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Restoring the ‘Rock’ in Antique Platform Rockers

by Fred Taylor (06/16/09).

As a nation, we Americans are particularly devoted to a number of artifacts and icons from our past. On the domestic front there is a category of national passion—comfort—and one of the primary instruments of American comfort is the venerable rocking chair. There is even the reassuring fable that we actually invented that handsome little critter somewhere around the Revolution. Unfortunately, that’s just a rumor.

As early as the 15th century, curved runners or skates were added to cradles so they could rock the baby. Skates were added to the occasional English chair in the early 18th century, and by the 1740s, the Windsor chair had sprouted rockers for use as outside garden seating in southern England. At the same time, the Swedes were making their own version of the rocker; a six legged affair with curved skates known as a “gungstol.”

On the other hand, we can rightly take credit for the successor to the regular skate mounted rocker: the platform rocker. Platform rockers came about because of several problems inherit in the design of the standard rocker. The first problem is that if the rocker is used on a plank floor, the rockee has to face in the direction of the length of the planks in the floor or the rocker will uncomfortably bump along across the joints in the floor boards. And if the rockee pursues a vigorous rocking motion, the chair will creep across the floor, moving forward in the direction of the rocking motion. Finally, if the rocker is used on a carpeted surface the constant motion of the skates, added to the weight of the inhabitant, will eventually wear a telltale path into expensive floor covering. The platform rocker solves all of these problems, allowing the rockee to face any direction without discomfort and remain in the same vicinity without wearing out the rug.

A Lowentraut rocker, featuring a springless rocker mechanism designed by George F. Hall. This kind of rocker produced a flatter arc and was ideal for nursing and general recuperation, as well as being plain old comfortable in its motion.

A Lowentraut rocker, featuring a springless rocker mechanism designed by George F. Hall. This kind of rocker produced a flatter arc and was ideal for nursing and general recuperation, as well as being plain old comfortable in its motion.

Late in the century, along came a New Yorker named George F. Hall. Hall devised a springless rocker mechanism that was actually more of a glider than rocker. It produced a flatter arc for the rocker owner and was ideal for nursing and general recuperation, as well as being plain old comfortable in its motion. Hall patented his design on May 29, 1888, but assigned half the patent rights to Peter Lowentraut of New Jersey. For some reason, the mechanism and the style of the chair thereafter was known as a “Lowentraut” rocker.

An arm on the Hall/Lownetraut mechanism. The patent covered only the mechanism, not the design of the chair itself, and its pattern was copied extensively by other manufacturers.

An arm on the Hall/Lownetraut mechanism. The patent covered only the mechanism, not the design of the chair itself, and its pattern was copied extensively by other manufacturers.

The Hall/Lownetraut mechanism was a pair of arms at the end of a cross spindle that allowed a gliding rocking motion but the patent covered only the mechanism, not the design of the chair itself, and it was extensively copied by other manufacturers.

But as with all technological advances—which the platform rocker certainly was—there are always technological problems with the equipment. In the case of the platform rocker, the weak link in the chain is the spring mechanism that keeps the rocker rocking with minimal effort. There were some very innovative approaches to the spring problem just after the middle of the 19th century, but eventually the standard spring became the coil steel spring in a cast iron mounting plate. Coil steel springs were first used in furniture upholstery in the US in the mid 19th century and it was not a long step to adapt them to the platform rocker.

One of George Hunzinger’s rockers. Hunzinger probably held more patents on chair parts and designs than any other American designer/inventor and he held his share for platform rocker designs.

One of George Hunzinger’s rockers. Hunzinger probably held more patents on chair parts and designs than any other American designer/inventor and he held his share for platform rocker designs.

George Hunzinger probably held more patents on chair parts and designs than any other American designer/inventor and he held his share for platform rocker designs. He started making his own design of platform rockers with fairly conventional mechanisms around the time of the Centennial Exposition in 1876. But George was never one to let it rest. In 1882 he patented his “duplex spring” mechanism that looked and operated like no other system to date.

Hunzinger’s rocker mechanism used a series of metal brackets called a combination hinge attached to relatively thin, longer coil springs.

Hunzinger’s rocker mechanism used a series of metal brackets called a combination hinge attached to relatively thin, longer coil springs.

Hunzinger’s rocker mechanism used a series of metal brackets called a “combination hinge” attached to relatively thin, longer coil springs. The result was an almost effortless rocking motion with no noise as long as maintenance was performed. Paper labels on his chairs stated: “One drop of oil from your Sewing Machine can in every joint of hinge will prevent noise.” Good advice.

But the problem was that eventually, like all springs, the rocker springs lost their tension and the chairs became sloppy seats sitting atop a platform with the feeling that they are about to tip over. That is a common problem with almost all platform rockers from the mid to late 19th century that have survived into the 21st century, especially if they have been ridden hard over the years.

