The Windsor chair is perhaps one of the most admired pieces of antique furniture in history.
Not only has it inspired modern-day furniture, but Windsor chairs continue to be bought, sold, and made to this day. They’re strong, durable, and look breath-taking.
Especially in today’s world where everyone from antique collectors to interior designers are trying to buy classic furniture, Windsor chairs demand huge attention worldwide.
And every day, new chairs are discovered in the wild. But nothing beats the originals – and early Windsor chairs are known to break all sorts of auction records.
Think your old chair might be an authentic Windsor? Interested in its rich history? Want to see if it’s worth lots of money? We’re here to help.
History of antique Windsor chair
Windsor chairs have a rich history that starts as far back as the 1700s.
Originally made in the Thames Valley area, the chairs got their signature name from the nearby town of Windsor, which acted as the distribution point for London.
Legends talk about how King George II visited the area during a storm, and when he sat on the chair was impressed by its simple, comfortable design. He immediately ordered a copy to be made.
It’s easy to see why that legend took a fold, as early models of the Windsor chair were incredibly popular. No chair beforehand focused on comfort in quite the same way.
The chair was ergonomic and focused on supporting the human back by curving in a supportive way. The result? The chairs became incredibly popular and quickly replaced other furniture.
Word spread and manufacturers from around England. Thanks in part to the Industrial Revolution in England at the time, manufacturers were able to meet consumer demand by mass-producing these chairs.
Many antique dealers and appraisers say that the early, hand-crafted Windsor chairs from the 1820s to the 1870s have the best quality.
Styles of antique Windsor chair
Despite how innovative the Windsor chair was, it was quite a simplistic piece of furniture.
Common features include:
- The shaped seat is made from a single piece of wood and is cradle-shaped.
- The legs jut outward and are kept separate from the seat’s back.
- The chair spindles are carved and run through the solid seat, curving into a bow.
- The crinoline stretcher is a curved piece underneath the seat
- Some Windsor chairs came with and without an arm rail
- Some are also rocking chairs
That said, there were some forms of experimentation with different types of Windsor chairs. 3 different variations include:
- Stick-back: has a hoop shape with long spindles.
- Splat-back: hoop-shaped with spindles on either side of the center ‘splat’.
- Comb-back: spindles run into a horizontal top piece to form a comb shape.
America vs Europe
There are also some slight distinctions between European and American Windsor chairs. These include:
- English chairs used oak, hard maple, and hickory wood. Americans used pine and maple.
- American chairs had a ‘splat-back’
- English chairs often had a curved connection between legs. Americans had an ‘H’ stretcher shape
- American chairs had legs pointing out further than European chairs.
How can you tell how old a chair is?
The older and earlier a Windsor chair is, the more valuable it becomes. Understandably, you’ll be keen to figure out how old your chair is.
While reference books and online guides are your best way of identifying the date of a Windsor chair, there are some design features you can use to help refine your search.
Although Windsor chairs were consistent in their design, some pieces were unique and followed popular trends in everyday life.
Take for example this Gothic Windsor chair from the 1760s. It was easy to identify because the chair has unique carvings; it uses pointed arches on its back and openwork splats, similar to Gothic architecture, which became very popular in England in the mid-1700s.
Number of spindles
The number of spindles on the back of a Windsor chair can help you identify its age. While not an exact science, the more spindles in the chair, the older the chair is.
Nine is the most spindles you will find and is usually a tell-tale sign the chair is an early Windsor.
How do I know if my antique Windsor chair is real?
Sadly, we live in a world where many people want to extort antique collectors. Windsor chairs are often a popular forgery because it’s easier to age them, replicate their style, and because they are so hotly in demand right now.
And while second-guessing everything can take the fun out of antiques, we have some recommendations for you to bear in mind when buying, selling, or examining a Windsor chair:
Branding and manufacturer
One of the most common deceptions is placing a forged logo or manufacturing mark on the chair. By using a heated iron, someone can scorch a brand name into the chair, making it look natural and purposeful. Then, the surrounding wood is distressed to make the brand look weathered and aged.
Another cunning method of deception is removing logos from modern Windsor chairs. People shave thin layers of wood off the target area. If you closely examine the wood, you will notice a slight difference in texture.
We can tell a lot about a chair’s authenticity by the type of wood used. Throughout history, furniture makers often used locally sourced wood to make their creations.
The most common and cheapest wood used for Windsor chairs was white pine and hard maple. If a Windsor chair is described as being made of yew, ash, or elm, you should remain vigilant.
Too perfect to be true?
Sometimes, things that are too good to be true are in fact…untrue. A common mistake of a forged Windsor chair is that it looks too pristine and perfect. These chairs were heavily used throughout history and should have some sort of wear-and-tear damage. If it looks brand new, it likely is!
