An identification guide to a few Morris chairs, most particularly those made by or for the Larkin Soap Company, Buffalo, NY 1897 to 1918
|If you want a rambling discourse about Antique Morris chair hardware you might want to try my Antique Hardware Gallery page|
PLEASE FEEL FREE TO USE ANY OF THE INFORMATION ON THIS PAGE IN ADVERTISEMENTS TO SELL CHAIRS, BUY CHAIRS OR FOR ANY OTHER PURPOSE THAT ENLIGHTENS THE PUBLIC ABOUT THE MORRIS CHAIR. WHILE I CANNOT GUARANTEE ACCURACY, I HAVE DONE MY BEST.
Note about the value of antique Morris chairs:
I am often asked what antique Morris chairs are worth. As with any antique, the answer is that they are worth what someone is willing to pay for them. Not helpful,huh? Larkin expert Walt Ayars presents a formula in his book Larkin Oak and I will pass that on here. The presumption from the Ayars Formula is that these chairs, translated into today's dollars, are worth the same amount as when they were made. The basis of the Ayars Forumla is pegged to the amount earned in a week by the average factory worker in the USA. Using the Ayars data, in 1909, the average factory worker made $9.74 per week. An average for factory workers at the beginning of 2010 is about $731. Dividing $9.74 into $731 gives us about 74. Therefore if a Morris chair was made in 1909, the 1909 price should be multiplied by 74 in order to arrive at a price in the dollars of today.
The Larkin Morris chairs from 1909 cost about $5 in 1909 because they were given as a premium for $10 with about $5 worth of soap. Doing the math--never my strong suit-- that would make that $5 Larkin chair worth $370 in today's dollars ($5 X 74= $370.) It may not be a coincidence that this is about what the old ones sell for on ebay or Craig's List these days. Of course, to do this calculation, one has to know the cost of the chair in 1909 or whenever. Looking at catalogs from all over, I would guess that the price range of Morris chairs circa 1909 would be from about $5 to, perhaps, $20 for a very high-end chair. As another price guide, a Larkin morris chair from that era sells for about $1200 fully restored (refinished, reglued, respringedwith new cushions in antique shops around here, Scarborough Maine, in 2010. Other, more high-end Morris chairs (those with lots of carving or bronze hardware, for example) sell in anique shops around here for up to about $2000. I know this may not be much help, but it is the best I can do.
Typical mass-produced early 1900s Morris chairs do not seem to have lots of antique value even when they are all original and in good shape. They are not precious Antiques Roadshow items. The value comes in finding THE right buyer. Out there, there is someone who would fall in love with the chair as an easy chair for an office or home. If you can find that person, your fully restored chair might fetch $1000 or more. They are certainly worth that to someone who appreciates the serenity and repose that a Morris chair can provide.
By far, the bulk of this page is currently devoted to Larkin Morris chairs because the available information about them is so extensive. As I find creditable information about other early Morris chair makers, I will add it to this account. As this page evolves, it will, of necessity, be a bit disordered. I trust that if you care about this at all, you will suffer along during what promises to be a very gradual page construction.
The Larkin Soap Company was headquartered in Buffalo, NY. From 1885 to 1941 Larkin offered a wide range of household goods, including furniture. There is quite a bit of information about the Larkin Company on the web and in printed sources. In particular there is an excellent biography of the founder, John D. Larkin written and published by his grandson (Larkin, D.L.  John D. Larkin: A business pioneer, Amherst, NY, Daniel L. Larkin ) For the identification of Larkin Oak furniture and China there are excellent books by Marcy and Walter Ayars (Ayars, M. and W. Larkin Oak, Echo Publishing, Summerdale, PA; Ayars  Larkin China, Echo Publishing, Summerdale, PA)
There is a great deal about the Larkin Company that is amazing. A goal of this page is to help anyone to identify Larkin Morris chairs. All of the catalog pictures on this page were sent to me by well-known Larkin expert Walt Ayars. I think these images may be of some general interest because Larkin probably was responsible for hundreds of thousands of Morris chairs. It is difficult to look through a big antique furniture shop without finding several Larkin Morris chairs. It is also a rare day that there is not a Larkin Morris chair or two for sale on ebay. As a disclaimer, I am not a furniture expert or an antique expert. Through my esteem for traditional Morris chairs, I have collected some information and surmised a few additional things. I would be pleased to correct any errors that readers can find.
Among the Larkin chairs, I have restricted myself to those with a Morris chair-type reclining mechanism. This mechanism permits a small number, usually four or five, of discrete reclining angles. For the purposes of this page, I include Larkin chairs that have either the usual Morris chair back racks with loose bar or the Larkin stamped-out steel device pictured directly below. Larkin made other kinds of reclining chairs with other mechanisms but I do not believe that they can be correctly considered to be Morris chairs..
