Like so many Windsors, our chair is an anonymous work – a puzzle that spans nearly 250 years and perhaps two states. Thankfully, it has avoided catastrophe over the centuries and remains intact, untouched black paint and all, to serve as something as transcendent as it is enigmatic. There is beauty in that mystery – something captivating in its design and its origin.
In late 2018, this chair was on the market for $30,000. While that might seem like an extraordinary sum – and it is – it remains only a fraction of the value of a similarly uncommon Queen Anne or Chippendale side chair from the same era. In many ways, “country furniture,” like our Windsor, is a bargain, even if it is worth more than 30 times other competent examples of the form. Due to a fabled combination of style, substance, and rarity, its value is no mystery – simple market mathematics with a sprinkle of salesmanship and provenance.
But an object this unique is far more than the sum of its sale price. It begs for deeper analysis, and not the sort that can be quantified in angles and inches. The stuff I’m interested in – the stuff that truly makes this chair extraordinary – cannot be duplicated in measured drawings. I’m on the hunt for something more abstract. Why did our 18th-century maker depart so markedly from the design standards of the day? What can this Windsor’s form tell us about the community in which it was made? Who, in the 1770s, would own such a rambunctious piece of furniture? And what should we do with it now?
–Nathaniel Brewster, excerpt from “A Chair Called Henry,” in Issue Six