Thank you for sending me an image of your bow back Windsor chair, which dates to the early 19th century. Windsor chairs were named after a chair custom-made in the 18th century for the Duke of Windsor. This chair design, intended for use as an indoor, outdoor, everyday chair, became extremely popular. Windsor chairs made in England were typically made of oak or elm wood, and were almost always painted black or dark green.
In the United States the Windsor chair was made using woods chosen for their individual qualities. Oak was used for the supportive bow because the grain in oak wood enables it to be steamed and bent while still holding its shape and strength. The chair’s legs and spindles were most often made of maple or birch — two trees native to North America that lend themselves nicely to the lathe for turning and that also have some pliability for comfort and longevity. Pine was often used for the seats as it was readily available and easy to carve into a comfortable, ergonomic seat.
The most common Windsor is the bow back side chair (such as yours), which features a standard bow back. Other types of Windsors are the continuous arm, the sack back, the birdcage and the step down, each named for a particular design element. Your chair also exhibits “bamboo” turned legs and spindles. This stylized leg is an interpretation of Western culture’s fascination with trading with the Far East.
Most Windsor chairs were refinished in the Colonial Revival Period of the late 1800s. Sometimes instead of stripping and refinishing the surface, the old original paint was repainted to “freshen” the chair. Chairs still retaining their original paint and surface are far more valuable than refinished or repainted chairs. One way to inspect for original paint is to look at the underside of the chair for different colored paint.
Some rarer Windsors in original paint can bring as much as $25,000 or more. Your Windsor chair in its refinished condition is worth $450.
This article appears in the January 2009 issue of New Hampshire Magazine