The 18th century ladderback chair was one of the most popular chairs of its time. It was easy to construct, simple in design and affordable to make. Today, these classic chairs are desirable pieces for antique collectors.
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A ladderback chair, also known as a slat-back chair, is named for the horizontal slats across the back of the chair, resembling the rungs of a ladder. The slats, usually two to six in number, are connected to the straight back posts with a mortise and tenon joint. The posts of the chair are perpendicular to each other and were usually turned, or rounded, on a lathe. The classic version features a high back and a woven rush seat.
Ladderback chairs, date back to the Middle Ages where they can be found in homes across Europe. By the 17th century this style of chair was among the most common style in England.
By the middle of the 17th century, luxury furniture makers began to make ladder-back chairs out of walnut, rather than the more common sycamore or maple and added refined decorations and engravings.
The chairs became staples in homes across colonial America. Its popularity rose dramatically after the Protestant Reformation, as the chairs were plain in style, a trait valued by early Protestants. it was quick and easy to make. It served as a dining chair, a “sitting” chair and a pew chair. These chairs still remain among the most popular types of chairs. During the second half of the 19th century the advent of the Victorian style of furniture diminished the popularity of the simple ladderback.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art purchased a ladder-back chair, which was considered a peasant’s chair, and was dated between the 17th and 18th centuries, in 1908.
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Info source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ladderback_chair
The United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing, more widely referenced as the Shakers, are well-known for their furniture today, especially their chairs. The most recognizable style of Shaker chair is the traditional slat- or ladder-back version, but there were actually many types including those with Windsor styling and a rotating chair also known as a revolver.
The largest and most influential community of Shakers was established at New Lebanon, New York in 1787. This community remained active until 1947, according to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, which holds an impressive collection of Shaker furniture and home furnishings.
Extraneous ornamentation and elements imparting comfort were considered inappropriate due to the strict religious beliefs of the Shakers. According to the Antiques Encyclopedia by Hidde Halbertsma, this type of furniture “characteristically has strongly geometric lines with plain surfaces and functionality.” The talent of the Shakers was exemplified by simplifying and refining. They removed “all artifice and adornment” to design furniture that served basic needs quite well.
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It could withstand the rough handling of that era when there were many wars and migrations. It was designed in a way that utilised the tools, materials and knowledge that existed at the time. Whereas timber was plentiful, woodworking machinery was limited or nonexistent. It was probably hard work at the time to produce a single ladder back chair, but the people of that time were very patient. Each rung of the ladder would, painstakingly, be made to perfection, by hand. The mortise and tenon joints would then be meticulously made and assembled. They were made of different kinds of hard woods and that is why many have survived till today.
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Ladderback chairs were simple in construction. They were not made to stand out from the rest of the furniture. They had many practical uses ranging from; sitting on, stepping on, to using as a rig to hang newly made candles. Due to the limited variety of furniture at the time, these chairs were quite handy to have around the house. They occupied little space owing to the small seat area they had. Also, thanks to the ladder like back, they were easy to carry around by simply tucking the back under the arm and clasping one of the lower rungs.
Ladderback chairs used such a little amount of materials that, so many could be made from only a little wood. A popular version of a ladder back chair was the rocking chair. This was widely used and a big number of ladder backs were rocking chairs. Almost any movie set at that time would have a ladder back rocking chair on the set. They had a nostalgic effect on the older folk, and with good cause. Even in all their simplicity, Ladderback chairs are rather good looking. It is for this reason that they have been around for ages and yet, they never lost their appeal. They are still being built in workshops across the world.