Dear Helaine and Joe:
I am looking for information about a set of chairs I purchased a few years ago. They were found in a barn, covered with layers of dust, and the owners sold them to me. The seats appear to have been recovered at some point. One is a captain’s chair, and there are five others without arms. There is a paper label on one that reads, “Square Brand, Burlington, Iowa.” I would like to know when these were made and their monetary value.
Thanks for your help,
R. R. H.
Dear R. R. H.:
Sets of chairs can be very attractive to buyers looking for something old that is also useful. We applaud R. R. H. for looking past the dust and the grime and seeing something that can be cleaned up a bit and used as an attractive addition to a modern home.
However, it needs to be understood that the chairs were probably manufactured in the 1930s, so they are not yet “antique.” They are a 20th century interpretation of several different styles from the past. We see “melon” spacers taken from Elizabethan and Jacobean furniture that have been shrunken to anemic swellings on the legs. We also see back splats derived from Queen Anne pieces, only these are not nearly as gracefully silhouetted.
These chairs were once part of a larger dining room suite that had a table and a matching china cabinet plus buffet and maybe even a silver chest. But the history of the company of the chairs really starts with a writer and politician named G. M. Todd and a dentist named H. Bailey, who formed H. Bailey and Company in Burlington, Iowa, in 1866.
Over the next two decades, the company went through several partnerships and name changes, but in 1875, Henry W. Chittenden became part of the company. In 1880, the company introduced the Square Brand mattress, which was advertised as being the “cleanest, most healthful, most luxuriant mattresses ever made.”
The company also made furniture. It is said they were big with the covered wagon trade going west through Burlington, which was just across the Mississippi from Gulfport, Ill. In 1882, Chittenden was the only surviving partner. The company name became H. W. Chittenden until Edward P. Eastman became a partner in 1883, forming Chittenden and Eastman, which made Square Brand furniture until 1982.
Chittenden and Eastman also produced upholstered furniture using the Perma-Rest and Permalux brand names. They issued hardcover product catalogues that included goods such as fabrics, birdcages, ironing boards, vacuum cleaners and a myriad of other items. Crittenden and Eastman gave copies of their catalogues to the Burlington Iowa public library, and R. R. H. might contact the reference department and have them check the various catalogues for her chairs (be sure and send photos and any style numbers found on the chairs).
As a general rule, chairs such as these have a wholesale of around $50 per chair, but for insurance replacement purposes value they should be valued in the $500 to $750 range for the set.
Helaine Fendelman and Joe Rosson have written a number of books on antiques. Do you have an item you’d like to know more about? Contact them at Joe Rosson, 2504 Seymour Ave., Knoxville, TN 37917, or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you’d like your question to be considered for their column, please include a high-resolution photo of the subject, which must be in focus, with your inquiry.
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