Hitchcock furniture has a legendary reputation as being the first mass-produced furniture in America. Most notable is the famous Hitchcock chair, the invention of an aspiring woodworker named Lambert Hitchcock. The cost-effective, assembly-line technique Hitchcock used to create his chairs, which resembled the high-end, fancy chairs in wealthy homes, made them affordable to the average family.
Hitchcock chair frames, typically painted black, brownish black or dark green, were made from birch, maple or oak. Embellished using the British technique of stenciling while the varnish was still tacky, woodworkers applied multicolored metallic powders to create the stenciled fruit and floral designs. Original seats consisted of rush, followed by cane and finally wood planks. Turned front legs featured yellow ocher pin striping and gold bands that went half way around the leg. Later designs included lemon yellow and brown chair frames. Hitchcock also made rockers and settees.
The Maker’s Mark
Clues to dating Hitchcock furniture can be found in the company signature imprinted in the wood. Furniture made from 1820 to 1832 reads “L. Hitchcock. Hitchcocks-ville, Conn. Warranted.” Despite the success of his furniture line, financial problems forced Hitchcock to take on his brother-in-law, Arba Alford, as a business partner in 1832. Furniture produced between 1832 and 1843 was marked with “Hitchcock, Alford & Co. Hitchcocks-ville. Conn. Warranted.” In this signature, you might find a backward "N" or three, a result of illiterate laborers. The partnership ended in 1843. Hitchcock relocated to Unionville, which was adopted into the final signature of “L. Hitchcock. Unionville. Conn. Warranted,” while he was alive.
Lambert Hitchcock’s death in 1852 left his estate with more liabilities than assets. But the Hitchcock legacy was once again reestablished in 1946, when a vacationing fisherman by the name of John Tarrant Kenny discovered the old Hitchcock factory in Riverton, Connecticut, the former site of Hitchcocksville. Enamored with the history of the Hitchcock brand, Kenny leased the original factory to reproduce the 19th century chairs.
Missing the Mark
Closely resembling the original designs, Hitchcock reproduction chairs became available again in stores by the fall of 1948. But Kenny did not acquire the name rights to the Hitchcock brand until 1952, exactly 100 years after Hitchcock died. Chairs produced before Kenny owned the rights were not stamped with the Hitchcock signature.
The 20th Century Mark
Under Kenny management, the 20th century signature became “L. Hitchcock. Hitchcocks-ville. Conn. Warranted.” Several signature discrepancies make it easy to decipher a reproduction piece from an original. The new signature combines both “L. Hitchcock.” and backward "N" letters in the words Conn. and warranted, which never appeared together in 19th century chairs. Two other indicators include the circled “R” of a modern trademark and chairs with wooden seats that also feature the letters “Hcc.”
Michelle Radcliff owned a retail home furnishings business for eight years. Radcliff offers decorating advice on her blog, Home Decorating News, is a regular contributor on interior design at LoveToKnow.com and earned certification as an interior decorator from Penn Foster College in 2013.