Are you looking for a familiar piece of history to add to your decor? Or, perhaps you’ve stumbled upon a historic-looking high chair and are curious about its value. Today we’re here to teach you all you need to know about antique high chairs.
Most antique high chairs are from the late 19th or early 20th centuries. Crafted from wood, you can find an assortment of different colors, designs, and details on antique high chairs on the market. This article will discuss antique high chair history, characteristics, manufacturers, value, and more.
Let’s dive in!
The History of the Antique High Chair
There is no official date as to the invention of the first baby high chairs. Some evidence from the 18th century shows how carpenters and woodworkers adapted certain pieces of antique wood furniture for younger users. At this time, furniture was almost always made of wood and by hand.
A child’s high chair itself received its name from the raised seat. You may hear some of them referred to as junior chairs if they don’t have an attached tray.
Before the 19th century, we can suspect that high chairs were only used by upper-class families. Those who were lower- or middle-class did not have access to such luxurious pieces of artisan furniture. During this time, most were created in England and shipped to other locations.
By the late 19th century, we started seeing official baby high chairs created for children across social classes. Production began to escalate in the United States.
The high chairs during this time were made with elaborate designs including wheels, storage space, and hand-carved panels. Some vintage high chairs could even serve as rocking chairs or fold up for easy storage. These models also included a bar for safety so that the kid could be left unattended without falling.
In the early 20th century, high chairs had become more practical and more closely resembled the ones we use today. These were classic wooden chairs with a footrest and a tray, and they incorporated lighter wood tones like beautiful antique oak and pine.
By the 1950s, the production gave way to metal high chairs with padded seats. Soon after, they began incorporating enamel and plastic pieces.
In the 1970s, retro high chairs with simplistic designs and fun colors came into the mix.
Finally, by the late 1900s, we began to see the all-plastic high chairs that most homes have today.
Today you can find plenty of antique high chairs on the market, but beware – the popular antique look is now being reproduced in newer high chair models.
The Characteristics and Function of the Antique High Chair
An antique child’s highchair might look similar to some modern-day high chairs, but the difference is found in the details.
All high chairs are built to hold a baby or toddler while they eat. The seat is raised enough so that an adult can spoon-feed the child comfortably while standing. You can find antique wood high chairs in many different heights.
Antique high chairs had additional functionalities. Some of them had wheels, doubling as a stroller you could easily move from room to room. Others had storage space under the seat to put things like bottles or other baby items you may have needed.
Most had trays, but a few omitted this aspect to make it function more like a chair. Many included removable trays you lift up and over the kid. Some trays were also fixed.
Antique high chairs have many high-end furniture details and add-ons. For example, you may find exotic wood materials, turned legs, and carved-out areas with beautiful designs. Some also have decorative dowels, which are pegs that hold different parts together.
Many had a cane seat or back. Caning is a method of weaving in many antique high chair seats or backs. This was usually done with the rattan wine, although it can be done with any plant that has a long, thin stem. If your chair’s weaving was done with willow or another material, this would be considered wickerwork.
Most of the hardware during this time was either cast iron or brass. The wood for most of these antique chairs was made of dark mahogany or heavy walnut. You may find some on the market in white, but these have likely been repainted recently.
You can tell a real antique high chair from a copied, modern “antique-look” high chair through the following clues:
- True antique high chairs are often made of multiple wood species combined. These differences can be found underneath the seat, tray, and footrest. Modern-age highchairs will be made of just one type of wood.
- Genuine antiques will have some wear and tear through the years, so some light scratches, cracks, worn areas, and oxidation on some metals may prove their years.
- Antique high chairs are known for their excellent craftsmanship. You won’t see any antiques with the fiberboard or particle board, glue, staples, or tacks that you can find on modern-day high chairs.
High chairs have developed from their artisanal roots to the company manufacturing over the years. Here are some of the top early manufacturers by century.
Artisan Manufacturers – 18th Century
References of the oldest antique highchairs are found during the late 18th century. During this time, most highchairs were made by hand by individuals or in small shops.
