Rare Victorian - “Hunzinger Chair” Mystery Part I
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“Hunzinger Chair” Mystery Part I

img 1701 Hunzinger Chair Mystery Part I

img 16992 Hunzinger Chair Mystery Part I

I hope everyone had a great holiday break as did I, but it’s time for us all to get back to normalcy.  Let’s kick off year 3 of Rare Victorian with a little furniture analysis triggered by a recent series of emails from Zeke Feldhaus, a Rare Victorian regular contributor who purchased the chair to the right.

George Hunzinger patented a chair design, #88,297, on March 30th, 1869 that he felt was superior to conventional chair designs in it’s structural rigidity.

George’s patent provided the following reasoning for his design:

The backs legs of chairs are very liable to become loosened at the point of connection with the seat.  This is particularly the case with the more expensive character of chairs, where there are not any side rails between the back and front legs.  This looseness arises from pressure against the back of the chair, and from tipping the chair backward upon the hind legs.

My invention is to strengthen the chair; and consists in a brace running on each side diagonally from the upper part of the chairback to the lower part of the front legs, and connected near the middle with the side of the seat or seat-frame.  By this construction the back of the chair is braced to the sides of the seat, and the front legs are similarly sustained, so that one part aids in sustaining the other under the strain to which it may be exposed.

You can see the results of the patented design represented in Zeke’s chair.  The side braces from back to seat to front legs and the cross-brace and front legs are what Hunzinger expressly secured via patent.

However, no one who studies Hunzinger with any veracity that I’ve spoken to about this chair believes that this chair is necessarily a Hunzinger.   Here are some of the cases for and against it:

Against:

  1. The chair back is way too conventional Renaissance Revival/Neo-Grec and “un-Hunzinger”.
  2. George stamped every one of the chairs based on the 1869 patent that I’ve physically seen (albeit that’s only a handful). This chair is apparently unmarked.

For:

  1. The chair design is clearly based on the 1869 Hunzinger patent, enforceable for 17 years at the time.
  2. The seat is circular, which Hunzinger also documented in his patent application text and drawing and which he employed in many of his chair designs after this patent; though not all.

Not definitively for or against:

  1. The side braces are not straight as many of Hunzinger’s designs were – but he did vary this from time to time.
  2. The braces do not connect to the chair back near the top as in Hunzinger’s design. However, Hunzinger did also do this occasionally.
  3. Hunzinger’s designs often took 90-degree turns from his past designs (e.g. Lollipop designs or braided-wire “fabric”), so we shouldn’t be surprised if we find designs that look “un-Hunzinger” from him.

Barry Harwood, the author of “The Furniture of George Hunzinger: Invention and Innovation in Nineteenth-Century America” feels fairly strongly that it isn’t by Hunzinger and may have been produced after the patent ran out by a firm such as Bruschke & Ricke.

I’m personally not sure this was made after Hunzinger’s patent ran out, which would have been after 17 years, in April 1886. To me, this design speaks of a design from the 1870s, maybe early 1880s, but not as late as 1886 and onward.

Coincidentally, Barry’s book lays the groundwork for not ruling out Hunzinger too quickly and I’ll address that in Part II in the days ahead …

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3 Comments
  • Donald Mitchell - January 11, 2009

    The chair is very esthetic and definitely shows Hunzingers style. I would be very happy to own such a chair even without the stamp, But I do understand that the stamp/pedigre would add to its resale value.

  • Robin Pearsall - January 18, 2010

    I just brought a chair down from the attic that IS stamped Hunzinger, NY, March 30, 1869″. Unfortunately, it is in pretty sad shape. It does share some of the characteristics of this chair. I can post a photo of it if you wish. Also, would like ideas on what to do with it: repair it? sell it? Is there a market for broken down victorian pieces?

    • John Werry - January 18, 2010

      Robin, post it in our forum at VictorianForum.com and I’m sure you’ll bring the Hunzinger fans out of the woodwork to help.

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