A Real Rare Victorian Mystery – Part II

by John Werry on June 20, 2008

Where we left off yesterday in Part I of this story was that I was noticing some differences between Kathie’s chair and those that had previously sold at auction. The most prominent difference for me were the shield carvings. Kathie’s chair on top didn’t seem to have as deep a carving profile. Kathie’s had 7 prominent stripes protruding while the Neal Auction chair had 4 (though two more tiny slivers of stripe are in the lower corners). The foliage design is different. The Neal chair’s shield is taller and narrower than Kathie’s.

House Representatives Chair Shields

Then there were several other differences in the overall chair (click the image below to see the full-size version):

Bembe & Kimbel House of Representatives Chair Comparison

  • The skirt of the Neal chair has small knobs protruding, whereas Kathie’s chair does not
  • The arms follow the same general overall shape but the details are different: the Neal chair arm ends in a smooth and more bulbous shape. There is incising on Kathie’s chair that isn’t present on the Neal chair. The gadrooning on the side is different, etc.
  • The stars at the top of the legs on the corners are framed differently
  • The crestrail on Kathie’s has protrusions, whereas only the shield extends away from the crestrail on the Neal chair.

I could point out other differences, but you get the point. Now I’m left with the question of what is the story with Kathie’s chair? One could come up with several theories on what this chair could be:

  • Could have been a prototype that preceded the final accepted design
  • Could be that a company produced some knockoffs that were meant to be sold to the broader public
  • Could be an authentic House chair, or produced for other rooms in Congress

In my view, it can’t be someone trying to fake the chair to get $20,000 as I believe that Kathie has had it for 20 years and it appears old enough to be done at a time that lofty valuations for these chairs were non-existent.  I don’t think there was a financial impetus to make a fake when this chair was made.

Tune in to Part 3 tomorrow when I share my best theory on what could be the case with this chair.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

1881victorian June 20, 2008 at 4:11 pm

Very compelling story!

I wonder if it was a copy given to a departing Rep or intended for his office back in his constituent state.

But, “hey”, wasn’t there another company that made these chairs?…a competing bidder, for example?

Or maybe an original chair needed to be replaced while they were still in use. Lots of wrestling-style chair brawls probably happened .

Looking forward to the best of the theories!


woodwright June 20, 2008 at 9:34 pm

Ok Paul Harvey – we’re all waiting to hear the rest of the story. You’ve got us on the edge of our seats. The suspense is killing me.


woodwright June 20, 2008 at 11:00 pm

I did an search on http://www.googleimage.com for “Bembe & Kimbel U.S. House of Representatives chair” and found a few different Senate chairs. (many of the listings found were from the infamous rarevictorian.com). Here is an interesting senate chair & information about the chair, and the firm of Bembe & Kimbel from the Oshkosh Public Museum. http://images.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://www.oshkoshmuseum.org/virtual/exhibit2/images/e20230a.jpg&imgrefurl=http://www.oshkoshmuseum.org/virtual/exhibit2/e20230a.htm&h=100&w=78&sz=3&hl=en&start=45&tbnid=27KfgWpsC9AkjM:&tbnh=82&tbnw=64&prev=/images%3Fq%3DBembe%2B%2526%2BKimbel%2BU.S.%2BHouse%2Bof%2BRepresentatives%2Bchair%26start%3D40%26gbv%3D2%26ndsp%3D20%26hl%3Den%26sa%3DN
Here is an oil painting on canvas of Wisconsin Senator Philetus Sawyer standing by the desk and chair upholstered in red velvet that he had used in the Senate.
Here is a lengthy but interesting article about the history of the U.S. Capitol discussing the completion and decorating of the interior for the December 1857 opening with many pictures. http://www.access.gpo.gov/congress/senate/capitol/pg263.pdf Pictures of the chairs & information about them is on p. 266. The Chairs were made by 2 different firms. 1/2 were made by Bembe & Kimble of NY, & 1/2 were made by Hammitt Desk Company of Philadelphia, the desks were made by Doe Hazelton Company of Boston.
All of the chairs that I found look like the Neal Auction chair – not like Kathie’s chair. woodwright


formulagal June 21, 2008 at 1:38 pm

Her chair looks very similar to a previous chair you posted:

I agree with the 2 different makers theory…but how do you know which firm made what chair?


RareVictorian June 21, 2008 at 2:34 pm

Part 3 will come tomorrow. I’m asking Kathie to look at something and hopefully she’ll get back to me by then.


RareVictorian June 21, 2008 at 2:35 pm

Thanks for pointing that pic out, formulagal. That is very close to Kathie’s.


formulagal June 21, 2008 at 11:04 pm

Southampton Antiques attributes a chair they have for sale to Doe Hazelton Company of Boston, Massachusetts and the matching desk to Bembe & Kimble:


This is opposite to what seems to be very concrete info supplied by Woodwright. Did Southampton get it wrong?


RareVictorian June 22, 2008 at 11:40 pm

formulagal, as you can see from Part III and the Meigs journals, Doe Hazelton made the desks, so not sure what Southampton is suggesting there.


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