What’s Wrong With This Picture? A Puzzler

by John Werry on May 30, 2008

mystery chair Whats Wrong With This Picture? A Puzzler

This is a late 19th century spiral turned chair but there are at least two things about this chair that are out of the ordinary  for this particular form by this particular maker.

I’m heading out for the weekend, but will leave you all with this puzzler.

For the person who first leaves a comment on this post (don’t email me) detailing the maker and also details the most aspects of this chair that are unusual, I will send you a Victorian Style book as the victor.

I may not be able to post all your comments until I return, but they will be stored in order received.

Have fun

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

furniture fanatic May 30, 2008 at 7:57 pm

The chair appears to be made by Merklen.

Unusual aspects I see:
1) The ball and claw typically are brass or some other metal
2) The seat typically is a square or rectangular in shape
3) There is often lattice incorporated in the seat or back of the chair
4) Griffins are commonly employed or other traditional Victorian finials, unlike the swan-shaped finial here
5) The shade of wood or finish is lighter than I remember seeing in most Merklens

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Connie May 30, 2008 at 8:14 pm

I have seen a similar chair with a few changes. The swan heads and the part at the bottom of the leg holding the wooden balls is brass on the chairs I have seen. It almost looks like wood on this chair. The feet and wooden balls are larger than on other chairs I have seen. On the arms there is usually a u-shaped brass piece on the ends instead of just the wood stubbs. There can also be cross bars underneath the seat from leg to leg. Hope this works!

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Emeriol May 30, 2008 at 8:21 pm

Alright John. What you got here is a Merklin. What is different about it from other chairs I have seen by him, specifically:
http://hunzinger.blogspot.com/search/label/Merklen
Is the Swans, and the wooden balls as oposed to glass balls in the claw-feet.

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Connie May 30, 2008 at 8:27 pm

I forgot to add in my comment above that it is a Merklen chair….

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Tom Webster May 31, 2008 at 8:43 am

This chair is not mid-nineteenth century. It is a current reproduction of a Merklen chair. It should have bronze feet with wooden balls,not wooden feet, and the swans at the top of the chair should also be bronze, not wood.
The shape of the spindles is similar to the Merklen, but not quite the same. Also, there should be a stretcher at the front bottom of the chair. There is none on this one.
The shape of the seat is also similar, but not the same. Also, it appears as if the indentation in the seat of the reproduction was milled out, and the Merklen seat indentation was turned out on a lathe.
A nice reproduction, but no cigar.

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LISE BOHM May 31, 2008 at 9:42 am

I have seen this chair in the past. A fine example of Merklen. I guess you are talking about the feet. You normally see ball an claw feet in brass. And second the swan heads on the crest of the chair.

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TexMac May 31, 2008 at 9:47 am

Well, I’m going to guess Merklen Bros. Another guess – the feet are unusual? Didn’t most Merklen designs use a brass/bronze claw and a wood ball?

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Russell May 31, 2008 at 3:41 pm

The chaie looks to be a Hunzinger. The goose neck top and the ball and claw feet are unusual.
Kindest Regards,
Russell Ainsworth

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woodwright June 3, 2008 at 12:29 am

The top of the arms on the original have more of a roundover/ bullnose. The Puzzler (Reproduction?) chair arms do not appear to have much if any radius/ roundover. The seat on the original is dished in a circular pattern (symetrical in all directions)- deepest in the center tapering to nothing at the egdes (this could have been done on a lathe as Tom suggested). The puzzler’s dished area of the seat appears to be shaped more like the shape of the seat itself. It also appears to be dished out more in the back of the seat – creating a deeper “lip” on the back edge of the dished area. The original also has a sizeable round over on the crest rail – from the photo angle it is not discernable whether the puzzle chair does or does not have this radiused edge on the crest rail. Because of all of the differences noted between the 2 chairs (here and by other members) – I am inclined to believe the puzzler may very well be a copy/ reproduction. Made not so much for monetary purposes (there would have been a great deal of time invested to measure up & make this chair if it is a reproduction), but more for the pleasure of making it and challenging oneself to create it. woodwright

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Paul Tucker June 3, 2008 at 10:20 pm

A very interesting discussion. I will reserve judgement on the chair until I see it later this month but I do have a few comments about the Merklen’s and their furniture. There were six brothers and their father all working in a very large factory setting with hundreds of employees. They had specialty designers and sculptors working on the metal ornamentation and they filed several patents on all aspects of their furniture manufacturing processes and designs. They were a very gifted and experimental group of guys. Every Spring and Fall for many years they presented fifty new furniture designs. This meant that they would mix and match this leg style with that stretcher style, this seat style with that arm style, etc. There was no Merklen style seat. There are many different Merklen style seats and many of them had a turned seat depression but there were also scooped and carved and flat and square and flaired seats and yes even upholstered seats. There is no Merklen style stretcher pattern. There are many Merklen style stretcher patterns. That being said I have studied their stretcher designs and Tom does have a point about the stretchers being a little different. I am glad that I know the buyer of the chair and that I will be able to study it up close and make a better determination.

At this point though I have no reason to believe that this is isn’t just an unusual, possibly experimental, possibly prototypical, possibly whimsical Merklen piece. The only two really different things about this chair from their usual fare is the carved wooden feet and the carved bird head finials. It is difficult to tell from the picture quality what the quality of the carved bird head is but from what I can see it is identical to the usual cast metal ones. I don’t know why anyone would want to duplicate this in wood. Perhaps as Tom said just for the challenge. Fess up Tom did you make this? The Merklens did do other types of feet. Mostly bun style on their Louis XIII stuff. But this foot is completely different from any other Merklen cast metal claw and wooden ball foot that I have seen. Again I wonder why it is carved in wood. The cast metal feet are readily available and although the wooden balled claw foot isn’t easily come by it would be relatively easy to get some glass balled foot and replace the glass ball with one of wood. This would be a better way of deception since this type of foot throws up all kinds of red flags. This all wood foot is however in the general shape of all the other Merklen metal ones and not in the style of most carved wooden ball and claw feet.

So until I see it and touch it I’m mostly (99%) convinded that this is a genuine Merklen piece. I also know that the Merklen brothers tried to outdo each other in all kinds of woodworking. One of the Merklen brothers made wooden cigar boxes as gifts to all the men involved with a family wedding. The boxes were praised as beautiful pieces of art by the gentleman but when they removed the cigars to smoke them they were all fooled by the lifelike character of the carved wooden cigars inside. But wait! One end of the wooden cigar unscrewed revealing a cylindrical cavity holding cigarellos. Men with this kind of inventiveness and skill could do pretty much anything they wanted to do. Someone please invent a time machine so I can go back to the 1880′s and visit Moses Ransom, the Merklen brothers, Alberto Santos Dumont, and Stanford White.

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Emeriol June 4, 2008 at 10:12 am

Oh come on Paul! You wouldn’t want to go back and see what crazy stuff George Hunzinger worked on that never got a patent? Probably a folding wooden time machine with retractable springs that fit into a backpack!

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