The history of the Jubilee chair
When I asked my brother Rob Wight, “What can you do with it?” his first reaction was “Cremate it!” I couldn’t blame him; our jubilee chair didn’t look like much of anything at the time.
In 1897, Queen Victoria celebrated 60 years on the throne. To honour the occasion, a diamond jubilee chair was patented, a wooden recliner similar to the deck chairs on ocean liners. It had a long back for head support, reclined smoothly, and was easy to get out of. The top of the chair back was shaped like the edge of a crown and an engraved metal plate on the reverse read: The Jubilee Reclining Chair, Patented Sept. 1897.
My parents cottaged on Lac Gauvreau, near Wakefield, Que., from 1919 until 1945. Their third cottage came furnished, including a jubilee chair, which we used every summer. When our family sold and built our current log cottage on Mississippi Lake, that jubilee chair was one of the few things we brought with us. It served us well until the 1980s but eventually became too fragile to use. I put its arms, legs, and other body parts in a plastic bag and resolved to rebuild it—somehow.
In 1990, my husband and I moved to Perth, Ont. One day, I called Jeff Collver, a local who does custom woodworking, about our chair. “I don’t do chairs,” he said, but when I described my jubilee treasure there was a long silence. “I want to see that,” he said.
Turns out Collver had an almost identical chair, complete with the patent plate, which he’d acquired near Lake Couchiching 20 years earlier. He had replaced the back and seat on his. Mine had the original beaded boards. His was still usable; mine was not.
Collver was too busy to work on my chair but loaned me his as a reference. I took his chair and my chair bag to my brother, who also does woodworking. After his initial skepticism, Rob replaced my chair’s back and seat with cherry wood and reused the rest of the old parts. I stained it and now our jubilee chair is good to go for another 100 years. Not bad for a piece of furniture that was destined for the woodpile.