For decades, B.L. Marble Chair Co. of Bedford, Ohio -- between Cleveland and Akron -- made sturdy wooden chairs and other furniture that made its way by railroad into homes and offices, schools, courthouses and taverns around the United States. During World War I, the company even made airplane propellers. Chairmaker Barzilla L. Marble began work at age 12, and formed his company in 1894. In 1965 it merged with Dictaphone Corp., and it stopped production in 1985.
Get up out of your chair, and hightail it to the library to do a little research into various furniture styles. The company's most popular chair, the Bank of England style, was patented by another chair maker in the 1890s, and picked up by other designers to become a timeless standby. Try out its saddle seat and traditional design for comfort. The 1920s were the heyday of matching office suites, the Depression brought design changes as materials were scarce, and in the 1940s, Victory Chairs had no metal parts. Stick your fingers through the holes if your chair has a perforated back: It may be one from the Health Line of the 1920s and '30s. Feel the smooth, less detailed lines of the Moderne line of the late 1940s. A Costa Mesa line was produced in late 1979.
Grab onto your chair and get a handle on its finish -- and upholstery, if any. B.L. Marble Co. made chairs of quarter oak, mahogany, American walnut, birch and veneers, said Janet Caldwell, director and curator of the Bedford Historical Society. Chairs in the 1960s and 1970s also used metal.
Flip your chair and look under the seat. It will have either a paper tag or crayon or chalk markings that tell the production details of your chair. It may also have a metal plate with the company name -- these are in several designs, and not all the chairs have them. Note the production numbers, and photograph the tags and labels.
Call or write the Bedford Historical Society. It keeps hundreds of books containing serial numbers, but the number sequences don't necessarily tell the age of the chairs, Caldwell said. Historical society workers are happy to look up numbers for people and help them do research. The historical society, PO Box 46282, Bedford, Ohio 44146-0282, is open 7:30 to 10 p.m. Monday and Wednesday evening, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday, and 2 to 5 p.m. the second Sunday each month, as of time of publication. The society takes calls from the public at 440-232-0796. Caldwell also suggests sending a photo or photos of your chair.
To get a ballpark figure of how much your chair may be worth, check sales on eBay or collectible furniture sites. Condition, desirability and rarity all figure in. The Bedford Historical Society does not do appraisals, and does not advise callers about value or price, Caldwell said.