Prior to the 1600s in Europe, the only people who could sit in chairs were the master and mistress of the home. All others had to sit on stools or benches. Once chairs became used by all segments of society, ladderback chairs were among the most popular. What sets a ladderback apart from other chairs is the use of horizontal slats at the back of the chair and the construction, which uses a single piece of wood to form each of the back legs and the back support.
In earliest colonial times, the Quakers and the Shakers made ladderback chairs because they were lightweight yet extremely durable. These chairs are distinguishable by their lack of ornamentation. There were no turned finials, nor were the slats rounded or shaped. The slats were nailed on between the back supports or inset with mortise and tenon joints. The seats were usually rush or cane, and the wood was painted.
Country ladderbacks were made in Britain from 1700 to 1939. They followed the same basic pattern as all ladderbacks, but there were some regional variations in the shape of the turned wood or the finials. Chairs made during the 1900s became more sophisticated, with various hardwoods being used, and the chair seats were often made from the same wood as the chair, instead of rush or cane seats.
Originating in Holland in the 17th century, this type of chair had from four to seven horizontal slats which were usually wavy in shape and often curved to better fit the sitters' back. They were made with or without a turned top rail and the slats were nailed on the uprights rather than placed between them. These chairs had turned front legs and a decorative front stretcher, with plain side and back stretchers.
Widespread in England in the mid 1700s, this chair was identifiable by its top slat, which was often larger than the other slats on the back, and was pierced to make the chair easier to handle. Over time, this type of chair became extremely ornamental as the top slat was pierced to resemble the sound hole of a violin.
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