Take a seat!

A few weeks ago, my mom, sister, and I went to an estate sale in an old dilapidated brick house filled to the brim with an array of random, homely items.  The house contained a multitude of knick knacks, costume jewelry, silver, crystal, Victorian and early 20th century furniture, along with a random selection of Edwardian (1901-1919) women’s and babies clothing.  The gentleman that owned the house, or so we were told, lived there his entire life and inherited everything from relatives, but never had the heart to throw anything away.  The items locked away in this house were a historian’s dream, and I wanted to buy a few too many of this man’s treasures.  But more about those items I bought at a later date.  Today’s post is about this elegant transitional Victorian Rococo Renaissance Revival balloon-back side chair my mom purchased for 30 buckaroos!


One of a set of three, this chair was in the best condition, despite the shattering of the silk cushion.


The other two, unfortunately, suffered from broken cross splats, along with a few odd stains on the cushion.  As a side chair, it would have sat in the parlor or drawing room, and would have been a single chair, one of a pair, or one of a set of four chairs.  Since there were three at the sale, I can only wonder what may have happened to the 4th chair.

Victorian Rococo (1840-1870) , or Rococo Revival, brought back elements of elaborate Rococo styling seen in the courts of Louis XIV and Louis XV in France.  Some of the distinguishing features of Victorian Rococo on this chair include:

drawing of a chair

  • The balloon back style – aptly named because the concave back resembles the shape of a hot air balloon.  This style is the most common of this period.
  • A slender cross splat just above the narrowest section of the balloon back
  • The use of finger-molding around the edges and on the cross splat
  • A flared upholstered seat with a serpentine front
  • Cabriole front legs with rounded feet
  • Square rear legs
  • And last but not least, hip rests- to keep a women’s figure looking elegant while seated after layers and layers of crinoline, bustles, and fabric are squashed.

I categorized this chair earlier as a transitional Victorian Rococo Renaissance Revival chair, despite the above points, because of the architectural elements incorporated on the simply carved crest rail. Renaissance Revival (1850 to 1880) was considered a reaction to the elaborate and gaudy carvings of the Rococo Revival period started just a few years before, and incorporates classical motifs such as columns, pediments, scrolled designs, or rosettes.  This chair contains these elements, and unlike most Rococo Revival balloon back chairs, does not contain an elaborately carved crest rails highlighting elements of nature, most notably flowers or grapes.


One thing on this particular chair placing it again into this transitional period is the cabriole legs.  Most Renaissance Revival pieces have turned legs, which are straight up and down with smooth globes or an upturned trumpet which taper to a ball or bun, where this chair has gentle sloping S-shaped front legs with carved knees.


The most well known cabinet makers of Rococo Revival furniture is John Henry Belter, who set up shop in New York after emigrating from Germany.  His elaborately carved chairs and sofas use a unique composition of several layers of laminate rosewood.  At the time of Belter’s death in 1863, toward the end of the Rococo Revival period, affordable reproductions (thanks to the Industrial Revolution) of his work were being reproduced in factories.  This particular chair cannot be attributed to Belter because of its transitional elements, and we can safely assume it was created after Belter’s death in the mid to late 1860s.  There are no distinguishing maker’s marks anywhere on the chair, and was probably made by a local craftsmen or a factory.

Have you found any estate sale gems recently?

Resources and Further Reading:

Bjerkoe, Ethel Hall. The Cabinet Makers of America: Their Lives and Works.  New York: Bonanza Books, 1957. Print.

Cooper, Dan.  “Renaissance Revived.” Old House Interiors 9.5 Aug. – Sep. 2003: 40-44. Print.

Ormsbee, Thomas H., Field Guide to American Victorian Furniture.  New York: Bonanza Books, 1952. Print.

Power, John Mark. “Transitional Rococo-Renaissance Revival 7 Pc. Parlor Set (Ca.1860)”  John Mark Power, Antiques Conservator. Blogger. 24 November 2009. Web. 21 May 2013 http://johnmarkpower.blogspot.com

Taylor, Fred.  “Rennaissance Revival: The Transition.”  Antiques and Art around Florida: The Best Antiques Guide Magazine in the U.S.  Antiques and Art around Florida.  16 February 2009. Web. May 19 2013 http://aarf.com/renaissancews04.htm


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Filed under Chairs, Furniture, Renaissance Revival, Rococo Revival

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