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The Real Hitchcock Chair: How to Tell Originals from Reproductions

by Fred Taylor (05/17/10).

The top image shows a correct period Hitchcock stencil from the 1820s. The lower image with the backward “N’s” is reproduction made since 1952.

The top image shows a correct period Hitchcock stencil from the 1820s. The lower image with the backward “N’s” is reproduction made since 1952.

Everyone knows what a Hitchcock chair is, right? The small, rickety chairs with the rush or cane seats, usually painted black with lots of leaves and flowers and fruit painted all over it. Sometimes they have solid seats that show a dark natural wood surrounded by black paint and gold stripes and more leaves painted on the top of the back rail. Often the chairs will have gold stripes and gold banding painted around the legs. They are important for that “early American” look in decorating circles. Sometimes the chairs are even signed by Hitchcock with the name of the town in Connecticut on the rear rail.

But even if it is signed, how do you know if it is a “real” Hitchcock chair? Anybody can sign a chair, and if it is signed, does that mean it is old? How old? A little history can solve all the questions about Hitchcock chairs.

Lambert Hitchcock was born in 1795 in Cheshire, Conn. to a family that had come to the Colonies 160 years earlier. By 1814 he was apprenticed to Silas Cheney of Litchfield as a woodworker and by 1818 he had moved to a small community in the township of Barkhamsted known as Fork-of-the-Rivers at the junction of the Farmington and Still Rivers. The settlement was little more than an accumulation of log cabins and a sawmill, but Hitchcock saw promise there and went to work in the sawmill owned by some family acquaintances.

While working with Silas Cheney, Hitchcock had been influenced by the work of Eli Terry, the legendary clock maker who designed cheap wooden works to replace expensive brass works for his clocks in order to reach a wider market. To produce his wooden works in sufficient quantity to make it worthwhile, Terry devised an assembly line process of cutting and assembling the various parts. Hitchcock wanted to do the same thing with chairs.

In a small shed attached to the sawmill and tapping into the mill’s power source, Hitchcock began to turn out a small number of unfinished individual chair components. He sold these to Yankee traders who sold them to mercantile stores as replacement parts for broken chairs. His business was so successful he had to hire extra help. His output eventually became so great that he expanded his market to the South, shipping great quantities of chair parts to Charleston, S.C. for further distribution. But he still had the dream of producing complete, finished chairs. In 1820-21 he acquired an existing wooden two-story building near the sawmill and began to produce the ubiquitous “Hitchcock” chair. The design was loosely based on the popular Sheraton style of the time but also included some ideas from Empire chairs and the famous “Baltimore” chairs.

Most of the chairs were painted black or dark green and were decorated by a process using stencils and rubbing a bronzing powder into a tacky finish coat. The result was a lustrous design that came to signify Hitchcock’s work. Pin striping was done with paint, though never in gold. Striping was of yellow ocher. Gold was reserved for the banding, which went only half way around the turns in the legs. By 1825 the company had a new home in a spacious three-story brick factory, built near the old one. And Hitchcock had started labeling his chairs with an identifying stencil. Since he employed almost everyone in the town, the town changed its name to “Hitchcocks-ville” and he used that as part of his signature.

The earliest Hitchcock stencil read “L.HITCHCOCK. HITCHCOCKS-VILLE. CONN. WARRANTED”. But here’s the catch. Unlike most Hitchcock stencils you may have seen, the original stencil DID NOT have the “N’s” backward in “CONN”. That little glitch did not appear until 1832, when the company, after a run of bad luck, had been through receivership and emerged in a new corporate form known as the Hitchcock, Alford Company. The “Alford” was Arba Alford, Hitchcock’s brother-in-law. During this phase of production, the first stencils with backward “N’s” appeared, not really surprising when the bulk of the work was done by laborers who could not read or write. They didn’t see the difference. While not all chairs from this period had the oddity, many did. That stencil read “HITCHCOCK.ALFORD & Co. HITCHCOCKSVILLE.CONN. WARRANTED”. This company was dissolved in 1843 and Hitchcock started a new chair company in Unionville, Conn. and his stencils had that town’s name in them thereafter. Hitchcock died in 1852.

