Mark of the Week: The Murphy Chair Company

If you have a wooden office chair from the 1920s through the ’30s. odds are it was made ny the Murphy Chair company. By some estimates, Murphy’s total production of chairs surpassed 10 million by 1937.

If you have a wooden office chair from the 1920s through the ’30s, odds are it was made by the Murphy Chair Company. By some estimates, Murphy’s total production of chairs surpassed 10 million by 1937.

This odd-looking office chair dates to about 1926. It looks older because it is a transitional piece that appears to try to meld the Mission style that reached its peak popularity before the First World War (1914) with the emerging Art Deco Style, which would reign supreme from the mid-1920s through the Second World War.  This particular chair was made by the Murphy Chair Company, best known for its line of office furniture.

The Murphy company was formed by Canadian businessman Michael Murphy in 1872, when he purchased the C. H. Dunks company of Detroit company. C.H. Dunks had originally been a mattress manufacturer, but Murphy converted the firm over to upholstered furniture production. The company had modest beginnings, with only five employees, but rapidly expanded. Products made by Murphy were marked with decal labels that used the original Detroit address until 1919.

Murphy's Detroit label.

Murphy’s Detroit label


Murphy’s Owensboro, Ky. label

Murphy's Owensborough, Ky., label.

Murphy’s Owensboro, Ky. metal label

After the company moved its operation to Owensboro, Ky., a new mark was adopted using the new address. Expansion of the company was rapid during this next phase of the firm’s production, and the workforce eventually climbed to well above 1,000. By 1935, it has been estimated that Murphy carried a line of more than 123 types of chairs in all styles and could rightly boast it was one of the world’s largest producer of chairs. Much of the stock was produced for the commercial and institutional markets that expanded greatly during World War One, as wartime demand for products of all kinds caused a boom across many war-related industries. Murphy also produced lines of chairs in the Colonial Revival style based on early American furniture. Most of the company’s production run was made using local native hardwoods, such as, oak, maple and pecan, with oak being used for the majority of office furniture. The company remained in production until 1954, with some estimates having Murphy’s total production of chairs passing 10 million by 1937.

Office swivel chairs like this one were produced by Murphy and virtually every major furniture maker well into the 1930s in large numbers. Their sturdy construction is confirmed by the large numbers that still survive to this day. Most Murphy chairs from this 1920s and ’30s period will have metal company tags. Values for these chairs, unusually styled office chairs like this one, are valued higher than for the more generic mass-produced examples. Examples like this chair, in good condition, often sell at auction in the $250 to $350 range.

Mike Wilcox, of Wilcox & Hall Appraisers, is a Worthologist who specializes in Art Nouveau and the Arts and Craft movement. He can be reached through his website.

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