As can be seen below, the history of Larkin Morris chairs between 1897 and 1918 is the story of a few basic models with many changes in identification numbers over the years and a few substantial design and material changes. Walt Ayars has told me that there is evidence that Larkin used the many number changes to track the sales of items back to a particular edition of their catalog. While it is not usually possible to date a Larkin chair to a particular year, I have given its inclusive dates from the catalog pages I have seen.
|Larkin Morris chairs often used one of these stamped-out devices as the mechanism for controlling the reclining feature of the chair. There were two types used by Larkin, as far as I know. The one on the left is nickel plated and is a slightly different stamping than the one on the right, which has a burnished copper-like finish. I believe that all chairs with either of these mechanisms are Larkins. An 1893 booklet indicates that it may have been patented. There are also, as you can see below, a few Larkin Morris chairs that, instead, used the more usual type of bar and back racks.|
|The Larkin stamped-out mechanism bears a passing similarity to a more substantial "pea pod" cast iron Morris chair mechanism shown here at on the right, patented by George Bowen for the S.A. Cook Co in Medina NY on 9 July, 1901. Much as the stamped-out reclining mechanism seems to be limited to Larkin chairs, this cast iron reclining mechanism probably defines a chair as being a product of S.A. Cook and Company. The functional similarity between the Cook and Larkin devices may be accidental but both companies were headquartered in Western New York State and both devices appeared at about the same time. The cast iron hinge seen in this picture may also be a feature only found on Cook chairs. Cook chairs were often elaborately carved and sometimes carried an identifying brass plate at the bottom of the back.|
|Another company that produced many Morris chiars was the Royal Chair Company, later the Royal Easy Chair Company. They held patents on many designs that featured a push button to permit the chair to recline. If you want to see some of these, enter some of the numbers on the Royal decal to the left into Google Patents. As far as I can tell, the early chairs had the push button sticking up through the side stretcher, among the spindles. Later it was moved up to the arm of the chair. Sometimes, cleverly, the shaft for the button ran up through a hollow spindle or slat. There were many different designs and shapes for Royal chairs. Some of these have brass tags with the company name, some have decals (as shown here) or paper labels. Some have lost their ID, but so far as I know, if the chair reclines with a push button or plunger on the arm or the stretcher, it is a Royal.|
|Here is an unusual Morris chair. I was once asked if I could identify one of these and, searching through my files, I found this picture of a seemingly identical one taken from ebay. This ebay chair had a metal plate on the inside of the rear stretcher stating that it was made by a company called Hunzinger. I presume that only Hunzinger made chairs like this. There is information about George Hunzinger and his furniture as well as other information on the web. The Hunzinger company made a great deal of Victorian furniture and is well known for the quality of the turnings. Perhaps oddly, this Hunzinger Morris chair has almost no frills. Hunzinger patented the mechanisms of this chair on 27 February, 1906: US Patent No. 813799. This and other old patents will pop up in Google Patents if you enter the patent number.|
I have come to believe that the hinge shown to the left also indicates that a Morris chair was made by Heywood Brothers/Wakefield. I have only seen it on HB/W chairs. Using only the frequency of Morris chairs appearing on ebay and Craigs List as evidence, I believe that HB/W must have made many more child Morris chairs than adult ones. Of course, another reasonable interpretation of the data is that the child chairs survived at a higher frequency. So far in my life, I have seen many child HB/W Morrris chairs and only one adult chair from that company.
|Below: The Heywood Brothers-Wakefield child's Morris chair. If the paper label is missing from underneath, it might be thought to be a Larkin product. The plywood in the seat seems to be original because the label was on the underside of it.||There is some superficial similarity of front leg shape when the child's Heywood Wakefield chair is compared to the early Larkin (adult-sized) Chautauqua in the picture below. The front stretchers have striking similarity, except for the wings on the shell carving of the Heywood Wakefield.|
|As can be seen in the picture to the right which compares the cast iron back-racks of the adult Larkin and the child's Heywood Wakefield, the back-racks are functionally the same and have a similar appearance but they are certainly not identical castings.|
|Sears, Roebuck and Co. sold many Morris chairs over the years. Quite a number of their old catalogs are available in a library at Dartmouth College and, on the web, from Ancestry.com. My knowledge of Sears chairs is sketchy. By inference from catalog pictures and real chairs, I firmly believe that at least some Sears chairs were fitted with the unusual punched-out back rack seen at the right. I do not know who made the chairs for Sears nor am I sure that this back rack was not also used on chairs sold by other companies. Nevertheless, it is a start to know that at least some Sears chairs had this back rack.||
This chair seems to be fairly typical of Sears early chairs. The front legs are wide and carved but thin from front to back.