In 1946 John Tarrant Kenney began to revive the company and in 1952 received the right to use the trademarked Hitchcock signature. Before it closed in 2006 (here’s some history) the new Hitchcock Chair Company was once again in full swing, stenciling chairs in the original styling and using the wording of the original label. With two small differences. The modern company’s “L.HITCHCOCK…” stencil uses the backward “N’s”, something never seen in the original label. The other disparity is the presence of the circled “R” of the trademark registration of the name, something which did not exist in Hitchcock’s day.

So if the “Hitchcock” chair you have seen has a stencil which includes the terms “L.HITCHCOCK” and “HITCHCOCKS-VILLE” but also includes the backward “N’s” in “CONN” and “WARRANTED” it is a reproduction made since 1952. That was easy wasn’t it?

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

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Send your comments, questions and pictures to me at PO Box 215, Crystal River, FL 34423 or info@furnituredetective.com.

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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17 Responses to “The Real Hitchcock Chair: How to Tell Originals from Reproductions”

  1. Tillie Tanner says:

    Mr. Taylor, I have always wondered about Hitchcock chairs and how to tell how old they are and if they are the “real thing”. Thanks for providing such valuable information in an easy-to-read fashion. I love reading what you write but this is the first time I have left a comment.

  2. Jo Ann Donegan says:

    I have 10 Hitchcokc Ladderback chairs, purchased at the Riverton,Conn. factory between 1969 and 1985…all of them blue and in perfect condition. Could I get an estimate of their value?

  3. Bill Urdanick says:

    Fred,

    I need some help…. my wife and I purchased 4 matching Hitchcock chairs 10 years ago from a antique dealer in Deposit NY. We paid $2400

    They are all original and never have been finished some wear.

    The dealer picked them up at an auction in Mass and claimed they were made in the 1700′s.

    The only markings are a W or a M written on the underside of the seat. The back has 4 spindles with gold trim, the two side spindles are thumb with 2 gold S’s on each side. the back has two stenciled flowers with a gold vertical line on each side. The seat has a tulip cut around the perimeter with gold . The seat also looks like it was stained then about one inch of the top from back to front stain was removed. The stain under I believe is ocher. Gold trim is also on the hand turned legs. There is no Hitchcock logo on the back as you mentioned in your article.

    I believe perhaps these chairs were made prior to Hitchcock placing his hallmark of the back seat. Can I have you opinion please?

    Bill Urdanick

    • Fred Taylor says:

      Bill – Hitchcock chairs are versions of Sheraton style “fancy” chairs from the early 1800s. There were no Hitchcock style chairs made in the 1700s. The dealer was just “sales talking” with no facts on the subject.

      If you can send me some clear digital photos of the chairs I will be happy to tell you what I can. You can send clear photos to me as .jpg files at info@furnituredetective.com. (No camera phone or Blackberry photos please.) Please send the photos directly to me as .jpg files. DO NOT put them in an online photo album. Be sure to include a copy of your original inquiry so I can match them up or I will not respond.
      Thanks

      Fred Taylor
      “HOW TO BE A FURNITURE DETECTIVE”
      http://www.furnituredetective.com
      info@furnituredetective.com

  4. Bill says:

    Fred,

    Let me know you thought via Email

    Bill

  5. Lynne says:

    That was an interesting history. Thank you. So how does one determine the value of a reproduction chair with solid seats? I just purchased a set of 4 that came with a table? The table is not a Hitchcock piece. I only paid $36 for all 5 pieces, so it is OK if they aren’t worth much… If you can email me a quick opinion, that would be much appreciated.

    Thanks again.

    Regards-

    Lynne

  6. Lynne says:

    Fred:

    Thanks for your note, but I am confused. Where is the pic of the 2 that sold for $100 in Jan? Since I bought 4, should I start around $200 or should I start a bit lower? These 4 seem to be in very good condition, possibly better. I will know more when I inspect them much more closely. Only picked them up at 9pm last night. Would it be helpful if I take a pic and include it?

