It’s like that annoying itch that you can’t seem to get rid of. I’ve seen these chairs a hundred times and it seems that 1 out of 5 auction sales with decent Victorian items has at least one of them. They’re on page 94 in the book, American Furniture of the 19th Century. Each time they are offered for sale, they are either attributed to J & JW Meeks or John Henry Belter. It is as if someone flipped a coin. The Dubrows wisely leave any attribution out of their book because I don’t know if anyone truly knows who made these chairs definitively. Who made them?
To me, the legs on the chairs in the book are very distinctive with a cello-like profile at the top of the leg. That feature alone should help identify the maker. Until I started writing this, I wasn’t aware that the chairs above varied from this leg pattern. The pierced-carved back above is identical to the “dining chair” pattern in the book, while there are minor variations in the back of shown on the “slipper chair”. If you looked quickly at the two chair backs in the book, you wouldn’t have guessed that there were variations. Due to copyright problems, I can’t show you the book images (Schiffer books declined my request), but if you have the book, take a look.
They’re obviously Rococo. The have a cluster of grapes, which is why I think many attribute them to Belter. In my mind, the rear legs do not represent the profile of how usually Belter executed them. I’ve not seen any Belter front legs of a similar profile either. The front of the skirt doesn’t have the usual Belter serpentine flow. I don’t believe that these chairs are laminated, of which the majority of Belter’s work was. One of the chairs in the books has porcelain casters while Belter tended to use Brass.
Their shield-shaped back with the notched indentations at the top remind many of Meeks – see Stanton Hall pattern. The Meeks’ also used grapes in chair backs – Hawkins pattern. I just don’t see a smoking gun to say the chairs are by Meeks.
The latest auction of these ended yesterday at $1,300 for a pair of them. If anyone has some wisdom on these chairs, please share.