Hemswell Antique Centres

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A guide to: Antique chairs

Antique chairs at Hemswell Antique Centres


Generations of owners have left their mark on antique chairs. It all adds depth and character - that heavily prized patina - which simply cannot be replicated by even the priciest modern counterparts.

From simple stools inspired by finds in Egyptian tombs to heavily ornate antique rocking chairs, this ancient furniture is one of the oldest and most diverse area of collectables to explore. Likewise, prices can range from pounds and pence to hundreds and thousands. But persisent and knowledgable hunters are rewarded with bargain prices… and heaps of investment potential. 

How to identify antique chairs

The age of antique chairs is not necessarily indicative of their value. It often comes down to the style and shape, as well as how functional the piece is - all signs of the quality of craftsmanship that’s gone into them. From antique balloon back chairs to swivel styles, the designs and functions of antique chairs often follow what was popular at that time in history. 

A deeper understanding of the different types of this furniture can be a huge aid in the buying and selling process. Here are the more recognised styles of antique chairs for sale you might come across and what to look out for:

- Antique dining chairs
These are also known as antique side chairs, since it was common to line chairs along walls, rather than around a table as we do today. Most antique dining chairs will have an upholstered or caned seat and a wooden back - anything from walnut to mahogany. Antique sets of chairs always add value - if you see a set of 12 antique chairs, snap them up and never sell them separately.

- Antique hall chairs
Similar to dining chairs but much less comfortable, antique hall chairs were designed to sit along the walls of the hallway and were more likely to be found in the grand houses of the rich. You’ll spot them by their narrow back and solid seats, often with a decorative feature or family crest. Pairs can often be picked up for under £500.

- Antique armchairs
If you find antique dining chairs for sale that have arms, it’s more likely that they’re armchairs. They appeared in the Middle Ages, when more ornate, padded armchairs were designed to symbolise a lord’s higher status. The oldest antique armchairs in the UK date back to the mid-17th century - sometimes known as ‘wainscot’ chairs. Find one based on 16th-century caqueteuse (chattering) chairs from France and you can make a good £3,000 or more at auction. Less rare antique armchairs for sale, often in oak, can still fetch between £2,000 to £4,000. A pair of Baroque-influenced antique walnut chairs with scroll arms and a carved, ornate back can sell for up to £5,000. 

- Antique corner chairs
Built on a diagonally positioned square seat, with legs at the front, back and side, antique corner chairs were first crafted this way in the early 18th century. As the name suggests, these Georgian curiosities were designed for the corner of a room. A rare early antique walnut chair in this style can sell for as much as £6,000, if it has a cabriole front leg (one which curves round into an ornamental foot). Look out for copies - the style was revived in some antique Edwardian chairs and these examples fetch much less (around £400 or less).

- Antique country chairs 
Basic but attractive, these types of antique chairs are not so sought after - so you’ll find snap them up at low prices. Hoop-backed Windsor chairs are most popular, often used as antique garden chairs. They’re recognisable by their simplicity: the 18th-century pieces were crafted with upright sticks (in ash, beech, yew and a range of fruitwoods), which were all joined without glue. Antique rocking chairs are also common among this category - you can get the charming pieces for as little as £300.

- Antique wing chairs
Dating back to the 17th and 18th-century, antique wing chairs can be identified by their exagurated arms which roll outwards and back. Original tasselled antique wing chairs for sale with velvet cushions can go for over £5,000. Queen Anne walnut wing chairs fetch even more - those with the original tapestry go for £20,000 and more at auction. Even a heavily restored example can fetch up to £3,000.

- Antique library chairs
Georgians loved their reading in their antique armchairs. A typical library chair has a padded rectangular back, with downswept arms and padded armrests. Keep an eye out for ‘Gainsborough’ chairs (so named due to their regular appearance in painting by Thomas Gainsborough) - these can vary hugely in value. Plain antique library chairs go for up to £2,000, more ornate examples sell for £4,000 or more, and pieces with original needlework or upholstery - as well as those much-lauded cabriole legs - can fetch up to a whopping £20,000. Also be aware that antique library chairs for sale may be titled antique French chairs: British furniture maker Thomas Chippendale often borrowed library chair designs from Louis XIV originals and named them French chairs.

Where to find antique chairs for sale

Whether you’re looking for antique French chairs for sale to add grace and charm to your home or an antique barbers chair to add character and quirkiness to a space, spending time researching different styles is a great way to find the perfect piece. Our enormous selection of antique chairs for sale will pique any design lover’s interest. 

If you’re buying and selling antique chairs, we always advise coming to our centre to examine the condition, age, quality and design of the furniture. It’s not just a good idea to see what you’re buying up close - Hemswell Antiques Centres are a day out in themselves. Our four beautifully presented centres are crammed with quality pieces, with a delightful tea room when you need a bit of cake-sized antique-hunting fuel.

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