Fetch the Comfy Chair

I am an avid collector–and reader–of nineteenth century media. Give me an 1816 La Belle Assemblée or an 1810 Ackermann’s Repository of the Arts and Sciences, and I’ll be happy for hours: though the serialized fiction featured in them can be violently purple-prosed and melodramatic, the articles on current events and scientific discoveries can be delightful reading…and then, of course, there are the fashion prints and their descriptions, which are pure candy.
But along with the lovely depictions of fashion in each month’s issue, Rudolph Ackermann published many other plates: scenery from abroad as well as solidly English country houses, the latest in carriages, depictions of royal residences, and frequently, over the course of the magazine’s twenty year history, images of fashionable furniture. Image-heavy advertising as we know it didn’t exist in the journals of the day, but furniture-makers, knowing that a picture was indeed worth a thousand words and hoping for a little free exposure, must have flocked to Mr. A, hoping he’d depict one of their products in the Repository along with a flattering write-up. Many of the furniture images depicted are of a peculiarly ingenious mechanical nature; we saw this a while back in an invalid chair that could be converted to military usages.

Much more peaceful in purpose, though still with that mechanical bent, are these chairs from the September 1810 edition. Here’s the accompanying text:

PLATE 15: FASHIONABLE FURNITURE Our engraving this month exhibits two of the most convenient and comfortable library chairs perhaps ever completed. Each of them has become a favourite piece of furniture for the library, boudoir, and other apartments of the nobility and gentry. The first (on the left-hand side of the plate) is made of mahogany, or any other wood; the back, seat, and sides caned, with French stuffed cushions and covers; the arms corresponding; a movable desk and candlestick, affording every possible accommodation for reading, writing, &c. The whole chair is of itself completely comfortable.

The second is a more novel article, but equally convenient and pleasant: gentlemen either sit across, with the face toward the desk, contrived for reading, writing, &c. and which, by a rising rack, can be elevated at pleasure; or, when its occupier is tired of the first position, it is with the greatest ease turned around in a brass groove, to either one side or the other; in which case, the gentleman sits sideways. The circling arms in either way form a pleasant easy back, and also, in every direction, supports for the arms. As a proof of their real comfort and convenience, they are now in great sale at the ware-rooms of the inventors, Messrs. Morgan and Saunders, Catherine-street, Strand.

I want both of them. How about you?



About Marissa Doyle

Marissa Doyle originally planned to be an archaeologist but somehow got distracted. At long last, after an unsurprisingly circuitous path, she ended up writing historical fantasy for young adults (the Leland Sisters series) and contemporary fantasy for slightly older ones, most recently By Jove from Book View Cafe. She is obsessed by the Regency period, 19th century stuff in general, and her neurotic pet bunny. Visit her at www.marissadoyle.com


Fetch the Comfy Chair — 2 Comments

  1. I don’t think I’ve encountered mentions of such chairs in the literature of the time, now that you have brought them to our attention. Characters are so often referenced via their reading and / or dens, studies, libraries. Comfortable furniture is dutifully mentioned, but not really descriptions other than generic large desk, cluttered or neat, shelves of books, etc. (Not that I’ve read everything, or even remember everything of what I’ve re-read a hundred times!) Something BBC period series missed too!

    Or does this mean the chairs never actually caught on? The candle holders appear particularly nervous-making — so easy for a sleeve or collar to get singed at best, and far worse, at worst!

  2. I think I remember a Regency couple shopping in a furniture warehouse and seeing this sort of chair in Jo Beverly’s CHRISTMAS ANGEL.