Lyre Back Chairs



2015-06-26 10:38:03

A lyre back chair is a style of chair wherein a shape is employed to emulate the geometry of a lyre.


Lyre back chairs emerged from the Classical Greek period, reflecting, stylistically, the curving shape of a lyre. The voluminous lyre motif can be seen on grave stones dated as early as 6th century AD.

In a furniture context, the design is often associated with the scrolling arms of a chair or sofa, as well as lyre-like fret work at the back of a chair. The lyre arm design is often used and features in furniture from all periods, including Neoclassical pieces, and in particular, the American Federal Period and the Victorian era.

Well known designers who employed this stylistic element include the noted New York furniture designer Duncan Phyfe.

The term lyre chair is a closely associated design element also originating in motif from the Greek Classical period and appearing often in chair backs starting circa 1700 AD. In the lyre chair, the splat features a pair of single lyre scrolls with bilateral symmetry.This particular splat chair back was a favourite motif employed by the well known furniture designer Thomas Sheraton.

Sometimes a chair of this design is called a lyre back chair.

Collecting information

With early pieces, the original surface, no matter how grungy, adds to the value of a piece of furniture. This applies not only to finished surfaces but also to painted surfaces. The original surface is important to the value of the object.

Carving became prevalent in the Chippendale and Revival styles of the 19th century. Each region shows its specific carving characteristics and the hand of the cabinetmaker. Certain regions preferred exuberant carving, others preferred restrained versions. A high ball with long slender claws spaced widely apart with rear talon angled backward is typical of the Boston region. Characteristics of the Newport region are crisply modelled talons curved out and away from the ball and the knee shows a stylized scroll design. Furniture from the Philadelphia region shows sturdy claws grasping flattened smaller ball with heavy knee carving of flowing foliage. Few cabinetmakers in Federal New York were able to achieve the mastery of form and ornament that The Hewlett Family examples exhibit.

Interest in American furniture continues to grow. While buyers have become very selective, they are willing to pay a premium for rare property in good condition and fresh to the market as recent strong auction prices demonstrate.

Price guide

A set of four mahogany lyre back American empire style chairs brought $125 at Roland New York in January 2013.

A pair of gilt, painted swan lyre back chairs brought $275 at Capo Auction in January 2013.

A pair of neoclassical, gilt, lyre back chairs brought $180 at Leslie Hindman Auctioneers in January 2013.

A cast iron lyre back garden bench and chair sold for $1,900 at Brunk Auctions in January 2013.

A Louis XVI parlour chair sold for $35 at Bruhn's Auction Gallery in October 2012.

A pair of 18th century Biedermeier lyre back chairs brought $425 to Langston Auction Gallery in October 2012.

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