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Collecting Bentwood Chairs

Michael Thonet

THONET BENTWOOD CHAIRS designed by Michael Thonet 1796-1871. German- Austrian cabinet maker

Michael Thonet was born in the Prussian town of Bopard-am-Rhein in 1796. He was the son of master tanner, Franz Anton Thonet of Boppard.

After his apprentiship in cabinet making, he set up his own business as a cabinet maker in 1819. His fascination in the development of what could be done with bent and veneered timber, using the local beechwood from the forests. He started to glue bent veneers held together in jigs to get the shape, but problems arose when the glue tended to dissolve in hot damp climates, it was also labour intensive. This got him thinking about a different method.
 Bentwood Chair

Michael Thonet discovered the solution: a solid piece of steamed wood and a metal strap could be bent together in a certain way without cracking the wood, and after being dried out in a jig the wood held its shape. A strong chair could then be made with less pieces and less joints, with screws replacing glued fixings. And the process, patented by , led it to be much faster, creating a method of economical mass production.

Thonet's main success, was in having light, strong wood bent into curved, graceful shapes by forming the wood in hot steam. This enabled him to design entirely novel, elegant, lightweight, durable and comfortable furniture, which appealed strongly to fashion and was a complete departure from the heavy, carved designs of the past; and whose aesthetic and functional appeal remains to this day.

In 1851, the World Fair in London saw Thonet receiving the bronze medal for his 'Vienna' bentwood chairs and the silver medal at the event in Paris in 1855

 After the wood branches have been steamed to make supple, they are bent to shape in the form required to make bent wood chairs.

Thonet had seven sons and six daughters. Unfortunately only five of the sons, survived early childhood.

When Michael Thonet died in 1871, he had sales locations across Europe and in New York and Chicago.

. By 1900,the Thonet family had 52 assembly-line production factories in Europe, and was the world's major manufacturer of bentwood furniture. His patents for the process expired in 1869, and imitations are plentiful. In 1922 the company was purchased by Leopold Pilzer's holding company, Mundus AG, employing over 10,000 workers worldwide, and after further expansion has now passed through five generations of the Thonet family.

Today, Thonet GmbH, based in ,b>Frankenberg, Germany, manufactures an extensive range of elegant chairs.

Today, a museum in the factory in Frankenberg, Hesse showcases the firm's history and the Thonet design.


"The name THONET is pronounced "Tone-eT" with a hard beginning and ending t.

 Rocker before          Rocker after
The photos above, show a bentwood rocking chair dating from around 1890, quite possibly made by Thonet. Unfortunately the lable had been lost, that would have been attached to the back of the chair, although the fixing pins still remain. It is possible to contact the "Thonet Museum" who will, after looking at photos, tell you whether it is a genuine Thonet chair. There is a charge for this service. The one above was cleaned and waxed, the broken screws fixing the graceful curves of the wood, were re-placed making a desirable chair with a great history.

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