The Mystery of Chair 144
April 30, 2019 by kittynh
When my husband and I moved to Keene New Hampshire a few years ago, we decided to collect vintage pieces from the past to decorate our home. Keene is still a manufacturing town, but at one time the Keene area was known for pottery, glass, and furniture.
One item was sent around the world from Keene to grace homes and hotels. The front decks of hotels all over the US and even as far away as Australia were made friendly by Keene Rocking chairs.
There were many furniture makers in the area, but the Keene furniture company was famous for their porch rockers. They weren’t high class Victorian fancy chairs. These were built for comfort and possibly talking and playing checkers.
When I first moved to Keene, the Historic Society of Cheshire County had their annual auction and a Keene rocker was up for bidding. I really wanted it, but it kept going up and up in the bidding. I figured how hard could it be to find another one?
A lot harder than I had imagined. I’ve now put the word out I want one with arms, two would be even better (then my husband and I wouldn’t have to take turns rocking)
The first part of hunting for a Keene rocker, is to get to know your prey. Most Keene rockers were not marked. I had to learn what a Keene rocker looks like.
Some have the upside down acorn on the top. Also some have a sort of slit for the rockers. Many do not have a slit for the rocker. A rush seat is common, though some also have a rush back.
When I saw a possible Keene rocker at a nearby vintage shop, I didn’t know if I should purchase it or not. It has the acorn top. It has the split rockers. But, it is a peculiar size.
There are no arms, and it’s not quite a child’s rocker, but not a full size rocker. When in doubt, the Historic Society of Cheshire County comes to the rescue. I took photographs of the chair and asked for help.
Now HSCC has Kathy, who is so much more than the first person to greet you. She knows how to help you find anything. That long lost relative. Where your family used to live. What kind of rockers the local furniture makers produced.
Alan Rumrill, is the director of the Historical Society. He knows how much I want a Keene rocker, so he helped join in the chase. Kathy and Alan found old catalogs with the rush seat chairs.
Then it was up to me. I had to compare the photographs of the chair with the drawings of the chair from the 1916 catalog. The chair showed up quickly. It was number 14, a sewing chair.
Since it is for sewing, there are no arms. This was not a rocker meant for resting. Also, it was smaller as this was a woman’s rocking chair. Men weren’t going to be sitting in the sewing chair. The chair is a bit small for me, but my long and large grandson should fit in it perfectly.
First off will be the repair of the frame. Next comes fixing the rush work, or caning the chair seat. Then I suppose someone can rock and sew if they wish. I hope people will just enjoy sitting in it and thinking that over 100 years ago in this town, this chair was made.
Somehow it ended up on top of a dresser in a vintage store in Swanzey New Hampshire. Now for $20 it belongs to me. I’m sure when it is brought back to life it’s going to have cost a bit more than $20.
The hunt is still on for an adult sized chair with arms. But with the friendly staff or the Historic Society of Cheshire County, I’ll be ready to validate it when I find one.
The staff is the keeper of the history of the region. History is not preserved there to be hidden away. It’s there to be shared. This time it was my turn to say “Hey, how can we figure out the history of this chair?” It can be “figured out” because the history of the region is safe there, and now I have a bit of that history in my own home. So thank you again Kathy and Alan. This may have been just a small mystery to solve, but a small piece of local history will now be conserved and saved.
Category: antiques, Historical society of Cheshire County, Keene, New Hampshire, NH, Uncategorized | Tags: Cheshire County, furniture, Identifying furniture, Keene Furniture Company, New England, rocking chair, sewing chair, vintage
Terrific story! I hope to add on a porch so I can have rockers outside. No room inside.
I greatly enjoyed reading about your Keene rocking chair adventure. As it turns out, I purchased a small-ish rocker (with arms) at a local thrift shop for $18 a couple of years back, and noticed a partial paper label under one of the arms that, on close inspection, revealed …Chair Co. …eene, NH. Now, my adventure started! I confirmed that this was decidedly a Keene rocker, through my research and confirmation by a local rocking chair restorer. I love this rocker and it seems to have never been altered since it was manufactured…just the usual use. There is an intriguing part 2 to this… that I will share in a later post. Thank you for sharing your experience. I will never look at another rocking chair the same way 🙂
thank you. I was delighted to find the Historic Society of Cheshire County such a help! I never think of a rocking chair the same way either! I think “Where was this made!” I was happy to discover some of the rocking chairs at the Rudyard Kipling House in Dummerston NH are Keene rocking chairs! If you look at other posts, you’ll soon find it was my dearest wish to go see the US home of Kipling and family, and later was gifted with visiting several times. (it’s a delight to be in the home and use it as a home!) Also cheaper than hotel rooms if you get 8 people together! Off topic, but cherish your rocker! I found a large Keene chair recently, that has the Keene name burnt in the wood a bit on the arm and am hoping to get that refinished soon. I’m already using it everyday! Thank you for your comment!
…My part two was- the paint was peeling on a large rocker that we bought at an estate sale about 3 years ago for $25, and, as it turns out, Keene Co. stamp was under the paint embossed on the wood of one arm! We must have keen eyes for Keene rockers, without even knowing (at the time). 🙂
Many thanks again!