Armchair thumbnail 1
Armchair thumbnail 2
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Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at V&A South Kensington
Furniture, Room 133, The Dr Susan Weber Gallery

Armchair

ca. 1876 (made)
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

This chair was designed by George Hunzinger in New York and made around 1876. It reflected the desire of nineteenth-century designers to experiment with technologically innovative furniture-making techniques.

Nearly all the wood parts are turned rather than carved (the traditional means of treatment), a method of decoration which Hunzinger preferred. Hunzinger took out two patents for this chair. The second patent introduced wire or flat metal strips in place of cane for seats and backs ‘to insure great strength and beauty’. The strips were secured by pins and were ‘covered with threads wound or braided . . . and might be painted or varnished’ so the sitter did not come into direct contact with the metal. The result is a chair that has a remarkably strong structure.


object details
Categories
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
Turned and painted maple, with steel seat and back
Brief Description
Armchair (chair), turned and painted maple with steel, New York. Designed and made by George Hunzinger, ca. 1876.
Physical Description
The body of the chair is made of turned and painted maple, with a back rail of six individual turned rails, the back uprights curving benath and supporting a strapwork steel seat (each metal strip being covered with braided wool). Stamped.
Dimensions
  • Height: 84.3cm
  • Width: 50.8cm
  • Depth: 55cm
Measured LC 18/10/10
Marks and Inscriptions
HUNZINGER / PAT MARCH 30 / 1869 / N.Y. / PAT APRIL 18 1876 (Stamp; back of rear right leg - first four lines upside down)
Gallery Label
  • ARMCHAIR W.14-1985 'American and European Art and Design 1800-1900' Hunzinger, a German immigrant, was active as a cabinet-maker and chair manufacturer in New York from about 1860 until his death, becoming an American citizen in 1865. He took out numerous patents. This chair, one of his most successful patterns, bears his 1869 and 1876 patent marks.(1987-2006)
  • Europe and America 1800-1900, room 101 CHAIR 1876-80 USA, New York; designed by George Hunzinger Turned and painted maple, with steel seat and back Museum no. W.14-1985 Patents were often used not only to protect designs and technical innovations, but also as a marketing device to signal novelty. This chair features two ideas patented by Hunzinger: diagonal bracing struts and wool-covered metal strips to form the seat. The strips, echoing the red paint on the wood, were a durable and colourful alternative to cane.(2006)
  • Chair About 1876 George Hunzinger (1835–98) USA (New York) Maple, turned and painted Seat: steel strips covered with braided wool Museum no. W.14-1985 In the 19th century turning was used for new furniture designs as well as traditional forms. Hunzinger’s strong, lightweight chair has deep grooves in the seat rails to locate his patent metal seating strips. Matching grooves on the back and diagonal supports were painted bright red to contrast with the light maple wood. (01/12/2012)
Object history
Two patents are represented in this chair: the first was for the diagonal side braces designed to strengthen the connection of seat and back, which Hunzinger described as the part of any chair most liable to loosening, "particularly the case with the more expensive character of chairs, where there are not any side rails between the back and front legs" (United States patent 88, 297, 309 March 1869). The second patent covered the use of wire or flat metal strips in place of cane for seats and backs "to insure great strength and beauty" (United States Patent 176, 314, 18 April 1876). The strips were "covered with threads wound or braided . . . and might be painted or varnished" so that the sitter did not come into direct contact with the metal. The patent covered the manner in which the strips were laid into grooves cut into the seat frame and the technique for securing the strips by means of pins set into the underside of the frame. This ingenious use of metal resulted in a remarkably strong structure.
Historical context
In 19th-century America patents were used not only to protect original designs or the technical features of products but, increasingly, as a selling device to signal novelty and innovation. In 1867, George Hunzinger advertised himself as 'Manufacturer of Patent Folding, Reclining and Extension CHAIRS', and virtually all his extant pieces are marked with details of his patents. In an expanding and increasingly competitive marketplace, patents represented a way for Hunzinger and others to distinguish their goods and to establish an identity.



Hunziger was born in Tuttlingen, Württemberg, Germany, into a family of cabinet-makers with whom he served his apprenticeship. He worked as a journeyman in Geneva, Switzerland, for a time and came to New York in the 1850s during the peak of German emigration to America. Hunzinger built a large and successful business which prospered until the 1920s.
Production
Attribution note: Nearly all of the wood parts are turned which Hunziger preferred "as being ornamental, but not expensive" (US Patent 88, 297, 30 March 1869) The grooves in the turned surfaces were painted bright red to contrast with the light maple and to match the seat (which is ornamented with grey-green flecks); together, paint and textile give the chair a polychromatic effect.
Summary
This chair was designed by George Hunzinger in New York and made around 1876. It reflected the desire of nineteenth-century designers to experiment with technologically innovative furniture-making techniques.



Nearly all the wood parts are turned rather than carved (the traditional means of treatment), a method of decoration which Hunzinger preferred. Hunzinger took out two patents for this chair. The second patent introduced wire or flat metal strips in place of cane for seats and backs ‘to insure great strength and beauty’. The strips were secured by pins and were ‘covered with threads wound or braided . . . and might be painted or varnished’ so the sitter did not come into direct contact with the metal. The result is a chair that has a remarkably strong structure.
Bibliographic References
  • Wilk, C. (ed). Western Furniture, 1350 to the Present Day. London: Philip Wilson Publishers Limited, 1996, pp. 170-171, ill. ISBN: 1856774435
  • Art & Design in Europe and America 1800-1900. Introduction by Simon Jervis (London: The Herbert Press, 1987), pp. 140-1
Collection
Accession Number
W.14-1985

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record createdJune 1, 2001
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