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Item Details

Lot #34
Sold For$11,000.00(hammer price)
 $13,200.00(price including buyer's premium)
Last UpdatedJuly 14, 2019


Two branded "S. Gragg Boston Patent". Professionally repainted by Robert Mussey in mustard yellow, with peacock feathers on central splats and foliate designs on crest rails and seats. Carved hooved front legs. Back heights 34.5". Seat heights 18".
Samuel Gragg's "elastic" chair was a marvel of its time, a truly unique invention of American craftsmanship. Although the sinuous profile is reminiscent of classical English and French furniture of the period, the "elastic" chair backs, seats and front legs were formed from steam-bent continuous strips of wood, a patented technological advance Gragg developed, possibly based on fabrication techniques used by boat builders. In contrast to other chairs of the time, Gragg intended his to be comfortable - the general shape is ergonomic, and the construction method allows it to conform with the body of the sitter then return to its original shape, ergo "elastic". The avant-garde design far outpaced its time, and it wasn't until the 20th Century that the same streamlined aesthetic and a similar bent-wood construction would reappear in furniture design.

Little is known about Samuel Gragg (1772-1855), though it seems the "elastic" chair was an outlier of creativity in an otherwise long but conventional career as a furniture maker. Robert D. Mussey Jr., who repainted these chairs, is a renowned furniture conservationist, restoring pieces for museums, historic homes and private collections. He founded the furniture conservation laboratory at the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities in Boston in 1982.

See "Samuel Gragg and the Elastic Chair" by Michael S. Podmaniczky, published by the Colonial Society of Massachusetts, "The Patented Elastic Chairs of Samuel Gragg" by Robby Sexton, published by the Art Institute of Chicago, and "The Incredible, Elastic Chairs of Samuel Gragg at Winterthur" by Karla Klein Albertson, published by
Antiques and the Arts Weekly, April 1, 2003.

Willis Henry Auction, Marshfield, Massachusetts. Includes copy of auction brochure illustrating the chairs.



No damages noted other than minor wear to paint on the six chairs. All in good condition and are structurally sound, though delicate as intended in the making.

The description of the item above may not be the final version used in the catalog. The descriptions are as yet unedited and may contain mistakes. The description, estimates and photos could all be wrong. In rare cases they may not end up in this sale. Once the items have received their lot number the descriptions will have been changed if needed.

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