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NORMAN WATSON: Clever designs for dual-purpose furniture

Georgian reading chair, ?5500 (
Georgian reading chair, ?5500 (

Today’s unusual item was included in a recent sale held by Pedestal Auctions of Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire. Its cleverness caught my eye and I suppose it could be classed as an example of metamorphic furniture.

This type of furniture, popular in the first half of the 19th Century, was designed to be dual-purpose.

Clever designs

In its most complex manifestation, it was clever and innovative.

Examples to appear in this column over the years include a library chair which unfolded like a telescope into library steps, and the classic tilt-top table which, when not in use, could be folded and placed against a wall to save space.

Pedestal Auctions featured a George IV carved mahogany reading/library chair attributed to the London workshops of Morgan & Saunders.

The red leather chair had bowed arms with a rolling ratcheted reading rest, small stationery drawers, glass ink pots and hinged gilt-brass candelabra.

How to use it

Ackermann’s Repository of 1810 explained how this type of chair was meant to be used:

“…gentle-men either sit across, with the face towards the desk, contrived for reading, writing &c. and which, by a rising rack, can be elevated at pleasure; or, when its occupier is tired of the first position, it is with greatest ease turned around in a brass grove, to either side or the other; in which case, the gentleman sits sideways. The circling arms in either way form a very pleasant easy back, and also, in every direction, supports for the arms. As a proof of their real comfort and convenience, they are now in great sale at the ware-rooms of the inventors, Messrs. Morgan and Saunders, Catherine Street, Strand.”

The chair sold for £5500.

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