Spiral Furniture Often Not Hunzinger

by John Werry on December 9, 2010

Post image for Spiral Furniture Often Not Hunzinger

I thought that this Rare Victorian blog had quashed the rampant Hunzinger mis-attributions out there with our global reach, pervasive presence in the antique community and from me being featured on the cover of Magazine Antiques.


A recent email from a visitor with a link to a seller’s “Hunzinger” table tells me our work is not yet done.

Let’s kill this Hunzinger misattribution problem together, permanently.  I promise to write up this post with debate-ending reference images for identification, and you promise to forward a link to antique dealers and Ebay sellers every time you see them putting “Hunzinger” on a Merklen.  The Merklen Brothers deserve their permanent separation from George Hunzinger’s work – and antique buyers deserve to have a meaningful attribution tied to their new purchase.

First of all, a lot of the Hunzinger mis-attributions are tables.  To my knowledge, George Hunzinger never made a spiral-legged table.  Someone correct me if I am wrong.

The picture at the top of this post is a table by the Merklen Brothers taken from one of their American Cabinetmakers advertisement in the late 1800s.  Thanks to Paul Tucker, here are several more images of Merklen Brothers advertisements for our reference.  Realize that Merklen Brothers changed their designs yearly, so you will often see piece-parts from one table mixed with parts of another – hardware, legs, shelf supports.  So take these images as building blocks.

Note:  don’t take the drop finial contraption hanging below the top as a sure sign of a Merklen (below).  I am aware of other makers using this design approach as well.

Merklen hardware was often very robust and pronounced in design. Here are two examples of feet that they commonly used:

Now let’s take a look at Hunzinger spirals. Notice that these are all chairs.  Again, I don’t recall any confirmed spiral-legged tables in the Hunzinger book (but I don’t have it here with me to confirm).

Most of Hunzinger’s spiral furniture has the following characteristics:

  1. The spirals can be gradual and just a ridge like the first image below
  2. The spirals have crisp edges to them whereas Merklens spirals seem to always have been mostly cylindrical.  Look closely at the second Hunzinger image below and you will see a ribbon-like edge.
  3. Some Hunzinger spirals are shallowly incised (image 3) as opposed to having a true “barley-twist” profile.
  4. The last Hunzinger picture is closest to a version of a spiral that Merklen used as there is no crisp edge anywhere to it – just plain spiral.  However, the Merklen’s use of this style of carving seems to have always been coupled with a change in width over the course of the spiral.  You can see the width start to get wider in the image above as you get higher.  Hunzingers have uniform width of spiral throughout the full length.

All four of the following chairs have the patented Hunzinger Duplex spring, so it is safe to say these are truly made by Hunzinger.

That’s a wrap.  I’ll update this post as I have more thoughts over time or as others have thoughts.  Leave me any corrections or additions in the comments below. I’d like to make this post an accurate and complete portrayal of the differences between these two makers.

My question to the Hunzinger connoisseurs out there is:  1) Based on what is above, is it safe for us to say that any spiral-legged table cannot be a Hunzinger?

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Marc Andrew December 10, 2010 at 4:04 pm

Yes, I have often seen Merklen attributed as Hunzinger. I find is especially odd because Merklen is a desirable and well know name. It seems that once people feel that they have some knowledge of antiques, they also feel that they no longer have a responsibility to research pieces. With so much reference material identifying Merklen pieces, it shouldn’t be such a struggle to correctly attribute them. It is remarkable to me when I find pieces that are misattributed when there are examples online that are identical, or at least near identical, that are either signed or found in catalogues. Thank you for continuing the good fight :).


Scott Geyer December 14, 2010 at 11:27 am

Great post John! I would have to agree that none of the 20 something patents that George Hunzinger registered were for tables that included spiral legs. In addition, none of his works with patents on them include tapered spiral pieces… which leads me to belive that he simply did not use them in his designs. Nice research!


John Werry December 14, 2010 at 12:21 pm

One can see a very similar table to the top image here


1881victorian December 21, 2010 at 2:22 pm

One very similar to the 4th image (from top) is pictured and listed for sale (as of 12/21/10) at the link below.


– Jason


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