Chippendale designs describe high chairs with the designs of Englishman Tomas Chippendale. While Tomas created many pieces of cabinetry, other companies followed his designs throughout the 18th century, implementing them onto things like high chairs. These patterns fall under Gothic, Rococo, and Chinese design.
Gothic Chippendale high chairs may use pointed arches or s-shaped curves. Rococo high chairs were mostly created by William Kent and included ribbon-back chairs. Finally, Chinese design Chippendales may have an oriental-style lacquer, but this is seen less in high chair pieces.
George II high chairs were named after the reigning king of the time. Mahogany replaced walnut, creating some George II high chairs with dark reddish varnishing, like this one.
Manufacturers – 19th Century
The industrial revolution made way for more products for sale, including furniture and high chairs. By the 1830s, high chairs had added footrests and a tray for the child’s comfort.
Lambert Hitchcock founded his company in Connecticut in 1818. By 1840, he had sold more than 200,000 of his Hitchcock chairs. These were more affordable than those imported from England and soon the company included its own Hitchcock high chair to add to sales.
These high chairs were usually black with a light-colored wooden tray.
Michael Thonet developed a line of furniture in Austria in the mid-1900s, soon creating Thornet high chairs. These chairs include curved wood with a cane seat and back.
Manufacturers – 20th Century
The 20th century brought about mass production, speeding up the creation of high chairs in the U.S. and across the world.
In the 1920s, David Fischel created his company, Fischel, in what is now the Czech Republic. The company made bentwood furniture, much like Hitchcock’s designs. Their famous high chair sports a very simple design with a woven seat.
The Nanna Ditzel company was formed in the 1920s in Copenhagen and still exists today. Their vintage high chairs are similar to the ones they currently create – simple and minimalist.
Antique High Chair Value
Antique high chairs can be valued from about $50 to over $1,000. Most can be found in the $100 to $200 range. There are no set standards for pricing an antique high chair; however, the price can be affected by the details, style, and condition of the chair.
Your best bet for a price comparison would be to find a high chair similar to yours and see how much it sold or was listed for at a recent auction.
Here are some prices of antique high chairs from the manufacturers we previously mentioned, as seen on Vatican.com and linked to eBay.
- 1800s Thonet Bentwood high chair, excellent condition: $40
- Thonet-style high chair, caned seat and back, used condition: $125
- Antique oak convertible high chair to rocker, caned seat, poor condition: $15
- 1934 classic all-wood antique high chair with tray, used condition: $150
- USA wicker convertible high chair to stroller, cast iron wheels, good condition: $876
As you can see, the brand, year, or type of wood doesn’t impact the high chair price as much as the details do. Generally speaking, we’ve seen that convertible antique high chairs sell for more, especially those with wheels or casters that transform into strollers.
Step by Step on How to Identify an Antique High Chair
Antique high chairs are defined as high chairs that are 100 years or older. This definition is a loose one, as many would still consider a 1930s high chair antique. At the end of the day, this depends on the seller, buyer, or collector.
To identify antique original pieces, you’ll need to take note of the:
- Type of material and color
- Wear and tear
- Wood detailing
1. Identify the Wood
Antique high chairs are going to be made of mahogany or dark walnut. If you’re not familiar with types of wood you can look at photos online or have a construction-savvy individual take a look at your high chair.
You may also find antique high chairs in lighter wood shades of oak and pine; however, these are likely from the early 1900s and can even extend into the 1940s, so they may be right on the cusp of being considered an antique.
Once you’ve identified the wood, look for any distinctions or different woods mixed in. Antique high chairs often had a different type of wood used on the underside of trays or footrests, although this wasn’t always the case.
If you notice particleboard or fiberboard, steer clear – this is not an antique. Other red flags include glue or visible staples or screws.
2. Look for Wear and Tear
While collectors always want antiques in the best condition, it’s important to remember that these antiques are at least a century old. It’s not often you see antiques in perfect condition, so your high chair should have some wear and tear on it from throughout the years.
