Featured Info and advice needed... Colonial Era African Sedan Chair

Discussion in 'Tribal Art' started by James Snyder, Aug 20, 2023.

  1. James Snyder

    James Snyder New Member

    Calling on anyone that can tell me anything.

    A few years ago, I acquired this giant, ridiculously heavy seat from a friend/neighbor's estate when she passed away. She had been an African art collector. After getting it, I sent out photos to a few random "Antique furniture Experts" and one was nice enough to write back and tell me that it was a "Colonial Era African Sedan or Litter Chair". There is a small bench-like thing that goes with it that he said was used as a step to get in and out of it while it was being carried. I have not been able to find a straight answer online about when exactly the African colonial era is, so I really don't know how old it is.

    The reason that I am looking for info and advice is because I am moving next month, and my wife has laid down the law in saying that I am not taking it with us. So, I am trying to figure out if this is something I should be sending to an auction house, donating to a museum or just selling at a garage sale. If anyone can provide any info or suggestions, I would be eternally grateful.

    Attached Files:

    DVG, Figtree3, Boland and 2 others like this.
  2. verybrad

    verybrad Well-Known Member

    Certainly wants to be old..... Not well-versed in such and not so sure the group here will have a definitive answer for you. I would suggest sending photos to a few auction houses known for African material for an opinion.
  3. Figtree3

    Figtree3 What would you do if you weren't afraid?

    According to this article, the colonial period in Africa started in the mid 1880s and lasted 70 years or so... to the mid 1950s? I didn't read the entire article, just the beginning.
    komokwa and Any Jewelry like this.
  4. James Snyder

    James Snyder New Member

    Thanks for the info. I have found similar information but I have also found information talking about the colonial period beginning with the Dutch in the 1600s. I'm not an expert on antique furniture by any means but I've been around enough to know generally how to tell how old something is by how it was made, what kind of hardware is used, and the oxidation of the wood. Everything about it says late 18th - early 19th century but it is very possible they were still using older technology in Africa until a later time frame. The age of the wood appears consistent with 18th century but if it was left out in the elements for any period of time, that might have accelerated the aging. So I guess I'm still in the "who knows?" stage with this one. Thanks for replying anyway.
    Figtree3 likes this.
  5. Any Jewelry

    Any Jewelry Well-Known Member

    That depends on the part of Africa this came from.
    From the early 1600s on the Dutch had part of the Gold Coast, called Dutch Guinea, and from the mid 1600s the Cape Colony.
    The Dutch weren't the first on the Gold Coast though, the Portuguese had a colony there from 1482 until the Dutch captured it.

    Do you know where the other African items came from? Maybe all were from the same region?
    johnnycb09 likes this.
  6. johnnycb09

    johnnycb09 Well-Known Member

    Just throwing this out there but maybe its to ride an elephant ?
    Any Jewelry likes this.
  7. Any Jewelry

    Any Jewelry Well-Known Member

    It is pretty wide, so it could be.
    It also looks more for indigenous use than for colonial use.

    The Indian word for an elephant riding chair is a 'howdah', maybe that will get some results.
    johnnycb09 likes this.
  8. johnnycb09

    johnnycb09 Well-Known Member

    Thanks ! I was digging for "howdah" in my porous brain !
    Any Jewelry likes this.
  9. Any Jewelry

    Any Jewelry Well-Known Member

    I had trouble finding a howdah in my brain as well.:playful:
    BoudiccaJones likes this.
  10. James Snyder

    James Snyder New Member

    Thanks to all for the input. I thought that the howdah idea might have been a strong one, but after looking into some, they all have similar legs that splay out the other direction. Presumably to not dig into the elephants back. It weighs probably about 4-500lbs so it would be more practical for an elephant to carry but it has the pole rings on the side so it was more likely some very unfortunate men that were put to the task.
    Any suggestions of what to do with it or of anyone who can help me figure out if this an extra eclectic garage sale item versus a museum piece?
  11. Any Jewelry

    Any Jewelry Well-Known Member

    I will tag @2manybooks for you, she can usually ID African items. Presuming it is indeed African.
    I was hoping she'd seen this, but she probably hasn't yet.
  12. 2manybooks

    2manybooks Well-Known Member

    At that weight, the chair is unlikely to be a functional sedan chair for transporting dignitaries long distance. More probably, it is a prestige chair for a chief. Such symbols of authority would be brought out for official functions, and sometimes travelled with the chief if he went beyond his village.

    I cannot find a direct comparison, but elements of the style are reminiscent of Senufo carvings. The Senufo are a linguistic group in northern Ivory Coast (Cote d'Ivoire), southeastern Mali, and western Burkina Faso, well known for their artistic carvings and other woodwork. At any rate, I believe the chair would have originated somewhere in that broader region of West Africa.

    Are the bands on the chair made of iron? (You can test it with a magnet.) If so, that would be another sign of importance and prestige - it represents a significant amount of skilled blacksmith's work. Blacksmiths are held in high esteem due to their specialized knowledge and skills. It is interesting that the straps resemble basketry. In Senufo society, there are hereditary groups of artisans and the Fonombele group specializes in blacksmith and basketry work.

    As to what to do with the chair, I cannot make specific recommendations without knowing where you are located. But if you can, I would try to find a university or museum in the area with an African collection to see if they would be interested. Without documented provenance it might be a hard sell at auction, but a museum might be interested in a donation.
  13. James Snyder

    James Snyder New Member

    Thank you so much for the information. I will definitely do some more research based on your input. The bands are iron. There are iron rings on the back, one of which appears to have been replaced with a brass one. There are odd rectangular holes on the outer edges of the seat that look like they might be for slotting in a roof or shade structure of some sort. I might have been exaggerating the weight a little, but 3-400 pounds is certainly in the ballpark. It could be heavier. My wife and I have moved it several times and it is always a struggle. If I were to try to sell it, do you have any recommendations of where? Maybe not at auction but if there are any websites where people look for things like this. I know something is only worth what someone else is willing to pay, but do you have any suggestions of a reasonable price point to start from? This type of thing is completely out of my wheelhouse. Thanks
  14. 2manybooks

    2manybooks Well-Known Member

    James - where are you located?
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