Hitchcock chairs are chairs manufactured by from the 19th century to the present day by The Hitchcock Chair Company base in Connecticut.
The company was established in 1818 by Lambert Hitchcock, in the town of Riverton, Connecticut. He was inspired by the clock maker Eli Terry, who had designed cheaper wooden parts to replace the expensive brass works and make his clocks more affordable to a wider market. He had also created an assembly-line process to create these parts, which Hitchcock then transferred to furniture production.
Using this pioneering mass-production process, in addition to the new technique of stencilling, the Hitchcock factory could produce around 15,000 chairs each year.
Hitchcock was joined in the business by his brother in 1832, with the company changing its name to Hitchcock, Alford & Co, and Hitchcock himself sold his part of the company in 1843. The company closed a few years later, but was resurrected in 1946 by the businessman John Tarrant Kenney. Kenney wrote a book entitled ‘The Hitchcock Chair’ in 1971, offering a definitive history of the company, and the factory continued to manufacture chairs until 2006.
The business was once again reborn in 2010, when the company name and original designs were purchased by Still River Furniture, LLC. The company now manufacturers reproductions of the 19th century originals.
The chairs were based on gilt and lacquered furniture imported to the U.S from Europe during the 19th century. They were made from hickory, maple, birch and poplar, and featured rush or cane seats.
The chairs were painted, often in black, and then decorated with elaborate bronze and gold stencils such as large floral and fruit designs or banded patterns.
Hitchcock chairs have been reproduced over the years, as each subsequent owner of the company has used the original designs.
The original 19th century chairs feature the stencilled label “L.Hitchcock. Hitchcocks-Ville. Conn. Warranted”, as do the 20th century reproductions made after 1946. But there are two differences by which collectors can spot originals from reproductions.
In 1832 the company changed its name to Hitchcock, Alford & Co, and the new label read “Hitchcock.Alford.&Co. Hitchcocksville.Conn. Warranted”. In many of these labels the two ‘n’s in “Conn” are backwards. This was due in most part to the fact that many of the factory workers were illiterate and did not notice the mistake.
When the company was resurrected in 1946 the company stencil reverted back to “L.Hitchcock. Hitchcocks-Ville. Conn. Warranted”, but these backward ‘n’s were permanently included in the label. If your chair is marked with the original company name, but also has the two backwards ‘n’s, it is a reproduction made after 1946.
Chairs made at this time also feature a circled letter ‘R’, marking the company name as a registered trademark, which was not required during the early 19th century when the original chairs were produced.