Nostalgic folding canvas chairs are back in style, with bold reds and yellows, purples and oranges.
Not much information is available regarding the history of these chairs, but they likely appeared in the late 19th century when folks started heading to the lakes and seashore. This was considered portable camp furniture that was easy to carry. The fabric on the early pieces was in brown and black, but as they became more popular, the vibrant stripes appeared.
By the 1920s, reclining canvas chairs became the norm, often found at resort hotels and cottages. Their popularity continued into the 1940s, but more lightweight aluminum-framed designs were developed, and the wood and canvas chairs were often put to rest in the attic, the back of the garage, or in the trash.
Care and cleaning
With the continued exposure to sun and rain outdoors, and mildew once in storage, the canvas of the older chairs often became dirty and too weak to support body weight. If just surface dirt is a problem, carefully vacuuming over the chair or stool can make a difference — use a low suction power vacuum to prevent individual fibers from being pulled.
For deep-set stains, avoid using harsh cleansers and bleach, which can do more damage. I have used my trusty Dawn dish liquid. The best way to get rid of the strong musty odor is by airing the piece out in the sunlight. I have even used Febreze fabric spray. If you spot active mold growing, follow with the vacuuming procedure. More tips can be found in the handy book “The Winterthur Guide to Caring for Your Collection” by Gregory J. Landrey.
Paint and repair
Some collectors replace damaged material as stated above, paint the chairs, and display or sell them.
"I like to buy the canvas chairs and stools when I see them, because they’re so nostalgic of the time I grew up in,” said Carol Thouin, of The Backyard Flea in Spring Valley.
Where to find
Folding canvas chairs and stools can be found in antique shops, where they sell in the $100-$300 range, depending on the size, age, color and condition. Unusual detachable foot rests or canopies are also highly desired. Yard sales, flea markets and estate auctions are a great place to find inexpensive ones.
Sarah Kieffer, of Sarah's Uniques and Jim's “Man”tiques in St. Charles: “I love the canvas chairs! People do love to use them when they’re camping or by the river. I also have several of the small stool type canvas. The larger canvas chairs are usually around $35-$40, the smaller stools are usually about $12-$15. They are easy to fold and store, and they make a great vintage look to add to any camper!”
Al Chihak, of Mystic Moon Antiques and Collectibles in Stewartville: “We offer antiques and collectibles, open by appointment by calling 507-533-6484, and we do have one canvas folding chair for $16, and possibly more are coming.”
Paul Larsen, manager of Mantorville Square, said, “Two vintage white wooden folding camp chairs, original paint, with faded blue canvas seats and backs priced at $75 for the pair found at our sister store, the Old Rooster Antiques, Rochester.”
Sandy Erdman is a Winona-based freelance writer and certified appraiser concentrating on vintage, antique and collectible items. Send comments and story suggestions to Sandy at firstname.lastname@example.org.