Q: My husband, who is 76 years old, remembers seeing his grandfather sitting in our old recliner chair when he was a child. We think the chair is about 100 years old. It has a horizontal ladder-frame back, four spindles under each arm, lion's heads carved on the end of the arms, claw feet and stuffed seat and back rest. The arms are made of dark walnut. The tag on the bottom of the chair says: 'Cook's Automatic Chair, By S.A. Cook & Co., Medina, New York, Owners and Manufacturers.' What can you tell us about our chair?
A: Seeley Cook's first business was manufacturing tobacco products, which he sold from a horse and wagon to the merchants near his Medina, N.Y., home. He delivered not only cigars and tobacco, but also candy. In 1882 he joined another firm that started making furniture to give as premiums to retail customers. By 1900 he had his own furniture factory named S.A. Cook & Co.. It soon was a major company in Medinaand was turning out 1,200 Morris-style chairs a week. The furniture was shipped all over the world, even to Japan. His firm expanded, but in 1912, while coming home from a Florida vacation, Cook died. The company remained in business through name and management changes until 1985. The early furniture was made by immigrant Polish and Italian workers trained on the job. They made the carved furniture frames, used cotton upholstery fabric from Buffalo and stuffed it with horsehair or Spanish moss. The upholstered pieces used springs and cushions for comfort, but in 1931 a nearby tire company suggested using foam rubber. S.A. Cook was the first company to do this. Business declined during the 1930s, then revived somewhat during the 1960s and '70s. Your chair should be worth about $400 if the fabric is original and in good condition.