Zimmeth: Old Man Winter takes shape
Old Man Winter seems intent on tightening, rather than loosening his grip on metro Detroit. Rather than bemoan his existence, however, furniture makers of the past may have celebrated the seasonal figure as a design motif, says appraiser Brian Thomczek, who recently looked at an unusual wooden chair for David DePue of Livonia.
“Definitely looks like Old Man Winter to me,” Thomczek told DePue as he took a closer look during a Trash or Treasure evaluation held at Judy Frankel Antiques, part of the Antiques Centre of Troy. DePue, who inherited the chair from his family, wrote in an email to the column that “the chair was given to my great-grandmother during the Great Depression by a neighbor. They moved down south and didn’t want to take a lot of stuff with them. I can’t find anyone who has ever seen one before.”
Thomczek said that he had seen similar items, but isn’t clear on their history or on what the piece’s original purpose was. “It’s possible that it was used in a library or reading room of some sort or even by groups such as the Masons or other similar societies,” he said of the unusual face and design. Made of quarter-sawn oak, he said it probably dates somewhere around the 1930s.
He said the U-shape of the chair can be traced to the Edwardians and the English Gothic style, which made him wonder if it had been used in a church. DuPue said that people have given him various possibilities through the years. “Someone told me it was a birthing chair, but I’ve never been able to confirm that.” There are no marks on the bottom, which, unfortunately, makes it even harder to determine history or manufacturer.
“Something like this would do well at an auction with other English-style items,” Thomczek said. Because it’s unusual, he estimated it would sell for somewhere around $250-$300 in an antique shop, less at auction.
Thomczek said the charming piece would be right at home in a well-to-do nursery and that it’s in excellent condition. He added that the design keeps it from being the most comfortable perch in the world, but it could always be softened with a cushion. “I keep a pillow on it,” said DePue, who displays it in his home. “I certainly have more uncomfortable chairs in my house.”
DePue added that it’s amazingly strong, if not particularly comfortable. “When I was a kid I used to climb on it and rough house,” he told the appraiser. “It’s made of pretty strong stuff.”
Whatever its original purpose, DePue plans on keeping the chair — at least for awhile. “It’s in my man cave,” he told the appraiser. “I’ll keep it for now, but who knows, if I get older and need the money.”
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About this item
Item: Oak chair
Owner: David DePue, Livonia
Appraised by: Brian Thomczek, independent appraiser
Estimated value: $250-$300 retail