    Thanks again

    Lynne

  7. Suzanne Kennedy says:

    I am confused because I have 2 chairs that I bought in 1987 that have the parenthetical (R), but they have the CONN with the ‘N’s’ going the right way.

    I have earlier reproductions from the 1960s that have the backwards ‘N’ with a circle (R).

  8. mary schwendeman says:

    Hi- I just purchased a loveseat in an antique store – with the backward N’s and the copyright symobol… After I got home I read about Hitchcock furniture being made up to 2006. How much would a new loveseat have sold for in 2006? I feel sick that I shelled out $300 for this love seat if if it’s not really worth that much:( Please if you have an opinion, I’d like to hear it.
    Thanks! Mary

  9. Lynne says:

    Fred:

    Thank you for the intel a while back about Hitchcock chairs. It took a couple months or so, but I did sell the set of 4 for $200, which means I not only got the table I really wanted for nothing, but made a profit to boot! What a pleasant surprise.

    Thank you again.

    Regards-

    Lynne

  10. Bill Urdanick says:

    Fred,

    Bill again about the Hitchcock(?) chairs. I take it from your history of the Hitchcock chair that any chair made prior to his name appearing on the chair is a Sherton type chair. Who gets the credit for chairs of his style without his labled name?

    Thanks,
    Bill

    • TOM says:

      HELLO, TODAY I LOOKED AT WHAT STATED TO BE 19TH CENTURY HITCHCOCK CHAIRS. DETAILING LOOKS GOOD BUT THEY ARE NOT SIGNED,CAN THIS BE POSSIBLE IF THEY ARE AUTHENTIC? THE SELLER IS A CASUAL FRIEND WHO IS DOWNSIZING . HE SAID HE HAD A DEALER DETERMINE VALUE. YOUR OPINION? THANKS

  11. Tim says:

    Fred,

    I acquired a “Hitchcock” 2 drawer/3door hutch base unit. I question the authenticity of the piece. It does not have the construction quality of our other Hitchcock pieces. For starters, the drawer joints are not dovetail. At they are blind dato’s and stapled by pneumatic stapler.

    Both the door and drawer front bottom edges are not rabbeted as the sides and tops are. The door and drawer bottoms are edged to match the other door/drawer edges but are cut to slide into the the opening above the bottom stiles. Also the bottom edge of the doors and drawers are not finished to the quality of the other edges.

    The drawer bottoms are oak veneered masonite board. This is true for the cabinet back also. The drawer bottoms are dato’ed into the drawer sides but the cabinet back is stapled in a rabbeted grove with pneumatic brads.

    The pear leafing on the outer two doors looks authentic to others I viewed on various Hitchcock web sites, likewise the leafing around the two drawer pulls. The piece also has the Hitchcock label (with the backwards “N”‘s) on the back edge of the top.

    Do you believe this is authentic or a fraud? I fear it is not what it appears to be.

    Thank you,
    Tim

  12. Tim says:

    I acquired a “Hitchcock” 2 drawer/3door hutch base unit. I question the authenticity of the piece. It does not have the construction quality of our other Hitchcock pieces. For starters, the drawer joints are not dovetail. At they are blind dato’s and stapled by pneumatic stapler.

    Both the door and drawer front bottom edges are not rabbeted as the sides and tops are. The door and drawer bottoms are edged to match the other door/drawer edges but are cut to slide into the the opening above the bottom stiles. Also the bottom edge of the doors and drawers are not finished to the quality of the other edges.

    The drawer bottoms are oak veneered masonite board. This is true for the cabinet back also. The drawer bottoms are dato’ed into the drawer sides but the cabinet back is stapled in a rabbeted grove with pneumatic brads.

    The pear leafing on the outer two doors looks authentic to others I viewed on various Hitchcock web sites, likewise the leafing around the two drawer pulls. The piece also has the Hitchcock label (with the backwards “N”‘s) on the back edge of the top.

    Do you believe this is authentic or a fraud? I fear it is not what it appears to be.

  13. Angela says:

    Hi I was hoping you might be able to tell me the value of a stool in great condition still has the origanal tag the tag says it was approved july 3,1926, then approved again in 1923, then again in April 24,1929. Any help would be greatful.
    Thank you,
    Angela

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