Clothier’s ‘horse chair’ with carding machine, c. 1780

Collection Area
Production Technology
Textiles and Clothing
before 1800

Some items of furniture have fallen victim to the changes in labour since industrialisation first began; they include the standing desk for writing and doing calculations, or the ‘horse chair’ for trade-based activities.

The name ‘horse chair’ is derived from the fact that the worker would straddle the chair. There are many depictions dating from the late Middle Ages to the early 20th century illustrating the shape and design of these horse chairs and how they were used. They varied in length and sometimes resembled a bench. The four legs were usually angled outwards slightly to give the worker a firmer foothold. If one of the legs buckled or broke, the worker’s position astride the chair remained stable. It also made it easier for workers to use their thigh and lower back muscles when working. Sometimes the seating board was tapered so it did not cut the inside of the thighs or the back of the knees.

A device or mechanism was often used when working on the horse chair. Sheep’s wool was cleaned with a carder and a hackle was used to prepare the flax for spinning. The parchment maker would scrape; the furrier would cut the leather; the carpenter would clamp the cross-cut saw and sharpen its teeth. Usually the workpiece would be clamped with the aid of a foot lever to make it safer to work on. Coopers would smooth their wooden staves in this way, and box makers their small boards using a grater. Other depictions show that workers would also work sitting astride empty benches: armour makers and blacksmiths working their breastplates and other workpieces with hammers; two people facing each other pulling wool out of a basket placed between them. Which was also a splendid way of communicating.

In the 19th century, generations of workers downed their tools to work on machines, switching from a seated to a standing position. Since the beginning of the 20th century more and more employees and office workers have adopted seated positions at their desks. By now only the cavalry was seated astride.

Manufacturing period: c 1780

Inv.Nr. 12424/1

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