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A chair traded for car reportedly dates to 1863

Staff writer

Would you trade a classic Lincoln Continental for a handmade wooden chair?

Rocky Hett of Marion did 35 years ago and has had a worthy conversation piece ever since.

The chair, made in 1863 by a Ramona settler who later claimed to be the county’s oldest resident, was a forebear of classic Morris chairs manufactured in the United States after 1900.

Hett has never had it appraised, but a New Jersey friend said original Morris chairs were worth $14,000 at one time.

“I haven’t had an offer yet,” Hett said.

He purchased the reclining chair from the late Robert Gooding of Marion, great-great-grandson of its creator, Samuel Yarham, who arrived in Ramona in the 1860s.

Hett traded a 1976 Lincoln Continental for the chair after hearing Gooding describe its history and creator.

The chair doesn’t hold much value to Hett today. He’s had it reupholstered once, and it needs it again. But he reports that visitors to his home frequently notice it and ask about it.

“It’s neat as a conversation piece,” he said.

The back legs have carved notches. A steel rod runs across the back and hooks into them to provide an upright position and three reclining positions.

In addition to making chairs, Yarham was a minister at the Church of the Brethren, more recently known as Rosebank Brethern in Christ Church.

He lived in a house he and his sons built two miles east of Ramona, using lumber from the land, cut by a steam sawmill.

In 1891, when the Marion Record was searching for the oldest person in the county, Yarham visited the newspaper office and told the editor he was born in 1785 in England, making him almost 107 years old. He died two years later at age 109.

The Morris chair is an early recliner first marketed in England around 1866.

Morris chairs feature a seat with a reclining back and moderately high armrests, which give the chair an old-style appearance.

The characteristic feature of a Morris chair is its hinged back, set between two un-upholstered arms, with the reclining angle adjusted through a row of pegs, holes or notches in each arm or, as with the Yarham chair, via a metal bar set in hooked back racks.

Original Morris chairs had dark stained woodwork, turned spindles and heavily decorated upholstery, in typical Victorian style.

Morris chairs were produced in the hundreds of thousands from about 1890 to 1930 in versions ranging from affordable to very high-end and were sold by retailers ranging from Sears Roebuck and Montgomery Ward to exclusive furniture makers.

Original Morris chairs often fetch several thousands of dollars at auction.

Last modified June 2, 2016

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