A Morris chair is an early type of reclining chair. The design was adapted by William Morris's firm, Morris & Company, from a prototype owned by Ephraim Colman in rural Sussex, England. It was first marketed around 1866.
Morris chairs feature a seat with a reclining back and moderately high armrests, which give the chair an old-style appearance. The characteristic feature of a Morris chair is a hinged back, set between two un-upholstered arms, with the reclining angle adjusted through a row of pegs, holes or notches in each arm. In other instances, the reclining of the back is controlled by a metal bar set in hooked back racks. The original Morris chair had dark stained woodwork, turned spindles and heavily decorated upholstery, in typical Victorian style.
The chair was widely copied after Morris' introduction, and is still manufactured. The appearance and style of upholstery is usually quite different from Morris's, but the overall layout is constant. There are two rather distinct types of these chairs. One type, called the "traditional" Morris chair evolved in America directly from the Morris original. It often features carving and serpentine shapes. These chairs were produced in the hundreds of thousands from about 1890 to 1930 in versions ranging from affordable to very high-end. At the low price end, these chairs were sold by The Larkin Soap Company and other large firms such as Sears Roebuck and Montgomery Ward. The more expensive chairs were those made by Horner and other exclusive furniture makers.
The other style of Morris chair is called the "Mission" or the "Craftsman" Morris chair. The best known examples are those were first produced by Gustav Stickley in 1904 and then widely copied afterwards. These are in the American Craftsman idiom, rather than English Arts & Crafts styles. Woodwork is lightly finished and largely undecorated oak in rectangular sections. Upholstery comprises unframed cushions in brown leather, or green or brown fabric. The Craftsman or Mission style of Morris chair is often thought of as a Stickley design named in homage to Morris, rather than an original Morris piece. As with all Stickley, these chairs are keenly collected today and originals fetch several thousands of dollars.
Given the seemingly staid nature of the Morris chair itself, it may seem odd that there is recurrent mention of the Morris chair in popular song lyrics indicating its romantic and erotic use:
- "At a party
- Or at a ball
- I've got to admit
- He's nothing at all
- But in a Morris chair
- You'd be surprised."
Additionally, the Morris chair is mentioned in another Irving Berlin song, "All By Myself", published in 1921, as well as in the song "My Honey's Lovin' Arms" (1922), by Joseph Meyer:
- "A cozy Morris chair
- Oh what a happy pair",
or, as Barbra Streisand sang in her recording of the song:
- "A cozy Morris chair
- What kind of chair is a Morris chair?".
It is mentioned also in the World War I patriotic song: "If he can fight like he can love, good night Germany" (words by Grant Clarke and Howard E. Rogers, Music by George W. Meyer)
- "..I know he'll be a Hero over there, 'Cause he's a bear in any Morris chair..."
The Morris chair appears in the song, "Oh, Sister! Ain’t That Hot!" verse 2:
- "Now some folks like a Morris chair
- "Some prefer a baby grand.
- "But things like that cannot compare
- "With that lovin’ hot lip band."
The Morris chair appears as a luxury item in the 1924 Abner Silver/Sam Coslow song "I Ain't Got Nobody to Love":
- I've got a nice comfy Morris chair too
- I bought it brand new, but what can I do
- When I ain't got nobody to love
On February 6, 1932 Jimmie Rodgers recorded "Home Call" in Dallas, Texas
- "A big Morris chair waits for me there
- "In front of a bright log fire
- "My babe at my knee and my wife sings with me
- "While I strum on my old guitar
- "In fact we're as happy, as happy can be
- "In the evening just Carrie, Anita and me
The Morris chair appears in a song that anticipated the era of alcohol prohibition (1920-1933), "You Don’t Need the Wine To Have a Wonderful Time (While They Still Make Those Wonderful Girls) (Music by Harry Akst, lyric by Howard E. Rogers), published in 1919 and introduced by Eddie Cantor, in live performance, in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1919 (recorded in "Ziegfeld follies of 1919," 33 RPM vinyl disk, [Washington, D.C.] : Smithsonian Collection, published, 1977):
- "Why should we care if the wine isn’t there?
- "We still have the sofa and the old Morris chair."
An early mention of a Morris Chair is in Jack London's novel 'Martin Eden' (1909), Chapter 31: “He finally isolated himself in the midst of the company, huddling into a capacious Morris chair …”
In Sinclair Lewis's novel 'Babbitt' (1922), Chapter 8 - III, the title character lists it as a perk of a disdained educational elite who “blows his father's money and sits around in Morris chairs in a swell Harvard dormitory with pictures and shields and table-covers and those doodads . . .”
Pearl S. Buck, in her novel, The Time is Noon, (1966) wrote, “He was sitting in his old Morris chair by a small dying wood fire, his hands folded in his lap.” And again, “But he was not writing. He was sitting as he always did in his old Morris chair, drawn close to a small, neatly piled fire in the grate.”
It is also mentioned in Dan Brown's novel “The Lost Symbol”, released on September 15, 2009. “The library was a small reading room—two Morris chairs, a wooden table, two floor lamps, and a wall of mahogany bookshelves that held some five hundred books.”
Julio Cortázar also refers to a Morris Chair in "Tía Explicada o No", a part of the chapter "Ocupaciones Raras" in his 1962 book "Historias de Cronopios y de Famas": "En las sillas del comedor y del patio, tía se instala muy erguida; por nada aceptaría la comodidad de una mecedora o de un sillón Morris."
In his novel The Skylark of Space (1928) Edward E. 'Doc' Smith mentions a Morris Chair in Chapter 3: "After the meal was over they all went into the spacious living room, where the men ensconced themselves in comfortable Morris chairs with long, black cigars between their teeth, and all four engaged in a spirited discussion of various topics of the day.".
- Early upholstered version
- "Original Gustav Stickley #369 chair, missing the rear cushion and showing the back frame.". Treadway Gallery. External link in
- Vonnegut, K. 2000. Bagombo Snuff Box. New York: Berkley Books.
- "Historias de Cronopios y de Famas" (Alfaguara, Buenos Aires, 1995, p. 23)
- Bavaro & Mossman (1997). The Furniture of Gustav Stickley. Linden Publishing. ISBN 0-941936-35-X.
- In the Craftsman Style. Taunton Press. 2001. ISBN 1-56158-398-7.
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