Nineteenth-Century Patent Seating: Too comfortable to be moral?

Jennifer Pynt, Joy Higgs

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    2 Citations (Scopus)


    Seat furniture design peculiar to the Victorian era may be broadly divided into patent and parlour seating. These two seat furniture forms reflected the many contradictions that were the reality of the Victorian period. Patent seating offered a multiplicity of supported postures to facilitate task and prevent spinal ill health. While patent seating accorded with medical concepts of the day, it was not designed by medical personnel, but by inventors using craft knowledge, science and mechanization. Patent seating pre-empted modern ergonomic seating by 120 years. The Victorians, however, failed to appreciate the ingenuity and health benefits of such seating. To those in the hub of Victorian society, progress was represented not by technological advances but by refined behaviour. Using a chair to assist posture was considered crass and acceptable only for the infirm or the aged. On the other hand,maintaining a dignified, immobile, upright posture on rigid, unsupportive and erect parlour seating offered the opportunity to demonstrate refinement, willpower and hence morality. In the Victorian era such traits represented sophistication and modernity. This paper discusses some of the tensions that existed in Victorian society, and how these tensions influenced the design and selection of furniture and the preference for parlour furniture over patent furniture.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)277-288
    Number of pages12
    JournalJournal of Design History
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - 2008


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