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Library Step-Chair

Decorative Arts and Design

On View: Luce Visible Storage and Study Center, 5th Floor
When a lever at the lower back of this armchair is depressed, the back rotates forward on brass hinges at the knees of the chair to reveal a set of library steps. This useful design was popular throughout the nineteenth century in both the United States and Europe. Eliaers’s chair was patented in the United States forty years after Morgan & Sanders introduced the mechanical concept in London in 1811 (see magazine illustration displayed nearby). Eliaers rendered the chair in the then-popular Rococo Revival style, based on the curvilinear mid-eighteenth-century style of the Louis XV period in France.

The two heads on the crest of the chair represent Daniel Webster (1782–1852), at the right, and Henry Clay (1777–1852), at the left, two United States senators who held opposing views on slavery and the extension of the institution into the new territories. Both died in 1852, and this chair, patented the next year, might have been made for one of the so-called mechanical fairs, or trade shows, that were predecessors of the great world’s fairs.

The elaborate tufted upholstery scheme of the chair is original, although the show cover is a replacement. Threads of dark red mohair discovered beneath the tacks securing the original underupholstery were used as a guide to select the modern cover with its machine-printed design.

MEDIUM Walnut, original under upholstery, modern mohair show cover, brass
DATES patented October 25, 1853
DIMENSIONS 37 x 25 1/2 x 25 1/2 in. (94 x 64.8 x 64.8 cm)  (show scale)
MARKINGS Impressed into right hand side of second step (of five) from the top and the left hand side of the third and fourth steps from the top: "A ELIAERS/PATENT"
CREDIT LINE Designated Purchase Fund
CATALOGUE DESCRIPTION Rococo revival metamorphic arm chair/library steps, with heavy proportions, thickly tufted, oval back with opposing 3/4 male profile heads at corners of crest; proper right Henry Clay, proper left Daniel Webster. Shallowly carved vegetal design on center crest and cutout at bottom of back. Arms, curving outward and forward from back with padded armrests; boldly scrolling curved arm supports conceal pivoting brass elements at front. Broad, deep, tufted rounded seat. Undulating front seat rail with curved asymmetrical 'C' shaped dropped scroll, cabriole front legs, with bold animal paw feet. Outer chair back undecorated. Below the seat are concealed steps. Outward flaring rounded profile back legs with animal paw feet. Release mechanism at back center bottom of lower step riser. Bottom steps attached to upper part by two robust, thick, brass hinges at front center and top upper step. Substantial latch to secure steps when closed to meet with squared latch. Retains original muslin and tufting scheme. Re-upholstered in modern dark-red figured mohair in 2011 by Elizabeth Lahikainen Condition: Over-all very good. In bottom of back feet are two holes. Two small holes at proper right back below crest. Separation, proper right crest; crack to proper right crest rail and at join of arm and back; enhanced finish at crest and two portrait heads.
MUSEUM LOCATION This item is on view in Luce Visible Storage and Study Center, 5th Floor
CAPTION Augustus (Auguste Emmanuel) Eliaers (French, active Boston, 1849–1865). Library Step-Chair, patented October 25, 1853. Walnut, original under upholstery, modern mohair show cover, brass, 37 x 25 1/2 x 25 1/2 in. (94 x 64.8 x 64.8 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Designated Purchase Fund, 2008.75. Creative Commons-BY (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 2008.75_PS6.jpg)
IMAGE overall, 2008.75_PS6.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph, 2011
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