This type coil spring rocker was patented in 1897 by a man named A.H. Schram of Sheboygan, Wis.

This type coil spring rocker was patented in 1897 by a man named A.H. Schram of Sheboygan, Wis.

If the rocker is just meant to be a showpiece and not for human use, forget about the springs and just show off the rocker. However, if the chair is meant to be used as a rocker, the problem with the old springs must be addressed before somebody tumbles headfirst out of the seat. Since there is no commonly known way to rejuvenate the old springs, the answer is replacement. But most of the old springs are a single heavy coil on an iron base. New springs don’t look like that. Most new springs come as a two coil unit mounted on a stamped steel frame. They are available from almost any upholstery supply house or from a number of supply houses such as Van Dyke’s Restorers.

When they lose their “starch,” old style single coil platform rocker springs (top) can easily be replaced by modern double coil units.

When they lose their “starch,” old style single coil platform rocker springs (top) can easily be replaced by modern double coil units.

Installation is fairly simple if you know the trick. It is very important that you do not change the pivot point at which the rockers reach equilibrium on the base. The center point of the original springs identifies the optimum pivot location. Measure and mark this point on both sides of the platform and the rockers before removing the old springs. The new springs come as set with two springs enclosed in frame as opposed to the open spring you are replacing. This means you will need to drill new pilot holes for screws in both the rockers and the base. Place the new spring unit on the base, centered over the pivot point, with the edge of the spring frame slightly below the top of the base. Mark and drill your pilot holes on both sides of the base and install the spring unit securely, parallel to the top edge of the base. Then, with the chair on its side, place the top part of the chair in position on the base and mark and drill pilot holes where the rear screw hole of the spring unit lines up.

Now comes the tricky part. The location of the front screw holes must be identified while the spring unit is under tension. Otherwise the chair will just flop back over when you are done. Use a small crowbar or a screwdriver inserted into the middle of the front coil of the spring unit and open the spring ¼ to ½ in. With the spring open under pressure, mark where the front screw hole is. Release the pressure, drill the pilot hole and install the spring unit after opening it back up with the crowbar. Repeat the procedure on the other side making sure you open the spring the same amount on both sides. Be very careful and get someone to help you if needed. Those springs can really pinch you if you are not in control at all times.

Installing springs by this method may result in the chair appearing to tilt too far forward at first. This will cure itself over time as the springs loosen but if the tilt is too severe just relocate the forward screw positions.

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Fred Taylor is a Worthologist who specializes in American furniture from the Late Classicism period (1830-1850).

Visit Fred’s website at www.furnituredetective.com. His book “How To Be A Furniture Detective” is now available for $18.95 plus $3 shipping. Send check or money order for $21.95 to Fred Taylor, PO Box 215, Crystal River, FL 34423.

Fred and Gail Taylor’s DVD, “Identification of Older & Antique Furniture,” ($17 + $3 S&H) and a bound compilation of the first 60 columns of “Common Sense Antiques,” by Fred Taylor ($25 + $3 S&H) are also available at the same address.

For more information call 800-387-6377, fax 352-563-2916, or e-mail info@furnituredetective.com.

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31 Responses to “Restoring the ‘Rock’ in Antique Platform Rockers”

  1. I have a Hunzinger spring rocker (model unknown)that was disassembled for restorage and then stored many years. We found it and are protecting it until we can find interested buyers. If serious prospective buyers contact us, we will take better pictures and provide better information from frame of chair; model numbers, etc.
    Thanks you, Dean Ritchhart

  2. Looking for parties interested in purchase of great restorable 1880′s Hunzinger spring rocker. It has been disassembled to prep for reworking but can’t complete. Will provide good pictures to those interested and numbers off of the rocker platform with model number, etc.
    Dean

    • Terry Thompson says:

      I have a Hunzinger duplex spring rocker w/ paper label. It is in great condition. I haven’t been able to find a picture of the model online. It has faux leather on the headrest, then a line of carved circles (about 2″ in diameter), then more faux leather, with round covered tacks on the edge. The seat has floral fabric, worn. I don’t know if that is original but I think the faux leather is. Are you still interested in a Hunzinger rocker?

  3. Lisa Porter says:

    I’d like to know more about your restorable Hunzinger rocking chair if it has not been sold. Thanks.

  4. Nancy Kislak says:

    Sir,
    I am writing to you in the hope that you can direct me to more informatio about A.H. Schram. He was my great grandfather; his granddaughter, Arline Schram was my mother. Looking to collect some family history, also possibly purchase a Schram rocker.We have only 1 rocker remaining in the family and I may be interested in collecting more.
    thanks in advance…

    Nancy Kislak
    Agoura Hills CA

    • Shari Hansen says:

      I have one of these A.H. Schram of Sheboygan, Wis. spring coil rocker. I just found out what it was. It has a date on it of 1897 and the exact coils and feet on it. I was told that there where very few of these left. I did not want it to go out in the dump when a family member past away. It does have a tag that shows it was made for someone but I have not been able to read it.

