Rocking chairs have been around since the 18th century England, and Benjamin Franklin is often credited with designing the first wooden rocking chair in the United States around 1775. However, that fact is up for debate among experts, some of whom cite cabinet maker William Savery as being the first to add rockers to existing straight chairs. Many children's rockers were smaller versions of adult chairs and were crafted at the same time. They can be found in a variety of styles ranging from Hitchcock rockers with their distinctive gold stencil to spindle-backed Windsor styles and ornate wicker rockers.
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Measure the chair. Antique children's rockers varied in size, with some being almost as large as a small adult rocker. An average size child's rocker would have been between 27 and 31 inches high from rocker to top of chair back by 14 to 16 inches wide by 20 three inches deep. From seat to floor, children's rockers were generally between 10n and 12 inches high. Toddler chairs were smaller and shorter to accommodate younger children,
Look at the finish. A child's rocking chair, if old, should show signs of wear. If the chair is painted, look for crackling and peeling. Check the rockers, arms and seat to see if the paint is worn down to the bare wood in spots. Painted chairs may have child like pictures on them. Things like animals, flowers and nursery rhyme characters can often be discerned even through peeling paint.
Examine the front stretcher, where the child may have rested his feet; it should show signs of wear. On chairs that are stained or waxed for a clear finish, look to see if the arms, seat and back, where the child's body would have touched the chair, have a patina, a smoothness that only comes with age and wear
Look for rockers that have more layers of paint on the chair than on the rockers; this indicates that the chair was converted from an existing straight chair by the addition of rockers and is likely old.
Examine the construction. Chairs built before the mid-1800s were handcrafted. They will show tool marks. The nails will not be uniform. They may have tongue in groove or pegged joinery. No two will be exactly alike. Machine-made chairs will be joined by glue or uniform-sized nails and screws and will be uniform in size.
Consult an expert. The only foolproof way to know if the child's rocker you are looking at is old, is to talk to antique dealers, auctioneers and appraisers who can give you an idea of when the chair was made.
Tips and warnings
- Some antique toddler chairs were early potty chairs, built with a hole in the seat and a wooden bucket underneath.
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