Coastal Massachusetts Armchair, ca. 1680

Value (2009) | $50,000 Insurance

GUEST:
Well, I think it's a Pilgrim chair, but I understand that it's really called a Brewster chair. There was a man in Plymouth that settled there, and I think he was a minister, and his name was Brewster. And I've seen sketches of this type of chair.

APPRAISER:
How did you come to own this?

GUEST:
It's come down in the family for years.

APPRAISER:
What's the family name?

GUEST:
The family that this came... it was Hall.

APPRAISER:
And does that family go all the way back to the period of Brewster?

GUEST:
It goes pretty far back.

APPRAISER:
Well, you're right, these are sometimes called Brewster chairs. William Brewster is thought to have owned one of these. He was one of the founders of Plymouth Colony. This is the very, very beginning of European settlement in America. So your family goes back... You also, I think, said the Alden family.

GUEST:
I have... yeah, the family goes back to John and Priscilla Alden.

APPRAISER:
John and Priscilla Alden, okay. Well, and John Alden was on the Mayflower.

GUEST:
Right, right.

APPRAISER:
Well, we often have things come in where people say, "Oh," you know, "my forebears brought this over on the Mayflower." Well, your forebears really were on the Mayflower. But do you think this came over from England with them?

GUEST:
No, I don't.

APPRAISER:
You think it was made here?

GUEST:
No, I think it was made here.

APPRAISER:
Okay. I think you're right. These are also sometimes called Carver chairs. And a lot of the earliest important colonists, Bradford and Carver and Brewster, are thought to have owned certain designs of these chairs, and that name then gets passed down. So you're right-- we think of these in those terms. So when do you think the chair was made?

GUEST:
I thought it was made probably in the late 1600s.

APPRAISER:
Well, there was a big revival of interest in these chairs in the late 19th century, and people like Wallace Nutting made copies of some of these famous early Pilgrim chairs. So a lot of times what we see coming into the Roadshow are those copies. But this is a real chair.

GUEST:
Oh, really?

APPRAISER:
And it is in extraordinary condition. I think this is a 1680 period chair. I think this is coastal Massachusetts. The back posts here are ash, which was one of the favored woods there, and I think these are soft maple arms. When we put on our market goggles, we look at things in terms both of family history, but also in terms of beauty. And the ultimate question out there when we look at value is who wants it. When we look at how this chair relates to the other known Pilgrim century, 17th-century chairs from Massachusetts, there are lots of different variables. There are examples that have more turnings. If I can turn this to the side, show you here, sometimes there are turnings that space in between those rungs down there. A lot of times the chairs are a little bit higher. It would probably be a lot more comfortable if it had a big soft cushion on there.

GUEST:
Cushion, that's what I do sometimes.

APPRAISER:
Well, that's what the chair was made to have.

GUEST:
Oh, really?

APPRAISER:
They put very deep cushions on these, and the large space here between the arm and the seat was meant to accommodate a very deep, soft cushion. Have you ever noticed that the chair leans back?

GUEST:
Yes, I know it does.

APPRAISER:
It was built that way, partly because they're not really that comfortable. This front leg is really twisted.

GUEST:
Yeah.

APPRAISER:
Have you noticed how warped that is?

GUEST:
Uh-huh.

APPRAISER:
It's actually a good sign from the perspective of authenticity. These chairs were turned when the wood was fairly green so that they would shrink around the different rungs and tighten around them, so they'd hold together. I'll turn it back here so we can see it from this angle again. The rush seat is a replacement. You wouldn't really expect the rush seat to last 330 years. Have you ever had the chair appraised?

GUEST:
I did once, and I think it was $2,500, they appraised it.

APPRAISER:
$2,500.

GUEST:
Uh-huh, right.

APPRAISER:
I think you should insure this chair, given the history and the condition, for $50,000.

GUEST:
Oh, my goodness.

APPRAISER:
Whatever you have done to keep it in this condition, you obviously have cared for it, just like all of your forebears, and it is wonderful to see it here.

GUEST:
Thank you.

APPRAISER:
Maybe you want to sit in it.

GUEST:
I'd love to.

APPRAISER:
Would you?

GUEST:
Yes. Ah, good.

Appraisal Details

Appraiser
Brunk Auctions
Asheville, NC
Appraised value (2009)
$50,000 Insurance
Event
Denver, CO (July 25, 2009)
Period
17th Century
Form
Arm Chair
Material
Ash, Maple, Rush

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