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What is the history of antique rocking chairs?
There is some debate about the origin of the rocking chair. Many credit its invention to Benjamin Franklin, however, others suggest that the first rocking chair was created by German craftsman Michael Thonet in 1860. Rocking chair makers traditionally steamed wooden dowels so they became flexible and could be bent into the right shapes for the chair. Over time, manufacturing practices and materials have varied.
Regardless of their origin, it is undeniable that antique rocking chairs give a feeling of nostalgia. Since the 18th century, rocking chairs have become a staple in homes, particularly on porches and in nurseries. A rocking chair immediately provides a relaxing experience, whether one is enjoying the outdoors or rocking a baby at bedtime.
What are the different types of antique rocking chairs?
Over the years, there have been plenty of different types of rocking chairs. Here are descriptions of the most popular styles and their corresponding features:
- Victorian: As the name implies, this type of rocking chair originated in the Victorian era. They are typically made of oak and manufactured for use in the home. Often, Victorian rocking chairs are upholstered using leather, silk or wool. Victorian rocking chairs also tend to be smaller in comparison to other types of rocking chairs.
- Grecian: This is one of the most distinctive types of rockers on the market. Instead of wood, they are made with woven rattan. They look beautiful but often do not last as long as wooden rocking chairs. Grecian chairs are often used outdoors.
- Gungstol: Gungstol rocking chairs have three spokes instead of the usual two on each side above the sloped base. Hence, they provide extra stability and won’t topple over if you rock vigorously. This type of rocking chair originated in Sweden and is rarer than other types.
- Windsor: This type of rocking chair is associated with the countryside and outdoor use. Windsor chairs first became popular in the rural areas of England. They can be identified by their distinctive backrests which are composed of rows of spindles.
- Bentwood: This was one of the earliest styles of rocking chairs on the market. The first of its kind was manufactured by the Thonet brothers, who used steamed and softened beechwood to form curled designs on the sides of the base. Since the first Bentwood chair was released, this design has been widely copied in various parts of the world.
- Sewing: This is another classic style that was mostly seen during the Victorian era. They are particularly small in size and usually lack armrests. As the name suggests, they were traditionally used indoors, where one could rock lightly while working on sewing or crocheting, or nursing babies.
- Ladderback: These classic rocking chairs feature tall backrests made of horizontal slats, resembling a ladder.
- MIssion Style: Born in the late 19th century, emphasizes clean simple and flat surfaces. Usually the wood itself is part of the design’s appeal. It is a stylistic backlash against Victorian style, which was much more based on embellishment and curved surfaces.
- Platform and Glider Rockers: These chairs are engineered so that only the seating part moves while the base of the rocker stays in place. Platform rockers (also called spring or patent rockers) accomplish this with springs and gliders are built so that the seat moves along a track. Chairs like these were built from the 1870s onward. The popular “Dexter” chair is an example of a spring rocker. These chairs were produced by the H.C. Dexter Chair Company and, depending on condition, may sell for hundreds of dollars.
How are rocking chairs valued?
Several factors can influence the price of antique rocking chairs. These include condition, materials, style and provenance.
- The condition of a rocking chair is important, specifically its stability. If a rocking chair is fragile or wobbly, it may be valued considerably less.
- The material used for constructing the rocking chair can also be a factor. Oak was the most common and preferred material for antique rocking chairs prior to and during the 1900s. Other types of hardwoods, such as teak or walnut, may be used as well. Softwoods like pine are also common. Additionally, many rocking chairs are made from rattan or wicker. Metal and man-made materials may also be used.
- The style of the rocking chair can also impact the overall value. Design can be linked to the period of time when it was manufactured. Details such as specific markings or signatures can be significant in determining value. Often, markings can be found underneath the seat of the rocker.
- The provenance or history of an antique rocking chair may also make it more collectible. For example, JFK’s Oval Office rocking chair sold for $50,000 in 2018.
What was the most expensive rocking chair ever sold?
The highest price paid for a rocking chair was $80,500 in 2012. Made of walnut and ebony, it was designed in 1986 by Sam Moloff.