McLoughlin House: Victorian Balloon-Back Chairs Ca. 1833

MPF Conservation conserved several objects for the McLoughlin House in Oregon City, Oregon (which is part of the Fort Vancouver NM). This page documents the Victorian Balloon-Back Chairs Ca. 1833.

MPFC conserved twenty-one armless balloon-back dining chairs of various designs for the McLoughlin House. Half of the chairs were associated with either Dr. John McLoughlin or Dr. Fraser Tolmie, as can be seen by a note on one of the horse-hair chairs, below.

  1. Five are upholstered in black horsehair show cover material.
  2. Twelve are upholstered in black and grey striae horsehair show cover material.
  3. Four are upholstered in blue floral needlepoint show covers; two are older, and more worn.

The chairs have three distinctive styles, though all show that they are hand-crafted, as there are slight variances in each chair of a given set.

Tied to the chairs, above left, or stapled/glued to the undersides of the chairs, above right, are notes regarding provenance from the Tolmie family.

During the cleaning and assessment phase, MPFC thoroughly cleaned all wood surfaces using de-ionized water and diaper cloth or cotton swabs. Paint and unknown stains were removed if possible with Gamblin’s Gamsol (an oderless mineral spirit), naphtha, dental picks, and mild abrasives as needed; as long as they did not remove original finish. After cleaning, the chairs were polished.

Above, an example of a chair before cleaning and polishing, left, and after, right.

Through our assessment, we understood that many if not all the horsehair chairs were reupholstered between 1978-1986 by several different upholsterers.

Business cards with notes were stapled onto the interior of several seat rails: Clackamas Upholstery, Christianson’s Furniture, E.A.Falkner, etc..

Though not requested by the NPS, MPFC could not return the chairs to McLoughlin House without a thorough vacuuming of the upholstery through a HEPA filter, and in those cases where wax had dripped on the surface, Mitchell removed as much of it as possible with brush and tweezers. Brushes loosened dirt around upholstery, which was then vacuumed as needed.

Above, Balloon-Back Chair #402. Indications of prior pest infestation and badly damaged shellac were in evidence. Upholstery was in good condition.

Debris was extracted from holes and molten hard waxes infused with tree resins were installed. When hard, the surface were leveled and touched up with shellac varnish to match the surrounding finish.

Above, Balloon-Back Chair #416. Horsehair show cover with an elaborate inside back splat and an unusual leg. Indications of a break on the rounded back and shellac needing polishing were in evidence. Upholstery was in good condition.

Two chairs had similar breaks in almost the exact spot. The breaks were cleaned out, and warm hide glue was inserted before clamping. Excess glue was cleaned off while wet. A contoured jig was created, shown fourth image above, to hold the back crest stable during reglue and clamping procedures. After curing, warm wax was used to infill small losses.

Above Balloon-Back Chair #436, one of four chairs with needlepoint showcovers. Upholstery was in good to poor condition, depending upon the chair. The better upholstery has gimp trim around the edge of the seat, whereas the covers in poorer condition are tacked using decorative nails. See last image above for comparisons chairs.

The needlepoint chairs are not associated with John McLoughlin nor Fraser Tolmie, but were donated via the family or local donors, as they matched the frame style of the majority of the McLoughlin/Tolmie chairs.

All four shown below.

Items MPFC treated posted as of this date from the McLoughlin home are:

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