      • Tom Heard says:

        I have a Schram rocker that belonged to my grandmother. It is made by A.H.Schram Mfg. of Oshkosh and predates the Schram & Sons rockers. It has the coil springs and has a label showing a patent of Jan, 05, 1897 and a pat #. Has barley twist uprights on front arm supports and on back uprights. Would like more info.

        • Shari Hansen says:

          I believe ours are the same. Mine does indicated WI. Everything is still the original. From what I can find there were only a few of these made in a small one or two person shop. Mine indicated that it is made for someone but has faded so that I can’t read it. They were for special “parlor” seating. That is all I could get from the older relatives here. I got it when no one saw the value in the great aunt’s furniture. I would like to see it in a special place to be preserved.

    • Travis Schram says:

      Nancy if you have any info I would be interested in what you come up with for I also am a great great grandson of AH. Schram. So as you can guess I would take great interest in anything you come up with. Thank You

    • Liz says:

      I have a Schram Rocker for sale, I was doing some research, found this thread and noticed there was interest in purchasing them. Please contact me if interested. I live in Southern CA. Chair is carved wood back and arms with fabric cushion that is a replacement fabric. I would be happy to send pictures. Thanks, Liz

    • David Doucet says:

      Hello Nancy,
      Just read your post regarding your relationship to A.H. Schram. I have a Schram rocker (coils) that was built by the Anderson Furniture Factories, then owned by Canada Furniture Manufacturers Ltd., and based in Woodstock, Ontario. If you are interested in purchasing, or if you could give me an idea as to the worth, drop me an email…I will gladly send pics also. The chair is in it’s original condition. Tks.

      David Doucet
      greenthumb@nb.aibn.com

  5. T.J. says:

    Ms. Kislak:
    I have a Schram coil rocker in excellent condition. It belonged to my great aunt. The base is similar to the photo here, but the chair is a high-backed design for a lady.
    I have been thining of selling it, and would be very glad to think it was going into the family of the maker.
    Reply here if you would like to communicate further.

    • Shanon says:

      I am interested in the Schram rocker if it is still available. Shanon

    • Steve Deffe' says:

      T.J. I too have what I think is a A.H. Schram platform, coil spring rocking chair. It has a unique back that I haven’t seen before. I’m going to call it a “sooner” back chair. It is shaped like the old sooners or wagon trains. It is in good shape, but I don’t think any of the finish or upholstery are original. My wife’s grandfather found it in the dump after the old town doctor died and it was thrown away. He needed a chair for his living room, was a carpenter, and decided to take it home and fix it up to use. (he was not an antique restorer!) It has been in the family since the 1950′s. We have ended up with it. I’ve heard it should be in a museum for all to enjoy. I would like to know what you think I have, and if you think it is of some worth to a museum or collector. I can provide photos if needed. Thanks, Steve

  6. Rick and Maureen says:

    we also have a Schram rocker. It has the same coil and platform. It is quarter sawn oak, high back, original finish, does not have or ever did have material on it. It is a beautiful and very comfortable chair. The original paper tag is still intact on the under side of the chair and reads as follows…Canada Furniture Manufacturers, Woodstock,Ontario. (Canada) Schram Rockers, Pat.98. The coils are also marked pat.98. We would like more information on this chair. We have pic’s. A value for insurance would be nice if possible. There is no sentimental value to this chair as it was bought at an auction about 40 years ago, so we may consider selling. For the other people with Schram rockers,some pic’s of yours would be interesting to see. Thanks, Rick and Maureen.

    • David Doucet says:

      Hi Rick & Maureen,
      I also have a Schram rocker (coils) made by Canada Furniture Manufacturers Ltd. – they owned the Anderson Furniture Factories who were in charge of assembling these rockers at the Woodstock plant in the early 1900′s I believe. I am also curious as to the value of the chair and would possibly be interested in selling. I’d like to swap pics too, to see if we both have the same chair, as mine is not upholstered either and is high-backed with wood designing. Drop me an email if you have found any more info…

      David Doucet, Bathurst, New Brunswick, Canada

  7. where do I find the metal parts for the LOWEBTRAUT rocker

  8. i am trying too repair a platform rocker

  9. Julie says:

    Anyone know where to get replacement springs for the A.H. Schram rockers? I have one, but the springs are so worn out it about dumps me on my head it leans back so far.