Chipped areas, small scratches, cracks, areas that are worn in, and small knicks are natural and can attest to your antique high chair’s age. You may even find stains or parts that have broken and were glued or put back together. Do note that the larger the damage or the more broken pieces it has, the less a buyer will pay for it.
3. Check Out the Style
We’ve discussed the designs of many early high chair manufacturers, and these are the exact designs you should look out for. Of course, designs sometimes come back into style many years later, so this is just a slight sign of an antique.
One good tip-off is to look for cast iron or brass hardware. Rounded wooden bars (called bentwood) may point to a Fischel or Hitchcock antique high chair. Cane seats and backs are another popular look for antique high chairs.
Of course, any convertible high chairs that change to strollers or rockers will also likely be a valued antique. Current safety standards prevent most modern high-chairs from having these designs.
4. Note Any Wood Detailing
While most antique high chairs were limited in their wood detailing, you may be lucky and find some with carved-out panels or areas sporting beautiful designs. A faded design is even better, as it proves the age of the antique.
Where to Buy Antique High Chairs
Antique high chairs are often sold at online auctions or websites, such as eBay, Etsy, or Craigslist. Depending on the model, you may have to bid against other potential buyers. To set up your account for an online auction, you will need a valid email address and electronic payment method.
For in-person sales, check out your local flea markets, estate sale, or antique dealer to start.
What Is the Age Limit for High Chairs?
High chairs are usually used for children between six months and three years of age.
There is no official law limiting the use of high chairs for a particular age group. Manufacturers will usually list the age and minimum/maximum weights allowed for their high chairs.
Putting a younger or older child in a high chair may be dangerous because they will be under or exceed the weight limits. Smaller children could risk falling from the high chair, while bigger children could risk breaking it all together and falling onto the floor.
Antique High Chair Safety Issues
It’s no surprise that laws and federal standards have changed greatly in the last 100 years. Most high chairs that were around 100 years ago would not be approved for sale today.
If purchasing an antique child’s high chair for personal use, you should be wary of the following potential safety issues.
- An effective high chair should have a crotch bar or guard to stop the baby or toddler from falling between the seat and the tray.
- Folding or convertible high chairs should have a lock to keep them from collapsing during use.
- Ensure the antique child’s high chair doesn’t wobble when touched and that all the legs are intact to support the weight of your child.
- There should ideally be a safety strap or a firm tray that stops a toddler from climbing out of the chair.
How to Disinfect a High Chair?
You can disinfect a high chair with store-bought or natural remedies. Since your child will be in close contact with the high chair, often touching it and then putting their fingers in their mouth, we recommend using non-toxic disinfecting products.
If you’re cleaning a wooden antique or modern high chair, be sure the product is safe to use on wood. The following disinfecting methods have not all been tested on wood surfaces.
There are plenty of non-toxic disinfectant sprays and wipes you can purchase to wipe down your baby’s high chair. You can also buy a mild soap, mix it with water, and wipe down the seat, allowing it to air dry.
When disinfecting the chair, be sure to clean the top and bottom of the tray, seat, on and under the cushion (if applicable), the straps, and any release or lock buttons.
There are many disinfectants you can create and use at home. One of the most popular ones is a 1-to-1 ratio of vinegar and water. This will kill germs without leaving a sticky residue.
You can also spray your high chair with hydrogen peroxide and let it sit for about five minutes. Afterward, wipe it off with a damp rag.
Tips for Disinfecting Your High Chair
- If your high chair is made of wood or has metal parts, avoid soaking it in disinfectant. The same can be said for any cushions.
- Do not use bleach on wood or fabrics.
- Sanitize the eating tray daily.
- Clean the entire high chair – especially the seat – weekly.
- Disassemble the high chair, clean all cushions and straps, and clean inside any crevices at least once a month.
Antique high chairs can be found in all types of designs. If you’ve stumbled upon one it could be worth anywhere from $40 to almost $1,000. Often made by hand from beautiful woods, this antique can be used as vintage décor or serve its purpose so long as it’s deemed safe for your child.