It seems I’ve hit a stroke of luck when it comes to antique furniture—first I found a gorgeous armchair in my building’s shared basement, then just one week later my husband and I snagged another incredible find at a Dutchess County flea market. We were wandering through the stalls in search of new dining room chairs when I spied a very cool folding rocking chair. Intrigued by the fun piece of furniture—we’d never seen anything like it before— I asked the person manning the stand for a price. His answer, “$75,” was too rich for my blood, so I asked if he would accept $60. He refused. Dejected, we moved on.
One aisle over we found a vendor with a lot of random wooden furniture. Wouldn’t you know it, standing folded against a table was a near identical folding rocking chair. This vendor asked a much more reasonable price: $30. Sold! This chair was in slightly worse condition, but since we planned to refinish the wood and reupholster the cushions anyway, this wasn’t a bother. The slightly evil, vindictive side of me also took special joy in the fact that we had to walk back past $75 man’s table to get back to our own. Yes he saw us and yes the moment was delicious. High from my find I immediately began to drift off into Historical Romancelandia …
You see, one of my favorite Historical Romance series features young Victorian mothers. In Lisa Kleypas’s The Ravenels series, two Victorian era heroines give birth to handsome baby boys. We discover that Kathleen, Lady Trenear, is pregnant during Cold-Hearted Rake and this plot point ultimately pushes she and Devon to indulge in a quickie-marriage in Marrying Winterborne. In the epilogue of that book we learn that Lady Trenear has given birth to a healthy baby boy. Lady Helen Winterborne gives birth to Taron just prior to the events that unfold in Devil in Spring. Pandora’s musings reveal that Lady Helen was nursing her own son, and I have to assume that Lady Trenear would choose to do the same. She is after all a very attentive and nurturing mother, preferring for her son to ride with her in the carriage rather than hand him off to a nursemaid. Could these Victorian mothers have sat in a chair like the one I’d found? The possibility is an exciting one.
Once I was done romanticizing our find, I immediately wanted to know more about the piece. A quick Google search revealed many, many chairs that looked exactly like ours (even down to the pattern of the upholstery), leaving me confident that the chair is a late 1800’s to early 1900’s Victorian wooden folding rocker meant for sewing and nursing. Judging by the style and craftsmanship I assume it would have belonged to a middle to upper-middle class family—it’s certainly not extravagant enough for the era’s elite.
Sadly there is not much more information to be found regarding the chair. Many of the Google results are simply images people have posted on Pinterest and eBay. However, I was able to learn more about Victorian era nursing procedures thanks to historian Jill Lepore and The Huffington Post. Apparently wet nurses were becoming a thing of the past by the mid nineteenth century. Instead, nursing one’s own child was thought to be an important part of the bonding experience. Breastfeeding became the hallmark of being a “good” mother. (Thus sparking a debate that we still must endure today.) At any rate, the popularity of breastfeeding at this time means there is a lot of these chairs to be found online and at flea markets!
My husband Jon is a carpenter, so he is extremely excited to restore the wood of this rocking chair back to its original glory. He favors wood stains with hints of red, so we’ve chosen Minwax’s Red Mahagony shade. Jon also wants to replace the current worn upholstery with a rich red velvet, which we found on Amazon for just $9.31 per yard. The chairs traditionally feature a fabric trim to hide the seam between the upholstered seat and wood, so we selected this wine and gold braid trim to tie everything together.
Finding this Vicrtorian rocking chair made me quite nostalgic! It’s fascinating to not only get to admire, but own a piece of history! Better still, I can now visualize and even experience for myself a small taste of the life that so many of the heroines I have come to love enjoy. Granted my chair is likely American craftsmanship whereas their’s would be English, but even still I feel a deeper connection to their experiences.
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