It is not clear when the first Windsor Chairs were made. It is known that, as early as the 16th century, wheelwrights started coping out chair spindles in the same way they made wheel spokes.
The design was probably a development of West Country, Welsh and Irish ‘stick-back’ chairs, but the evidence on origin is not certain. It is thought that the first Windsor chair made its appearance in the county of Buckinghamshire, where the main centre of production eventually moved to High Wycombe.
The first Windsors were of the comb-back variety.
By the 18th century steam-bending was being used to produce the characteristic “bow” of the Windsor chair. The first chairs made this way were shipped to London from the market town of Windsor, Berkshire in 1724. There is speculation that the chair derives its name from the town of Windsor, which became the centre for the trade between the producers and the London dealers. Thus the name “Windsor Chair” is more about the style of chair than where it was made, with many diverse forms of Windsor chair being made worldwide.
A Windsor chair is a chair built with a solid wooden seat into which the chair-back and legs are round-tenoned, or pushed into drilled holes, in contrast to standard chairs, where the back legs and the uprights of the back are continuous
Early British Windsors were painted, later versions were stained and polished. American Windsors were usually painted, in the 18th century they were grain painted with a light color, then overpainted with a dark color before being coated with linseed oil for protection of the fragile paint. In the 19th century settlers from the mid-west of America to Ontario, Canada would coat their chairs with the solid primary colours of milk paint, a mix of buttermilk, turpentine and cow’s blood.
During the early 19th century the United States produced vast amounts of chairs, in factories, and an experienced factory painter could paint a chair in less than five minutes. By mid-century, to save production costs, the chair was painted in solid colours with some simple stencilling being the only design.
With wear in use, the paint wears off around the edges and displays a characteristic wear pattern that reveals the paint colors underneath. As for any antique, this original finish often survives best in unworn areas such as the bottom of the seat or around turnings. Later repainting, even well-intentioned restoration, will diminish the value of an original finish.