There's nothing more elegant than timeless design - the way something made so many years ago still has function, appeal, and beauty today. Such is the case of a pair of lovely antique items that were brought to my attention at a recent New England Antiques Shows event. Even though they were made over 70 years ago they still have ability to turn heads and add an exclamation point to any room! Let's check out these treasures and see what makes them so special.
Pull up a seat and take a look at this delightful duo of 1940's era steamer chairs. They are made from dark stained rosewood and have sturdy metal folding hinges. They are approximately three and a half feet high and long and 18 inches wide. These chairs were designed for passengers on steamer ships and ferries, and their design is just perfect for that. Here's why. First, their slotted design doesn't gather rain or moisture, so they dry rather quickly. Secondly, they fold up tightly, so they don't take up too much room for storage or when the their space was needed for other purposes. And finally, their material - rosewood is strong and hearty and can withstand the corrosive effects of salty water, insects, and molds that come with life on the ocean.
Steamer chairs date back to the early 1800's when the wealthy and privileged traveled via steamer ships for business or pleasure. The picture on the right shows what a bank of these looked like on an enclosed deck of a ship. At the turn of last century, people began using steamer style chairs in their homes, especially as porch furniture, to give off an affluent, seaside feeling to their spaces. This is true even today - 100 years onward! An article from a 1912 issue of House and Garden - a magazine described as "an illustrated monthly magazine devoted to the home, its planning, building, furnishing, and decorating, and to the planting and care of the garden and grounds" - states:
"Rather picturesque are the steamer chairs with wooden frames, the back and seat formed by a piece of striped canvas in gay colors. The same style is made with a light iron frame, and as both kinds fold up into a small space they are particularly useful in contracted quarters, or where extra chairs are kept at hand."
Uncle Wiggly" column for children. The November 17, 1928 issue of The Norwalk Hour newspaper tells the story....
"Once upon a time Mr. Whitewash, the big shaggy bear gentleman who used to live at the North Pole, gave Uncle Wiggly a steamer chair. It was not a chair that steamed, nor was it anything like a teakettle. But Mr. Whitewash said:
“It is just like the chairs that passengers sit on in ocean steamers, and as a matter of fact, I sat in it when I voyaged down from the North Pole on a cake of ice. In the warm sun my cake of ice steamed and so I call this my steamer chair. Rather cleaver, isn’t it?”
“Indeed it is, and thank you.” Said Uncle Wiggly as he looked at the present. I shall take great comfort in this steamer chair.”
I would like to thank Bruce Phillips from Fair Trade Antiques of Shelburne Falls, MA for "chairing" this discussion on steamer chairs. Fair Trade Antiques offers a collection of classic and elegant antiques: bell jar lighting, British Colonial furniture, architectural elements, and more. Fair Trade Antiques will be exhibiting at the upcoming Antiques at Elm Bank weekend in Wellesley, MA on June 11th and 12th, 2011. For more information on the these steamer chairs, contact Bruce at (413) 337-8513 or check out his website at www.fairtradeantiques.com.
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