Bow-back Windsor Chair

Description and History

Bow-back Windsor chair
  • Overall Dimensions: 19" x 22" x 37" tall
  • Seat Dimensions: 18" wide x 18" deep
  • Standard Seat Height: 17.5"
  • Available with or without bracing spindles.
  • Details: braced bow leg

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Based on an oriental design, the bow-back was first made in England and then, in the 1780s, in Philadelphia. It was an immediate success and quickly became the Philadelphia chairmaker's most popular product, both locally and for export. In fact, it was the most numerous of 18th century Windsors, especially the side-chair, the arm-chair being much less common.

New York chairmakers began making bow-backs in the mid-1780s. The abundance of surviving New York chairs indicates that they were very popular there, too. But bow-back arm-chairs from New York are especially rare, suggesting they may have been an experiment which led to the continuous-arm.

Many bow-back were also made in Southern New England (Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts), and fairly often as arm-chairs.

Bow-back Windsor chair

Bow-backs from Philadelphia characteristically were made with bamboo-turned legs and stretchers. Arm-chairs had curved arm-posts and rolled or serpentine arms. On the best, the transition from bow to arm is very smooth, with the beading on the bow continuing onto the arm (but not on the bow below the arm). The overall effect is an imitation of a continuous-arm, and may have been an attempt to compete with them. (Continuous-arms are not known to have been made in Philadelphia.) Unpainted mahogany was sometimes used for the arms, and occasionally for the arm-posts as well.

Bow-back arm-chairs from New York typically had flat, rather short and undecorated arms, similar to a sack-back's, while New England chairs had serpentine arms with ram's horn ends and beading continuing from the bow, occasionally in unpainted mahogany. Bow-backs from both regions often were braced, while bracing was rare in Philadelphia.

Near the end of the 18th century a few sets of bow-backs were made with ladder- or ribbon-backs. Often called the Trotter type, they were fashioned after formal Chippendale chairs made in Philadelphia by Daniel Trotter.

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