Driving out of the neighborhood, most people would take one look at that torn upholstery and roll on by. Me? U-turn!
(Nevermind the same neighbor had a huge, old boxy TV on the curb for like 2 weeks. Reminds me I need to call the City and get that hauled off!)
Before you guess that I’m crazy for snagging these chairs, let me reassure you that I’m a decent “picker” of old furniture. Growing up around antiques, I can sniff the good stuff out like a bloodhound.
My mother was riding with me, and we both hopped out for an inspection.
“Don’t those carved legs look like my old bed?” I said.
It’s a “pineapple” bed. See how the bottom criss-crosses look like a pineapple? Then the section above is cut to look like the leaves on top. (My great-grandfather inherited this bed from his aunt, who was an antique collector, i.e., it was an antique generations ago. OLD! See, I wasn’t kidding about growing up around antiques!)
When we stopped, I saw the chairs had a leaf effect, but not the same criss-crossed pineapple carving. Hard to tell in a moving car though! Cut me some slack!
We also could now see the upholstery wasn’t fabric but leather. Hmm… aniline dye?
(Aniline dye is the best quality – it seeps all the way through the leather, not just on the surface.)
The chairs were sturdy, not at all shaky.
Carved wood. Leather seats. Solid construction. These are classic hallmarks of a quality piece.
The brass tacks were humongous. Not sure what that’s all about.
At home, a friend examined them because his late parents ran an antiques store. He hadn’t seen anything like them.
He said the bowed seat on the front requires serious craftsmanship!
While he was looking with me, I noticed that the batting inside the upholstery was actually wool.
I’d never seen anything like it! The only natural filler I’ve heard of being used today is down (feathers) for high-end sofa cushions.
What on earth are these chairs?!
A few days later, I took a chair to an antique store that also does repairs. My precious sister has repaired chairs for me at this shop the last two Christmases. Is that a good gift for me, or what?
The owner was out, and the clerk was mute. You’d think she was a suspect on Law & Order, the way she refused to talk.
“I don’t know anything. You really need to talk to him,” she said.
To get her goat, I said, “Well if they’re from the 70s, I’ll paint the wood glossy white.”
“Oh no! You can’t do that! You’ll ruin them!” she exclaimed.
Ha! She cracked! Maybe I missed my calling as a homicide detective!
“So… they’re old?” I pushed. “Well, I’m almost 40, so older than me?”
“Oh yes,” she said.
“So they’re at least 50 years old?” Yes, again!
“Well, obviously, you know a lot more than I do. Must be something you can tell me. Are they 100 years old?”
A set of similar chairs were 3 feet away, so I said, “They actually look a lot like those chairs. You know what they are?”
She confessed! European oak, probably English or Spanish.
Easily 100 years old. She wouldn’t be surprised if they were older!
Then, she shooed me away with the owner’s card and told me to email him some photos.
Now, I’ve heard some conflicting information about their origin and value.
I’m going to an appraiser next. Dennis at Spinning Wheel antiques in Taylors was kind enough to suggest bringing a photo, and he’d tell me whether it’s worth having them appraised or not. Very nice since he charges $100/hour. Thank you, sir!
In the meantime, I did get in touch with the antique repair shop owner. He looked a cell phone image for 30 seconds and guessed English pub chairs, circa 1925, worth $75 each. Not a fortune, but hey, they were free!
I forgot to ask him to clarify if he meant $75 in their current state, but I assumed he meant in better condition, with decent upholstery. He’s actually the one who referred me to the appraiser, so I suppose Dennis the man with the plan.
When I Google “English pub chairs”, I get all kinds of stuff. Not much looks like mine. I can’t help questioning the repair guy a smidgen. That’s why I want to double-check with the appraiser.
I do see a lot of “English side chairs” like the ones below that DO look like my chairs.
Is it just better marketing to call it a “side chair” instead of a “pub chair”? Maybe.
The eBay listing calls these “Side Chairs”. The leather portions of these chairs do have a similar shape to mine, but less ornate legs and no carving on the back.
The English chairs above, with original leather in great condition, list for $1600. These are the closest image I’ve seen to mine.
Although overall silhouette is similar, I see differences. The carving is less ornate. The tacks appear smaller (at least in the photo). They are missing the bowed seat.
Another friend Erin, a designer with super-cool store, Circa Makers and Merchants, had guessed Jacobean (English) or Spanish Revival.
(BTW, check out her cute store… https://www.facebook.com/CircaEasley/about)
Hard to say what style these chairs are!
Look what’s selling online, and you’ll see what I mean!
This set of chairs has the huge brass tacks like mine. The set, with shabby but un-torn backs, is only selling for $325. They’re Spanish, but price-wise, that’s about $55 per chair, so it’s close to the price I was given. They have pretty minimal carving though.
On the other hand, this pair of Spanish revival chairs is selling for $1800! That’s almost 2 grand! They have the original velvet upholstery in good condition, so obviously, that’s a huge bonus.
Nevertheless, I’d expect that if they had been reupholstered at some point, they’d have to be worth more than $75!
Obviously, I don’t expect to sell my chairs for $1500 with the worn-out leather. This is not my Antiques Roadshow moment of glory. lol
Still I’m curious about the heck they really are! And I’m curious what they’d be worth reupholstered.
My husband is dying to tackle this upholstery project. I say, have at it! I can snag some solid upholstery remnant (fabric) for next to nothing.
If he thinks it’s a fun weekend project, then it was worth saving them just for his entertainment.
And even though he’s not a pro, I imagine it’ll still be a huge improvement!
Plus, we saved a little piece of history.
For comparison, what new chairs can you buy for $75?
If mine had good fabric, even if the ornate style isn’t your taste, which chairs would you say have more value?
These new Walmart chairs are OK. I could see myself buying them… so my kids don’t ruin my antique, upholstered dining chairs. (You had to see that one coming.)
In 10-20 years, the Walmart chairs will be a scratched-up, rickety mess – someone will leave them on the side of the road. But I won’t be picking those up!
In the same time frame, these old English chairs should be going strong, assuming they aren’t abused.
When I was in England, I observed the British generally appreciate things that are old. They don’t chuck useful things just because they’re a couple of years old. Yes, I saw some shabbiness… but I liked it. It seemed so much less wasteful.
Here in the US, we like things to be new, shiny, and usually plastic. When I got home, I started looking at all the plastic everywhere. I can’t help but view the world a little differently now.