Tag Archives: Proptology

Chair Back Styles

From 1995 to around 2004, a magazine known as Proptology was published by a Canadian props professional named Wulf. He published a multi-part series called “A Field Guide to Furniture Styles”, which contained a lot of useful illustrations and information for identifying period Western furniture. One of the parts had a nice little list of chair backs. I have taken this information and these illustrations and arranged them in a nice little grid where they are grouped by similar appearances.

I have some other helpful illustrations in previous posts: analysis of a chair, 40 styles of chairs, and parts of a chair. Armed with these images, we are well on our way to developing a visual guide to identifying the period of a chair based on its appearance.

Chair Backs
Chair Backs, illustrations by Wulf

Bentwood: Late 1800s.

Fiddle: Characteristic of Queen Anne style. 1700s.

Sheaf: Can also be a splat which is pierced in the same style. Late 1700s.

Pierced Splat: Characteristic of Chippendale designs. Late 1700s.

Balloon: Characteristic of Victorian style. Mid 1800s.

Round: Often an open frame with no upholstery. Mid 1800s.

Anthemion: Greek motif favored by Hepplewhite. Late 1700s.

Shield: Characteristic of Hepplewhite. Late 1700s.

Lath: Curved, flat uprights. Very sturdy. 1800-1900s.

Bannister: Like stick back but with turned posts. 1600-1800s.

Stick: Primarily used in country furniture. 1600-1800s.

Bow: Typical form of Windsor style chair. 1600-1800s.

Pillow Top: A narrower top is called “Bolster Top”. 1800s.

Lyre: Popular motif in Empire style designs. Early 1800s.

Ladder: With pierced splats is called “Pretzel Back”. 1400-1900s.

Square: Characteristic of Sheraton’s designs. Late 1700s.

Who was Thurston James?

If you work in props, you’ve probably run across the name of Thurston James. He has written both The Theatre Props Handbook and The Prop Builder’s Molding & Casting Handbook, two books which, despite being over twenty years old, remain necessary texts on any prop person’s bookshelf. He has also written The Theater Props What, Where, When: An Illustrated Chronology from Arrowheads to Video Games and The Prop Builder’s Mask-Making Handbook, making him one of the most prolific authors in the realm of props.

Thurston James was born in Lawrence, Kansas, in 1933. He was a descendant of Jesse James, the infamous outlaw of the West. According to his obituary:

Thurston James passed away Friday, August 27, 2005, near his home in Sherman Oaks, California. He was in the process of mailing the latest issue of The James-Younger Gang Journal which he published. The cause of death presently is unknown. Thurston will be interred at Rose Hills Cemetery, Whittier, California.

This obituary also points to an album of Thurston James’ “rap” songs. I’ve posted the Christmas Rap so you can hear Mr. James’ rapping prowess:

In addition to his books, Mr. James has published an article on Chemicals in the Spring 1995 issue of Theatre Design and Technology, as well as a Layman’s Guide to the Chemistry of Theatre Crafts in  the first issue of the now defunct Proptology magazine.

He was also working on a book about lighting effects which he never finished. You can see a whole wealth of photographs from that book at Danny Truxaw’s website.