Q The rocking chair which is pictured has been in our family for 100 years and more. My mom had it given to her by her mother-in-law.
Depression days came and my folks were on the farm. My mom’s sister from the big city came to visit and she wanted to buy the chair! Mom, who could use the money, sold it to her for $1.75. My aunt kept the chair until she passed away about eight years ago.
The chair then became mine after all these years.
Could you tell me anything about this old rocker? My aunt did have the back cushion and seat redone – otherwise nothing has been done to it. What is the value of this family heirloom? It will not be sold but will be handed down to the next generation!
The second chair I am sending you a picture of came home with my husband about 20 years ago. He bought it at an auction. Anything you can tell us about this chair would be appreciated. Thank you.
Redwood Falls, Minn.
A Thank you for your letter with the photos of the two chairs. The first chair, the rocking chair, is an easy one to identify. It is called a “lollipop” chair for obvious reasons and was patented by the famous 19th century chair maker and designer George Hunzinger of New York. He designed and produced chairs like this in the 1880s. Hunzinger was very free with his patent licenses, and many manufacturers received patents for variations of the lollipop. While it is possible, it is unlikely that your chair was actually made by Hunzinger, but it is truly his design.
Chairs similar to yours can be found in “The Antique Hunter’s Guide – American Furniture” by Schwartz (Black Dog and Leventhal) and in “Styles of American Furniture 1860-1960” by Dubrow (Schiffer Books). Your chair appears to date from the late 1800s, and with the family history attached to it, it is basically priceless. However, to the rest of the world it has a value of around $500.
Your Windsor chair (not pictured) is a little harder to completely identify from the photo. The style of the chair is called a “sack-back” Windsor because of the shape of the back. Other types of Windsor have other style backs. Bow backs have no arms; fan backs go straight across at the top instead of looping around; hoop backs have a continuous bow around the spindles that also forms the arms. The rush seat on your chair almost certainly indicates a 20th century origin, as does the construction technique of attaching the arm supports to the outside of the seat as opposed to having them installed directly into the seat as are the spindles in the back.
I have a chair virtually identical to yours in my bedroom. Like mine, I suspect your chair is from the second quarter of the 20th century, factory made in the Midwest, possibly Chicago. It has a value of around $100 in good condition.
Q I am in the process of refinishing a 1960s Drexel chest of drawers, mahogany with a greenish tint to it like was popular back then. I got the color matched up OK since I didn’t sand it real hard. It is part of a set, and I want it to perfectly match the rest of the set. The problem is the little black specks and streaks in the finish. A friend of mine told me it is done in the factory with a special type of spray gun, which, of course, I don’t have and don’t have access to. I tried to use a small paint brush but I made a mess. Any suggestions?
A The specks and streaks are called “distressing.” This, of course, is different from the type of distressing obtained by using chains, hammers, nails, etc. Some manufacturers (and fakers) over the years have tried to simulate the appearance of age by adding “worm holes” to the wood. The speckling you are trying to duplicate is the next logical extension of that affectation, and the streaks, in turn, are meant to symbolize wear and dings in the wood.
The distressing is done between coats of finish. The best way I have found to duplicate the distressing is by using a toothbrush dipped sparingly in an oil stain of the right color, usually black but sometimes a very dark brown, to which a little naphtha or toluene has been added to speed drying. Flick the bristles with your thumb as you swing your hand across the piece. It’s awkward at first, but you will get the hang of it.
Practice, practice. Mistakes are fixed by erasing them with mineral spirits. The streaks are created by directly wiping an edge of the brush on the finish. Apply the next coat of finish after the stain dries. This formula only works if you are spraying your finish. For brushing finishes, use thinned out paint with the same toothbrush technique.
A video with various techniques for distressing furniture….