|At least one of the early Larkin chairs (The Chatauqua 1898 to 1901) has this paper label on the inside of the rear stretcher. I believe that Factory No. 1 was the Indian River Furniture Company in Philadelphia NY. Most of the rest of the Larkin Morris chairs were not labeled. I am also told that caution should be urged as unscrupulous persons have been known to remove Larkin paper labels and put them on non-Larkin furniture. In the same vein, I have seen Morris chairs that have Larkin parts but also have parts not made by Larkin that were probably married into the chair over the years. Isn't "married" the term used by the Keno Brothers on Antiques Roadshow for Frankenstinian furniture?|
|1897 Catalog 11: Maybe the first Larkin Morris chair? I have never seen one of these, myself.|
The plot has thickened a bit concerning the next Larkin Morris chair, the first "Chatauqua" (1898 to 1901). I scan Craig's List and ebay quite often in the hope of finding pictures of interesting Morris chairs for my picture archive. I am quite familiar with waht I consider to be the standard Larkin 1898 Chatauqua because I own one and have many pictues of others (see example right above, where this amazing chair also has its original upholstery), However, I found a picture of one that looked similar except that the arms were a different shape (left above). I assumed that it merely had undergone an arm transplant, perhaps when some misfortune befell the original arms. However, subsequently, I found a picture of another one just like it then another and another. It is rather unlikely that multiple independent parties would perform exactly the same arm replacement.
Looking a bit more closely, there are other differences. The spindles are different and there is an interesting little metal stirrup on the back to prevent the back bar from scratching up the wood (see center picture above). As discussed below, this chair was patented and the patent was held in Philadelphia, NY presumably by people the Indian River Furniture Company. As a surmise, I guess that the stirrup model of the chair came before the non-stirrup because usually the trend is to find ways to make the chairs cheaper. Perhaps the stirrup model was made even before Larkin started to distribute the chair. I don't know of a stirrup model that has the larkin paper label--but of course this is not saying much because those labels were so fragile that few survive on any chair. The Larkin catalog picture of the 1898 Chatauqua, below, has the spindles of the much-more-common non-stirrup model giving a touch of support to the guess that Indian River made some stirrup models before Larkin came into the picture.
|1898 Catalog 18 to 1901 Catalog 29. This "Chautauqua" came apart for shipping and is my personal favourite. Of the various Larkin Morris chairs I have seen, it represents the peak of quality. According to a notation in John Larkin's hand on a catalog page from the company headquarters, this chair was made by the Indian River Furniture Company in Philadelphia, NY. Larkin bought these for the wholesale price of $4.00. This chair carried the label pictured earlier on this page as coming from "Factory No.1" It also has the patent date of Dec. 20, (18)'98 painted on the back of the front stretcher. If you are a fan of this chair, you can see its orignal patent by entering the its patent number 616346 into Google Patents.||1902 Catalog 33. A change in the "Chautauqua." This one does not knock down for shipping. Early models have a fully upholstered back, rather than a loose cushion back. This chair also introduced the stamped ratchet back adjustment in nickel plate shown near the top of this page. This chair is also unusual because on the loose-cushion examples, the back frame contains 6 vertical dowels, instead the more usual horizontal rungs of a ladder-type back. An early Larkin advertising image shows the 1902 with an attached and retractable footrest but I have never seen one actually fitted out in this way.|
|There is an early version in an 1893 Larkin booklet. Otherwise at least 1904 Catalog 46 to 1910 Catalog 63. One of the most durable Larkin designs, this chair was introduced in a Larkin booklet extolling the virtues of the company in 1900 but may not have appeared in catalogs until 1904. A version of this design that is recognizably similar is in the 1918-1919 Catalog 80. By 1904, it also featured the rachet stamped reclining mechanism, seen here below the sitter's elbow.|
|1904 Catalog 46 to 1908 Catalog 59. The No. 65 was also introduced in a 1900 publicity piece but may not have appeared in catalogs until 1904. Based upon the frequency at which I have seen these in antique shops, homes and on ebay, I think Larkin must have produced thousands of No 65s. The term "improved" refers to the rachet stamped reclining mechanism. I do not consider it to be an improvement, but it was probably more economical to manufacture than other options. On this chair it was finished to appear like burnished copper. The No 65 is probably the most common among the Larkin chairs still in existence.|
The No 65 (much like the 1898 Chatauqua pictured a little ways above) is becoming an unhealthy obsession with me. I have three No 65s and all of them have six horizontal dowels as the primary parts of the back rest. However, in collecting pictures from the web, I have also begun to see No 65s that have backs consisting of 6 vertical dowels. At first, I thought that these were chairs where someone had replaced the standard-issue horizontal dowel back with a back from the 1902 Chatauqua, which had 6 vertical dowels in the back. However, I have now seen so many No 65s with vertical dowel backs that I am convinced that the chair was produced in both versions. I am guessing that the vertical dowel versions are earlier than the horizontal dowel versions. This is because, as a woodworker, I can tell that the move to horizontal dowels would probably slightly lower manfacturing costs.
