Illustrated FURNITURE Glossary .....
Called press-back because its decoration was pressed in rather than carved.
THE PRESS BACK – THE ART OF CHAIR DECORATION WITHOUT CARVING
By Fred Taylor
Pub. by WorthPoint Corpration
By the turn of the 20th century ... the mail-order catalog phenomenon was in full swing and was the primary furniture distributor of the period, and price was the key. How could Sears or Larkin produce decorative furniture to compete with the intricate carvings of the mid-century? No one wanted to a) pay that much or b) wait that long.
They didn’t have to. In the very late 1800s along came a process that could produce elaborate designs on chair parts for a cost of next to nothing. It even had a lot of people thinking it was hand carved. The process? The steel die stamp. A design with sharp edges was etched into a metal plate. That plate was mounted on a roller and under great pressure was passed over a waiting chair crest rail that had been precut to shape and steam-bent to match the curve on the roller. The result was a perfect impression of the etching that was literally pressed into the wood, giving the effect of a three dimensional carving. Thus began the great era of the “press back” chair in American furniture.
In the simplest case, a rather shallow design was pressed into the waiting crest and, without further ado, was mounted to a chair ready to be finished. That allowed a mail order house like Sears to offer a dining chair in 1902 for 63¢ that had “handsome carving” on the back. Other chairs were enthusiastically - and erroneously - described as having “rich hand carving,” “beautifully turned and carved back,” or simply a “richly carved back.” Maybe the catalog writers didn’t know about “the process.”