J.B. Fenby

J B Fenby patented the mechanism for a chair, along with a table and a stool on the 22nd of March 1877. Four years later an American patent followed on the 12th of July 1881.

Joseph Beverley Fenby lived in Worcestershire and started out as an inventor. He is also invented the Electro Magnetic Phonograph with a patent issued in 1863. Although a phonograph never appears to have been made, he is credited as the first to use the name. Thomas Ferdinand Walker was an early partner of Fenby's and he started his career with his father in an nautical instrument making company also in the Midlands. Fenby and Walker's partnership was short lived and ended on the 30th December 1878 with the notice in The London Gazette listing their business as Wood Carvers and Camp Furniture Manufacturers.

Their various premises were at Andover Street, Fazeley Street and 5 Victoria Buildings, Albert Street, Birmingham. The notice also stated that Fenby would continue the business under the name J B Fenby & Co. Fenby's Camp Furniture advertised their works at Andover Street, Birmingham with wholesale available at 103, Queen Victoria Street, London. The British Library has a number of adverts for the company showing their furniture's use for sporting occasions, picnics and the military. Stools, chairs, tables, beds, washstands, baths, tents and sun shades were all advertised, boasting of their lightness, strength, compactness, portability and finish.

The manufacturing business seems to have only lasted for a brief period from the late 1870s but it is possible that Fenby moved away from having a visible shop front and concentrated on selling the rights to make his furniture. In 1895 the Gold Medal Company of Wisconsin started to make the chair under licence and it is believed that Fenby also sold rights to French and Italian companies. The folding mechanism was undoubtedly popular as Fenby's designs were still sold under the brand name Paragon by the Army & Navy CSL and Harrods well into the 20th Century.In 1895 the Harrods catalogue described it as 'the most Portable Chair in the Market' and they also listed other items under the name. The chair was made in 2 sizes and would 'fold up in one motion'. The A&N CSL noted that the design will 'open and close as easily as an umbrella and are quite as portable'.

The chair was also known by other names such as the Tripolina and was a clear influence to Jorge Ferrari-Hardoy, Juan Kurchan and Antonia Bone for their Butterfly Chair in 1940. J B Fenby died aged 60 in June 1903, in King's Norton, Birmingham but his chair design is a classic piece of portable furniture which influenced some of the great 20th Century furniture designers. The folding principal has stood the test of time and is still used today on the many lightweight camping chairs available with a beer holder on the arm.

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