From miniature dollhouse dioramas to Hollywood's best period dramas, people are incredibly familiar with the furniture of the past. Everyone's beloved turn-of-the-century interior design was lavish and ornate, and modern furniture makers continue to replicate their favorite Victorian chairs for a contemporary audience. Yet, they can't beat the craftsmanship of these well-loved oldies.
Victorian Chair Styles
Perhaps the most popular historic period in cultural memory, thanks to its specific dark, ornate, and luxurious aesthetic, the Victorian era produced some of the most collectible antique furniture in the business. Chairs were one of the most common pieces to come out of the Victorian era. Some of the most collectible Victorian chairs include the following.
Wingback chairs have been around for at least two centuries before the Victorian era and were created for the functional purpose of pulling heat into the sitter's space through the exaggerated wings jutting out from around their head. Manufacture continued into the 19th century. Not nearly as delicately upholstered as the Queen Anne predecessor, Victorian wingback chairs were particularly lavish. Decorative elements of these chairs include carved trim around the edges, silk and velvet upholstery in rich colors, and braided or tassel trim lining the chairs edges.
During the last few decades of the 19th century, a focus emerged on how being outside could encourage good health and increase work productivity, particularly for people living in cities. With lawn activities, gardening, bicycling, and strolling around the park becoming popular, Victorian furniture makers saw a new demand for outdoor furniture, and they crafted beautiful chairs that invoked the natural world through their materials and design.
Some of the most common natural materials garden chairs were made out of were:
- Wrought iron
Social rules were of the utmost importance to Victorian society. Included in these rules were the obligation to entertain guests or suitors throughout the week at your home. Thus, the parlor - a historic center for light conversation and community - became a central space, and the furniture kept there was designed to reflect not only the aesthetic, but also its owner's wealth. You'll find signs of this wealth, such as sumptuous fabrics, dark woods and stains, scrolled feet, and balloon backs, on Victorian parlor chairs from the UK and the United States.
Victorian dining chairs typically come in a set of anywhere between 4 to 12. They were made with prior design movements as inspiration for their shapes and forms. Some of these movements include:
- Louis XIV
Victorian Chair Values
Victorian furniture isn't something that's hard to find; in fact, you can consider the market over saturated with mid to late-19th century furniture. However, that doesn't mean that individual pieces and sets aren't worth a fair amount of money. For instance, Victorian chairs pull average prices of around $500-$10,000. While it might seem inconceivable that one type of collectible could have such a wide value range, there are a lot of factors that can make or break a high furniture price at auction.
Cost of materials gives an item a base value; thus, items with silk upholstery vs. linen or cotton are going to have higher values because of the price of silk over other fibers.
Additionally, provenance (record of ownership) can really increase a Victorian chair's value. If there's proof that it belonged to a famous figure or was in an important collection, then its cultural significance makes it more valuable than pieces with untraceable history.
Of course, condition is a major factor. Signs of wear and tear, like staining or scuffing, and signs of improper restoration can have a negative impact on chair value. Collectors don't mind a few signs of aging, but they prefer to only pay top dollar for a 100% genuine antique in a pristine condition.
Take these Victorian chairs that've recently come to auction, for example:
- This pair of walnut & burl parlor chairs from the 1890s are only valued at around $1,000 due to simplicity of design and visible wear and tear.
- This late-Victorian wicker chair was handwoven out of cane and newly painted white. Featuring rolled arms and back, and in excellent condition, according to the seller, it's valued at a higher price of about $2,750.
- Proper restoration can positively affect Victorian chair values, such as with this wingback pair of armchairs that have been refinished and listed for about $6,150.
Places to Buy and Sell Victorian Chairs
Markups in the furniture world are a given, so you have to be careful when you're buying antique furniture of any kind. Similarly, the prices you see chairs selling for don't necessarily mean that you can sell them for the exact same prices. Seeing as condition is such a major factor when people buy old furniture, it can be difficult to sell or buy them anywhere other than in person - but it's not impossible. Take each of these online retailers, for example, that make the process super easy:
- Chairish - Chairish is a great online retailer for antiques and vintage goods that you can also sell from. Sign up for a free consignor membership to list up to 9 items for sale or a free professional membership to add 10+ listings.
- Love Antiques - A UK-based antiques marketplace, Love Antiques hosts products from antiques dealers around the world. While it's a great place to find Victorian furniture, it's not great for sellers since you can only register to sell if you're an official antiques dealer.
- 1st Dibs - Another great online antiques marketplace is 1st Dibs. 1st Dibs is best-known for the high-quality antique furniture it sells, as well as its modern digital design. However, you can't sell through them as an independent person, as they only accept antiques dealers as sellers.
- Hunt Vintage - A Glasgow-based antique and vintage retailer is Hunt Vintage, which offers a small selection of Victorian goods. If you're a professional trader, you can also list your items through their platform.
eBay and Etsy are additional options for both buying and selling, but keep in mind that your shipping costs can quickly add up, so you should factor those into your pricing.
Victorian Furniture Price and Identification Guides
Visually, the Victorian aesthetic is well known thanks to the huge popularity of tv shows and movies set in the late-19th century. However, even the prettiest coffee table book on Victorian furniture isn't as helpful as a price guide can be.
Use these price and identification guides from leading expert John Andrews to learn more about how much you should sell your Victorian chairs for and how much is too much to spend on one:
- The Price Guide to Victorian Furniture by John Andrews
- Victorian & Edwardian Furniture: Price Guide and Reasons for Value by John Andrews
- The Price Guide to Victorian, Edwardian, and 1920s Furniture 1860-1930 by John Andrews
In addition to these Victorian specific price guides, there are loads of other antique furniture price and identification guides that you can explore.
Surround Yourself With Victorian Style
Victorian chairs are a great compromise for the antique lovers of the world as they marry the iconic aesthetic with something super practical. While they may take up some of your precious living room space, they'll soon become your new favorite place to curl up and watch your favorite historical dramas.