I knew little about the Ironrite Health Chair until a few weeks ago. Today I own two of them and this is why.
The chair, designed by Herman H. Sperlich in 1938 for the Ironrite Ironer Co. in Detroit, Mich., is a bit of a collectors’ item, particularly among those who love industrial design. Originally made of steel and lacquered maple plywood, it was designed for sitting at the company's heavy-duty ironing machines. It features a pivoting back rest and is considered one of the first ergonomic chairs. It’s in the permanent collection at MoMA.
Design websites list these chairs from $200 to $500, depending on the type and condition.
I found chair No. 1, which is all metal, at an estate sale. It probably dates to the 1950s and it's in very good shape except for a little rust on the bottom of the legs. I thought the cool industrial lines might appeal to the hipsters at Syracuse City Market. But after I looked it up on the Internet, I decided to try to sell it on Etsy instead.
From my research, I also learned that the chairs with the wood backs and seats, which were manufactured earlier (the late 1930s and early 1940s), are more desirable and fetch higher prices. So that was how chair No. 2 came into my life last week. I saw it listed on Craigslist and I stalked it the next morning at a yard sale. I cleaned off years of dirt and a fair amount of rust (same spot on the bottom of the legs), but it’s still in rough shape. At some point, probably when the seat was painted, someone tightened the seat a little too much, making the wood crack a little where it connects to the metal frame. I’m sure that makes it less valuable, but considering that the wood chairs in top shape are going for up to $500, I still hope to turn a nice profit.
But, I’m wondering what you would do at this point: Sell it as-is, or strip the paint and attempt to restore it? You can see some examples of the (unrestored) wood chairs here and here. And here's one that's been restored.