    • Shanon says:

      No I don’t, but if you find out, could you please let me know as I need one, too. Shanon

    • Jo says:

      I have a Schram rocker that needs the coils replaced. Just wondering if you found out how to replace the larger Schram coil with the smaller double coil. I’m thinking we may have to add some wood to both the top and bottom of the chairs to install the new coils, but want to know where to place the wood and coils. Any help will be appreicated.

    • Sharon L. Madsen says:

      I have a A.H Schram Rocker aslo. It has been in my husbands family since 1900. It was his Grandmothers, then his mothers and now it is ours. It is fantastic condition and very comfortalbe to set in. In 1999 we had to replace one of the coils. We found a place called E Z Springs, 231 W. 11th Street, National City, California their Phone is 619-336-1307. Be prepared for a sticker shock of $450.00 per coil. They have to be make and the Metal he used cost him $150.oo for the one spring. But, it was worth it for us as it is a family air loome. My husbands Grandmother, Esther Leona Brierly, Anderson was the original owner of the chair. She was from Walworth County, out of Elkhorn, WI. I hope this helps anyone looking for a Coil. Sorry it is so expensive. If anyone find a place less let us know.

  10. Susan Handy says:

    We are restorers/seat weavers from across the pond near London, England and have been working on a platform rocker with the old style single coil spring. (The owner was slightly shocked when I told her it was Anmerican.)

    It appears to be made from various woods with a walnut cresting rail with a nice bit of burr walnut inset; the base unit is in pine. The back and seat are both caned; the seat has a very pronounced curve. Does anyone know what sort of date this might be? When did the ‘modern’ double spring assembly replace this single coil type?

    The top has been rocked off the base in the past and now again so the springs are both stretched and bent.
    I am able to get some new springs made by a local blacksmith so I could replace like for like – however the owner will probably not want to pay!

    How would the value be affected if a new double spring assembly was put on?

    I would welcome any comments and thoughts on this subject.
    Sue
    http://www.suzandy.co.uk

  11. Tara says:

    I also think that I have a Schram Coil Spring Platform Rocker. These are from the late 1800′s. I just inheritated it from my mother. This is amazing news because I did not know that they were so RARE!! My rocker has NEVER been rocked in. There are no scratches. It has the original tapestry with no stains. I really need more info on these chairs to see what they are vauled at!
    My rocker has a very unusual back also. The top has carved Iris’. Below that is the beautiful tapestry. Then under that is a very detailed sunburst pattern made with dowl rods.
    If anyone has any further info on this or would like to see photos please feel free to email me banksfam@bellsouth.net. Also, After finding the value would be willing to sell it back to someone in the Schram family, since it also was purchased at an estate sale 20 years ago.

  12. Shari Hansen says:

    Hello,

    I have been watching and wondering how many of the Schram rocking chairs would come up here. From reading there are many styles. Mine has the iris background on the headrest. I am still waiting for a value. My insurance company wants to list it out. It is also for sale. Please contact me for information.

  13. just a thought, have you tried to adjust the springs useing the adjustment screws on the mounting brackets? I read somwhere, and I can’t remember where, that that was how to adjust the amount of rock or slack in the coils. Let me know if this helps.

  14. Debbie says:

    I have a Lownetraut rocker that is missing the head rest piece, in researching these rockers mine is exactly like the picture on this site with the spindle back How do I or where do I find this head rest piece. I want to bring the rocker back to original condition. Thank you

  15. Angela says:

    I have an AH SCHRAM coil spring rocker that just came in my store in Vicksburg, MI. If you have any interest in purchasing this item please contact me. Thanks Photos ava. at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Michael-Angelas-LLC/225787067474723

  16. Maxine Roffers says:

    I have a rare Lowentraut cradle, with the Hall/Lownetraut mechanism pat. May 29, 1988 in mint condition and I am looking to sell the cradle. If anyone has a good idea on where or who to sell the cradle to please let me know.

    Thank you

  17. Frank J. Gazda says:

    I believe that the rocker I have is a AH SCHRAM coil spring high back platform rocker. There is no information or writing on the rocker, may have been covered when it was re-upholstered, don’t know when that was done. I have been searching the internet for a new set of coil springs, but was not able to find this style of spring.

    The coil spring broke at the base on both sides, and so I removes all the hardware which I still have and bought the replacement springs for a platform rocker. Now I am trying to figure out the proper location for the springs so the rocker will work properly.

    The rocker was bought by my parents, I believe in the 70′s in Wisconsin at an auction, they had a mint farm there and in there spare time also collected antiques.

    First, if anyone can assist me in the process and the location on the chair and platform to where I can put in the new springs, that would be helpfull.
    Second, not sure if my wife wants to sell this platform rocker, but what would be a fair and honest price for the rocker.

    I can send pictures if anyone is interested. I live in the central part of Michigan.

    Thank You

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