The world’s largest private collection of antique sedan chairs is up for auction – with some expected to fetch up to £4,000 ($4,954 USD) a piece.
The extensive collection of the hand drawn carriages – used during the 18th Century as a popular means of transport to shield passengers from the British weather- was amassed by the world’s most prominent sedan chair expert over the course of his lifetime.
Many of the quirky chairs have featured in several films and TV shows, whilst the collection also boasts chairs deriving from a 19th-century Chinese dynasty and the oldest known surviving example of a model from the UK.
The rare collection was amassed by the late Stephen Loft-Simson – a sedan chair enthusiast and world-renowned specialist who had a unique passion for the mode of transport – and is set to go under the hammer later this month.
Sedan chairs first came into use in the 16th Century, when popes would use them as their local modes of transport, and their usage soon spread across Spain and Italy.
They were first introduced in England by Sir Saunders Duncombe (1570-1638) in the 1630s, and by the 18th Century they had become a regular form of transport across Europe.
The chairs derived their name from the French town of Sedan, where they were first used, and sported a seat inside a cubicle with a detachable roof.
The chairs were carried aloft by men known as “chairmen,” who wore formal uniforms of black breeches with white stockings, buckled shoes, a black hat and a long blue coat – with a scarlet badge on their coat bearing the details of the chair’s owner.
They afforded passengers shelter from the dirt, dust and debris of horse-drawn vehicles and were far cheaper than horse-drawn “hackney cabs,” the first taxis in use across London.
Sedan chairs were also considered a speedy mode of transport as they were narrower and could take shortcuts through streets too small for carriages and were permitted on pavements, with pedestrians forced to give way for them.
Most of the chairs were produced in London and those for public hire were licensed by local authorities in the region.
They were popular amongst the upper classes and would often be decorated to reflect the decor of the owner’s home.
However, by the mid-19th Century, they had fallen out of favor due to the rapid expansion of cities and the longer distances people were traveling.
The collection of Loft-Simson, who sadly died last year, boasts highly decorative chairs used in multiple films and TV series.
Three of the collections’ chairs were featured in the award-winning film about the life of philanthropist, poet and playwright Hannah More.
Others were used in programs such as BBC Four’s Royal History’s Biggest Fibs on Queen Anne; the BBC series How We Built Britain with David Dimbleby; Britain‘s Most Historic Town on Channel 4 and BBC show The Antiques Roadshow when presenter Fiona Bruce was carried in one of the chairs through the streets of Bath to the Upper Assembly Rooms, where the program was filmed.
A sedan chair thought to have been built by Duvernoy, son of Avignon (circa 1762-1765), featuring full gilded sculptures on its original woodwork exterior and a series of color paintings on its panels, with a blue velvet interior and a sole remaining silk roller blind, is expected to sell for up to £4,000.
An Avignon chair, believed to have been designed by Guignet and painted in elegant gray flowered arabesques, lined with green silk damask and a green comb catisane fringe, carries an estimate of £2,000.
Its cabin features quarter glass Italian windows, twin blank armorials with bases and supports to its front door and upper rear panel with a Marquis’ coronet above, upper side panels bearing mirrored initials JG in a blue cartouche and three small grisaille cartouche paintings representing a goddess in the Mediterranean Sea with gilt surroundings.
A black leather Turin sedan chair – the earliest known such example in the UK thought to have been imported in the 19th Century – dates back to around 1750.
With its gilded decorative details, it is estimated to fetch as much as £2,000 at auction.
A more eccentric lot is the Qing Dynasty Chinese bridal sedan chair – one of the rarest surviving examples of the chairs from the 19th Century.
The sides are carved with Chinese emblems, figures, animals and birds painted in gold with a red ochre background, whilst the framework is contrasted in black and Chinese characters embellish the inner doors, reading: ‘In the 22nd Year of the Tongzhi Emperor (1873), Chengqi Shenggong Kuiyou, crafted by Zhou Peiyu’.
It is estimated to fetch around £500.
The entire collection, comprising six sedan chairs, further miniature chairs and sedan chair-related works of art, will be offered for sale by auction house Chorley’s at a sale on September 20.
Commenting on the unique collection, Chorley’s Director, Thomas Jenner-Fust, said he expects competition from a wide range of different kinds of collectors.
He said: “We are lucky to be able to handle such a variety of rare and unusual items in our business.
“This collection, formed by the world expert in sedan chairs, is no exception.
“We are expecting competition from museums, collectors of rarities and prop hire businesses.”
Produced in association with SWNS Talker