We have a steer horn chair that has been in the family for over 60 years. It is fabricated with steer horns on the outside with leather/vinyl for the seat and back.
We are trying to determine its age and value to see how to proceed with it going forward. Is this the type of piece you would be able to evaluate?
I grew up in New Englander and have lived in the bay area for the past quarter century. Horn furniture is not something I’ve seen much of so, for expert information I turned to historian and collector Alan Rogers founder of the National Texas Longhorn Museum. He generously shared his in depth knowledge of the form and his decades of historical research
Although it appears to be a very American form, modern horn furniture making – dating from the mid 19th century through the 1920s – seems to have been brought to America by Europeans immigrants. Individual craftsmen made some pieces but furniture factories in Chicago, Texas and Kansas produced the majority of horn pieces we see today.
According to Alan, part of the horn furniture craze can be traced to the development of railroads bringing cattle to stockyards. Processing longhorn cattle was expensive. The horns made loading, shipping and slaughtering the cattle difficult; horns scarred the hides of other cattle lessening their value. Any use for the horns would help to offset the inherent liability of the breed.
The demand for antique horn furniture has increased over the past decade but so has the tendency for some sellers – out of ignorance or greed – to mislead buyers. By the end of the 19th century ranchers had crossbred the horns out of the cattle industry and by the 1890s furniture makers were importing horns from Africa and South America. So although horn furniture seems quintessentially American just about all horn furniture manufactured since the 1940s is made from imported horn. Buyers can easily find horn chairs for sale but there is almost never information about the origin of the horns. Alan feels that buyers would be reluctant to spend money if they knew they weren’t buying old Western American items.
As with most things, condition is a huge factor in value. Horns are made of keratin – the same protein in our nails and hair. If the furniture is kept indoors it can last for generations. Pieces need to be protected from bright sunlight: over time exposure can cause the layers of keratin to separate and the horns to crack. Horn furniture should not be stored in damp places like basements or garages – horns are delicious to roaches and some beetles.
The size, shape and color of the horns in a piece of furniture influence the price buyers are willing to pay. Experts have been able to identify a few individual horn furniture masters; these pieces can command thousands of dollars. I’m sorry. I have no way of figuring out who or what factory made your chair. While the upholstery is competently done the choice of vinyl instead of leather or fabric seems oddly incongruous. Additionally, your chair is missing a decorative horn on one side. These factors lessen the salability of the chair. All that being said, I don’t think you’d have any trouble selling your chair in the $400-700 range. For more information about the history of this furniture, for advice about selling, for galleries of chairs, hat racks, cowboys and champion steer, or just for the fun of it visit Alan Rogers’ site: www.longhornmuseum.com.