As I puzzled about this, a No 65 with vertical dowels appeared on ebay with a beautifully intact fragile label. Rich Miller at yardsalezip.com has kindly allowed me to use the photographs of the label and the chair. I do not yet know where "Factory No 2 was located, or if, perhaps it was Larkin himself. I also wonder if Factory No 2 also produced the short-lived 1902 Chatauqua? The backs of these two chairs are similar, but not identical. The back of 1902 Chatauqua has decorative grooves running down the front of the side boards. The No 65 with vertical dowels, does not have these grooves. If you are reading all this, you may be catching the same desease that I have involving these chairs. Caution is urged.
|1905 Catalog 48 through 1908 Catalog 59. This unusual Morris chair had back racks and a loose bar as the reclining mechanism, unlike most Larkin Morris chairs.|
|1908 Catalog 59 to at least 1910 Catalog 63. In 1912-1913 Catalog 68 it lost its casters and was renumbered No 30100. In 1916 Catalog 75 it was renumbered No G30100 and stayed that way until at least 1917-1918 Catalog 78|
|1907 to 1910. The No. 48 and the No. 58 lost their casters in the 1912-1913 catalog and were renumbered No. 480 and No. 580 at that time. They continued with those numbers through 1915. In 1916 seemingly identical chair frames were in the catalog only they now had "brown Spanish artificial leather" cushions and "invisible sliding casters." At this time they were renumbered Nos. 7280 and 7180 respectively.|
|1909 Catalog 61 and 1910 Catalog 63.|
|1910 Catalog 63: At least in 1910 Larkin offered this child's Morris chair. Based upon my observed freqency in shops and on ebay, a child's Morris chair made by Heywood Brothers-Wakefield seems to have been made in larger numbers than this Larkin. The Larkin has notches for the back support bar cut into the rear tops of the arms. It also has two exposed bolt heads on each side stretcher that cannot easily be seen in the image above. The Heywood-Wakefield chair has cast iron notched back-brackets slung below the backs of the arms for this purpose. These metal brackets are similar to, but not identical to, the ones supporting the back bar on the Larkin 1898 to 1901 Chatauqua Morris chairs.|
|1912-1913 Catalog 68. What appears to be the same chair appeared in again 1914 in Catalog 71 as Morris Chair No. 1055. As far as I am concerned the gigantic innovation that happened in 1912 in Larkin Morris chairs was the end of the horrible and nasty little wooden casters that quickly wreck wooden floors and tear up carpets.|
|1914 Catalog 71. This chair also appeared in 1915 in Cataog 73. From 1916 Catalog 75 to 1916-1917 Catalog 76 it was callled an "Adjustable Reclining Chair" No. 156050. The description and picture are identical except that the No.156050 was upholstered in brown or black artificial leather. In 1917-1918 Catalog 78 it was renumbered No. D055.|
1912-1913 Catalog 68. This chair also appeared in 1914 Catalog 71 renumbered No. 1155. In Catalog 71, it shared a page with its replacement-to-be, the more rectilinear (and I think much less attractive) No. 2450, shown below.
|1914 Catalog 71. The Reclining Rocker No.2450 seems to have been a replacement for the Reclining Chair No 550 (later No 1155) directly above. They are functionally similar. They both have a rounded bottom on the sides, but otherwise the No 2450 looks like a simplified version of the No 550. No. 2450 appeared again in 1915 Catalog 73. In 1916 Catalog 76 it was renumbered No. A2450. In 1917-1918 Catalog 78, it was called the "Big Comfortable Reclining Rocker" and renumbered No. C060. In 1918-1919 Catalog 80 it was again just a "Reclining Rocker" and was renumbered again, this time No. 2854M.|
|1915 While similar in design to other reclining rockers, the No. 277 only appeared in this year, as far as I know. One of the obvious difference between this and other Larkin reclining rockers is the lack of any spindles or slats under the arms.|
|1916-1917 The No. 5490 and the No. 5390 seem to replace the earlier No.7280 and No.7180 in the catalog for this year. The overall measurements were the same as the earlier chairs but they were 20 plus pounds heavier than their predecesors in stated shipping weight. Among other things, the front legs appear to be more beefy. In 1918-1919 Catalog 80, these chairs are given enhanced numbers to signify the type of wood: an added "M1" for oak and 'M2" for birch. Further, the description of some of the cushion contents changes from "genuine hair" to goat hair."|