Treasures: Charming chair likely started as organ stool, hall chair

Is this a weird chair or a hybrid stool?

Dear Helaine and Joe:

I have been unable to learn anything about this stool. My guess is that it is a Victorian organ stool. I hope you can solve the mystery for me.

Thank you,

M. T.

Dear M. T.

The first time we saw this letter it was titled “Weird Chair?” We agree, it is a weird chair, but we love weird things, and we love them even more if they have a bit of mystery about them.

We believe this piece actually started out as two very different pieces of furniture — an organ stool and a hall chair. At some point, their owner had a need to put the two together to create an organ stool with a high back for someone named Scott.

The name is written on the lower portion of the back. It could be a first name or a last name, the name of a child or perhaps an adult with special needs. Who knows for sure? Probably no one, but the speculation could go on for hours. And that is a large part of the charm of this make-do piece.

Our ancestors tended to be thrifty people. Money was a little less available, and going to the store could be something done infrequently and might require some travel. As a result, if a pitcher had a broken handle, it wasn’t automatically thrown out. Someone could take their tin snips and fashion a new handle and metal bands to go around the top and base of the pitcher to hold the new handle in place.

It is not all that unusual for a collector to find a dressing table converted into a desk or a broken off glass compote base repurposed with the addition of a pin cushion on top. Old wooden fruit crates could be converted into both furniture and children’s toys. Instead of being discarded, chairs were fitted with new legs; tables got new tops; boxes received new lids, sides or bottoms _we could go on and on and on.

Looking at the front of the chair we were a bit flummoxed, but when we saw the photograph of the back and the heavy iron bar that secured the back to the stool we understood almost immediately. The organ stool base is rather pedestrian and not in the least bit rare, but the addition of the back with its Pennsylvania German-style painted decoration of welcoming pineapples and floral designs turned this hybrid into something special.

This piece is quirky and probably one of a kind. How old is it? Well, the chair back is probably third quarter of the 19th century, while the stool is late fourth quarter — probably circa 1895 to 1900 or so. They were probably melded together sometime between the two world wars. We want to mention that during World War II the British Ministry of Information issued a pamphlet titled “Make-Do and Mend” to guide people into doing this sort of thing.

The value here is mainly sentimental and conversational, because monetarily the piece is worth only in the $150 to $250 range.

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