
More attractive antique chairs with an impressive artistic finish, especially those with unique features, are often valuable.
The Chair’s Size
Larger antique chairs usually cost much since their manufacturers incorporated more materials, effort, and time into the production process.
Quality and Materials
It’s also necessary to examine an antique chair’s quality before purchasing it because pieces with superior (e.g. stronger or rarer wood types) materials are generally costlier than those with inferior elements (e.g. low quality, common wood types).
Valuable Antique Chairs and their Market Costs
The period between the 18th and early 20th centuries saw the manufacture of several antique chairs. These pieces possess different market values, depending on the sale outlet.
Here are the most valuable antique chairs designed between 1700 and 1921 and their average market prices in no specific order:
- Queen Anne wing chairs
- Chippendale chairs
- Victorian balloon-back chairs
- Hepplewhite chairs
- Morris chairs
Queen Anne Wing Chairs
Wing chairs (wingbacks) feature an elevated upholstered back and sloping arms. These seats have been installed in living rooms and lounges over the centuries. Yet, numerous chair collectors regard the wing chairs from the Queen Anne era (1702–1714) as precious collectibles. Some vintage furniture makers revived Queen Anne wing chairs, but these newer models are less valuable.
Original antique Queen Anne wing chairs cost at least $10,000, but the vintage replicas are valued at around $1000–$3500.
Here are the prices of some pure Queen Anne wing chairs according to past sales records on 1stDibs:
- A 1704 American Queen Anne Walnut wing chair: Listed for sale at $20,000
- A 1710s Queen Anne walnut wingback chair: Listed for sale at $37,000
Thomas Chippendale was one of the biggest names in furniture making in the 18th century, and the elegance of his works is celebrated even in the 21st century. The Chippendale style filled the gap between the rococo and neoclassical styles.
Christie’s—a prominent auction house—suggests that Chippendale chairs are unique for the cramp cuts located inside the seat rail. The design is one of the most reproduced antique models due to its significant popularity. So, it isn’t easy to find an antique chair from Chippendale’s original workshop.
Replicas of Chippendale’s authentic style from the 18th century are highly valuable and can be found for between $10,000 and $20,000.
Here are some antique Chippendale duplicates’ prices based on current listings on 1stDibs:
- An 18th-century Georgian mahogany Chippendale chairs pair: Listed for sale at $12,112.32
- A mid-18th-century Georgian Chippendale-style chair: Listed for sale at $13,269.11
Victorian Balloon-Back Chairs
As their name implies, Victorian balloon-back chairs are distinct for their balloon-shaped backs. They often featured embroidered brocade or velvet upholstery and were especially prevalent between the 1830s and 1850s when they replaced the preceding colonial balloon dining chairs.
These chairs once enjoyed immense popularity among antique collectors, but their value has experienced a considerable decline, generally costing between $100 and $1,000.
Below are Victorian balloon-back chairs market prices based on online sales on eBay:
- A set of 6 Victorian balloon-back chairs: Valued at $875
- Victorian wood-carved flower needlepoint dining accent chair: Valued at $199
George Hepplewhite was famous in the furniture-making world in the 18th century like his fellow countryman Chippendale. His style was notable for its straight lines, rich wood components (birch and redwood) and inlays. Still, many Hepplewhite duplicates surfaced in the 20th century and may sell higher than their actual worth.
When purchasing a Hepplewhite chair, look out for the authentic pieces. They possess open wood backs and embroidered seats. An original Hepplewhite chair’s price ranges from $600 to $3,000.
Here are some Hepplewhite chairs and their values on eBay:
- Embroidered mahogany Hepplewhite chair: Sold for $1,785
- Late-18th-century mahogany Hepplewhite chair: Sold for $1,400
The Morris, Marshall, Faulkner, & Co. furniture company designed these chairs from the mid-19th century until the early 20th century. This chair had an odd proportion and unconventional appearance and was the predecessor to the recliner. Although Morris chairs are typically sold between $250 and $750, much rarer pieces may cost up to $1,000 on eBay.
Antique Chairs Buyer’s Guide: Where to Buy Valuable Antique Chairs
Antique chairs are sold at various antique shops, auction platforms, and commercial outlets due to their high demand and popularity. However, it’s best to properly evaluate where you intend to buy an antique chair.
When purchasing antique chairs, these are some of your best options:
- Ruby Lane
- Live auctions and flea markets
Ruby Lane is a vast online auction retailing platform selling antique and vintage collectibles since 1998. The site boasts an assortment of antique chairs ranging from $50 to $5,000 in its sale inventory.
1stDibs is an auction retailer offering various valuable antique and vintage pieces of furniture to interested purchasers. Although the platform is more of a traditional auction website, you’re likely to find relatively affordable pieces in stock.
eBay is no doubt the most popular e-commerce platform on this list. The site holds an online antique community where you may conveniently find precious and unusual antique chairs. Still, you’ve got to be careful when buying pieces via eBay, as many fraudulent vendors are active on the outlet.
Etsy is also a prominent e-commerce site similar to eBay. The platform features various collectible furniture pieces, including antique chairs, in its inventory. Again, make sure you check the reputation of the seller before purchasing.
Live Auctions and Flea Markets
Live auctions and flea markets are also good options for buying valuable antique chairs. You may acquire a rare antique chair from a live auction at a quite expensive price due to competition. Meanwhile, flea markets are a much cheaper option if you intend to purchase second-hand pieces.
What’s the most valuable antique wingback chair?
The Queen Anne wing chair is the most valuable wingback chair dating to the 18th century, with some being valued at up to $37,000.
When was the “Morris antique chair” invented?
The Morris, Marshall, Faulkner, & Co. furniture company invented the Morris chair from the mid-19th century to the early 20th century.
Where can I get an Antique chair for sale?
You can purchase an antique chair from live auctions, flea markets, antique shops, and online platforms like Ruby Lane, 1stDips, eBay, and Etsy.