Helaine Fendelman & Joe Rosson: Pullman chair not worth restoring

Published: Friday, March 24 2006 12:00 a.m. MST

Pullman Couch Co. chair was probably part of a grouping that consisted of a sofa, two armchairs and, maybe, a rocking chair.

Scripps Howard News Service

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Dear Helaine and Joe: I bought this chair in a thrift store a number of years ago for $50. It has a label that reads "Pullman Couch Company." The springs in the seat need to be tightened and the upholstery needs to be redone. What is the age and value of this chair?

Thank you. — B.K., Yorktown, Va.

Dear B.K.: The name "Pullman" conjures up all sorts of romantic images of railroad sleeping cars flying through the night — maybe with Marilyn Monroe playing her ukulele and dancing in the aisle while Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon look on, dressed in women's clothes.

Unfortunately, this chair has very little to do with these legendary conveyances.

Instead, the Pullman Couch Co. was founded in 1906 in Chicago by Jacob Schnadig and Julius Kramer, who was Schnadig's brother-in-law. They are said to have adopted the "Pullman" name while having lunch in the Pullman Building on Chicago's famous Michigan Avenue.

The company's catalog describes themselves as "Manufacturers of Davenport Bed Suites, Living Room and Decorated Furniture." The catalog further stated that they were manufacturers of "Custom built suites and occasional chairs, coil spring Davenport beds and suites, coil spring day beds and living room suites."

The "Davenport" bed that formed so much of the focus of the company was really a couch that could be converted into a full-size bed. Company advertising said that the secret to the comfort of these beds was their coil spring construction, and that the "revolving seat" was so easy to open that a child could do it with ease.

The Pullman Couch Co.'s factory was located at 3759 Ashland Ave., and the furniture that was made there was made in a variety of styles that were based on earlier designs, including Louis XV and Victorian.

Pullman, though, was particularly proud of their custom built furniture — especially their easy chairs.

These were made with coil springs that had been "tied eight times," and the exposed parts of the frames were made from solid mahogany. The bottoms of these chairs were supported with webbing, and stuffing was made from moss and hair (presumably horse hair).

B.K.'s chair is likely to be one of these custom-made easy chairs. But initially it was probably part of a grouping that consisted of a sofa, two armchairs and, maybe, an upholstered rocking chair. These three piece sets in good condition are now valued for insurance replacement purposes somewhere in the vicinity of $1,500 to $2,000 if they are in good condition.

Sadly, single chairs in poor condition such as the one pictured above are worth only a modest amount of money on the current collectibles marketplace. We say "collectibles market" rather than "antiques market" because this circa 1925 chair is not yet old enough technically to be an antique.

As for the value of B.K.'s particular Pullman Couch Co. chair, there is no question that it is in terrible condition. Not only is the upholstery deplorable, but the feet appear to be chewed up badly, and the insurance value for this piece is currently in the $100 to $150 range. After being refurbished this value could easily triple, but the cost of restoration would probably exceed the new value of the chair in pristine condition.


Helaine Fendelman and Joe Rosson are the authors of the "Price It Yourself" (HarperResource, $19.95). Questions can be mailed to them at P.O. Box 12208, Knoxville, TN 37912-0208.

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