Hitchcock Chairs & Furniture

Hitchcock Chairs & Furniture

In 1826, master craftsman Lambert Hitchcock built his factory beside the Farmington River in what is known today as Riverton, Connecticut. The factory provided jobs for the local population and became so important to the community, the little hamlet once called “Fork-of-the-Rivers” came to be known as Hitchcocks-ville.

While the art of chair making was well established in Connecticut, Hitchcock introduced new and improved production methods using interchangeable parts. He had learned about this process in 1814 from Eli Terry, the clockmaker who used this method to make clock parts, while serving a woodworking apprenticeship. This technology allowed Hitchcock to produce fine quality furniture that was affordable to a major portion of the growing population of the new republic. Decades later Henry Ford used the same technology to mass produce affordable cars.

Lambert Hitchcock was so confident of the superior quality of his furniture that he signed and guaranteed each piece with the trade-mark that was still used right into the 21st century – L. HITCHCOCK. HITCHCOCKS-VILLE. CONN. WARRANTED. In 1832, after a series of business reverses, the company was reorganized as the Hitchcock, Alford Co. They stenciled their chairs “HITCHCOCK, ALFORD & Co. HITCHCOCKSVILLE, CONN. WARRENTED. But, in an important distinction, many of these stencils have the NN’s in CONN backward. (20th Century L. Hitchcock chairs retain the two backward N’s and add a registration mark [circled R], so anything marked “L. Hitchcock” with backward N’s was made after 1946.) Hitchcock Alford was disolved in 1843. Hitchcock himself moved to Unionville, Connecticut and started a new company. He died there a poor man in 1852.

Most Hitchcock chairs were painted black or dark green and were decorated with stencils and finished with brushed bronzing powder giving a lustrous finish to the design which was characteristic of the chair.

Hitchcock garnered national recognition as “America’s most famous chair maker” and by the early twentieth century hand-stenciled Hitchcock furniture was highly sought after by antique dealers. In 1946, John Tarrant Kenney discovered the dilapidated original factory building while fishing the Farmington river and had the vision to reestablish the company in Hitchcock’s original manufactory building. With the revival of Early American styling, the company again flourished. Hitchcocks-ville again became a bustling community surrounding the factory. There was an annual fair and Russell Carrell’s summer antiques show at the fairgrounds; Jack Kenney would scour the show and buy painted and decorated Hitchcock furniture from the earlier days. The collection rapidly grew, and in 1972 Mr. Kenney established the Hitchcock Museum in the Old Union Church, a Riverton landmark built in 1829. For three decades the museum attracted collectors, dealers, museum curators and decorators interested in studying the Early American style. By 1997, dwindling public attendance forced the company to close the museum, accommodating visitors by appointment only.

The Hitchcock company, now headquartered in New Hartford, Connecticut, continued for many years to produce furniture the same way Lambert Hitchcock did – by hand, providing employment for a substantial number of local people. In 1961, the company opened a retail showroom in the original Hitchcock factory building and later expanded with other locations in Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Hampshire. To meet changing tastes and new trends, the stores showcased the complete line of Hitchcock products including Traditional, 18th Century Formal, Shaker, French Country, Transitional and Mission style, and their new Metropolitan Upholstery and Concord Leather collections. The company closed in May, 2006, a victim of the global economy driving down furniture prices.

Most 20th century Hitchcock chairs are valued in the $40 to $50 range, with a few more bring higher prices depending on design and condition.

reference note courtesy of Northeast Auctions & Ronald Bourgeault, auctioneer, with p4A.com additions.

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