Furniture Styles

Furniture > American > Antique > Chairs > Banister Back

Banister Back Chairs

During the first quarter of the eighteenth century the banister back chair made its appearance. This was a strictly American simplification of, and derivation from, the high back Flemish or Carolean type chairs, in terms of ornamentation and proportions. In framework however some influence can be attributed to spindle back Carver and Brewster chairs.

Flemish Chair
Flemish Chair.

In it the Spanish foot or the ball foot with shoe, especially characteristic of the William & Mary period, was employed and it is properly therefore considered in that period. It is a distinctively American piece. Maple was most commonly used for these chairs.

Banister Back Chair
Banister Back Chair.

Banister back chairs remained popular for about 50 years after the William and Mary period. The name obviously derives from the working of the back supports and constituted a uniquely American contribution to furniture design. Four or five vertical slats were framed by a carved, often elaborate cross-piece at the top, and a simpler one just above seat level. The slats were flat on the front side and curved half-round at the rear, the shaping at the rear of vase and ball turning type.

Banisterback chairs could be made with or without arms. As mentioned the Spanish type foot was used on the front legs, the back legs being plain and without feet. Other forms of feet used were simple buttons, turnips, and duck feet.

Front and side stretchers were invariably turned in fanciful fashion, some having only one cross member turned in sharp relief. Turnings most commonly found on the front stretcher were balls or melons separated by a central ring or collar shape ornament. Back stretchers were plain.

Assuming the presence of arms they were usually curved downwards from the back forward and often ended at the front in carved knuckle shapes. Sometimes these arm ends were further adorned with grooves.

Banister back seats were formed of twisted rush while the frame was mostly made of maple wood. Other straight grained woods were sometimes used. From 1700 to 1730 saw the greatest period of production of these antique chairs as far south as Pennsylvania and perhaps even Maryland and Virginia.

Finish employed was almost always paint, popular colours being dark red, bottle green, and black. A few were made in a reddish brown with the intention of simulating walnut.

Towards the end of the reign of the banister back chair a new type, a harbinger of the Queen Anne chair, began to be made, called fiddle back chairs.

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