Paint and finish
The color and varnish of a Windsor chair can help you verify if a Windsor chair is authentic, or as old as advertised.
Colors were popular at different times throughout history. For E.g. Victorian era furniture makers often used black-and-yellow pin-stripes to paint their pieces.
That said, be careful – many chairs will have been repainted or refurbished throughout their use. Some collectors may artificially distress furniture paint to make it seem like the original coating.
If in doubt – investigate
Sadly, there is a growing trend of people creating forged Windsor chairs.
The only concrete way of protecting yourself is buying from verified sources. Many antique auction sites have protections in place to prevent forgeries from appearing. These include accepting only verified, appraised furniture.
If in doubt, organize an in-person viewing of the antique, especially if you are spending large sums of money. Photos can easily be doctored and aren’t reliable.
If you already own the chair and are worried about its authenticity, seek a professional appraiser.
Price Guide: How much is my Windsor chair worth?
Like other types of antique furniture, Windsor chairs often fetch a high price at auction. They tick all the boxes – they’re old, they have that ‘vintage’ design, and every day more and more are discovered out in the wild.
So how much does the average chair sell for?
A quick look on auction site Sotheby’s shows that authentic Windsor chairs that are in good condition sell for at least $500. These examples showcase just how varied and high the prices go:
- This Victorian ash Windsor child chairs sold for $500
- This black-painted Windsor chair sold for $625
- This fancy pink Windsor side chair sold for $750
$1,000 – $10,000
- This pair of white bow-back Windsor chairs sold for $4,375
- This collection of fan-backed Windsor chairs sold for $5,625
- This black-painted Windsor side chair sold for $6,250
$10,000 – $20,000
- This black painted brace back Windsor chair sold for $12,500
- This brown-painted fan-back Windsor chair has an estimated value of $18,000
$20,000 – $30,000
- This green paint high-back comb Windsor chair sold for $23,750
- This set of six bow-back Windsor armchairs sold for $62,500
What affects price?
If you’re still thinking of selling your chair, here are some factors that can influence its value:
Condition & Restoration
The better the condition, the more valuable your Windsor chair will be. Because of their continued use, it’s common and often unavoidable for Windsor chairs to suffer some wear-and-tear damage.
Examine your chair for any scratches, chips, and wood warping. The most common areas for damage are the bow of the chair and the seat.
Some people use paint to conceal the damage, but be careful – too many repairs can rob them of their antique appeal.
Unfortunately, early Windsor chairs often have no maker marks. These chairs were made by local furniture makers who didn’t necessarily spend much time branding their work.
If your chair does have some sort of emblem, brand, or logo, this can increase its value exponentially because it’s much easier to date.
The most common type of mark is a simple initial. E.g., after lengthy research, the ‘RR’ symbol on this Windsor chair was found to be referring to local maker Richard Roberts of Norwich and dates the chair to 1714.
If you’re interested in finding out more about furniture makers of the 18th century, this research paper by Thomas Crispin has more information.
Hidden costs? Sell collections instead
Antique furniture has several hidden costs that you won’t find anywhere else. These include:
- They can’t be dismantled, making shipping harder and more expensive.
- Must be shipped via trucks or containers
- Need to be securely stored to avoid water damage
To tackle this and make savings, collectors will often try to sell pieces as part of a collection. Otherwise, vendors often refuse sales if the customer cannot collect the furniture in person.
The good thing about Windsor chairs is they can easily be sold as part of a collection, including as pairs of armchairs or complete dining chairs (6 chairs+).
By selling more than one, you can secure cheaper storage and attract the attention of antique collectors wishing to make big investments in these niches.
Where to buy & sell?
Whether you want to buy or sell a Windsor chair or are just curious what kind of money they are worth, online auction sites have everything you need to know.
Here are some of our favorites:
- Sotheby’s– if you have a high-end Windsor chair that’s likely to sell into the thousands, then Sotheby’s comes highly recommended. It offers precise market values, handles all of the details in selling, and offers expert appraisals.
- eBay– with thousands of new antique listings every day, eBay is one of the most effective ways of checking prices and seeing what’s already on the market. Their Windsor chair category is varied, with different styles and types of chairs on sale with prices starting from $100 to upwards of $10,000.
- Etsy– While Etsy does have a growing antique furniture community, many of the Windsor chairs that are listed are either replicas or restored antiques. If you’re thinking of patching up your chair, it’s a great site to consider.
If you’re serious about investing in Windsor chairs, you should consider some research and reference books, including:
- The English Windsor Chairby Thomas Crispin & Alan Sutton
- Windsor Chairs: An Illustrated Celebrationby Michael Harding-Hill.
- A Windsor Handbook by Wallace Nutting