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Series production

Clemens List recommended Michael Thonet to the English architect P.H. Desvignes, who planned and supervised the renovation of the Liechtenstein family estate. Michael Thonet‘s acquired privilege – his only capital – „ to give all types of wood all imaginable bends“ was perfectly suited to produce the desired parquet floor in 2nd Rococo style, with its multiple curves.

However, all carpentry had already been awarded to Carl Leistler‘s firm.

Carl Leistler and Michael Thonet drew up a contract, stating that the latter was allowed to produce in Leistler‘s factory all works for the Palais Liechtenstein on a fixed remuneration. Ostensibly, Michael Thonet worked exclusively for the Palais Liechtenstein between 1844 and 1846.

However, it was not the parquet floor that was indicative of the future, but more the creation of a entire series of gracious and elegant chairs for the Palais Liechtenstein, which were conceived as additional pieces to supplement the seating that was already available.

Whilst during the production of the parquet floor Michael Thonet applied the technique of glueing laminates, for constructing the chairs he experimented with a new method: rod bundling. This method no longer used laminated layers, but instead fine rods joined in bundles. By moulding these rod bundles, it was possible to create not only two-dimensional but also three-dimensional curves. This very labour-intensive production technique was later abandoned.
In the three years between the end of the work on the Palais Liechtenstein and the foundation of a workshop at Hauptstrasse 396, in Gumpendorf, the first large order received by Michael Thonet was for a chair model for the Palais Schwarzenberg, which he also obtained thanks to the intervention of Desvignes. This chair was a simplified version of the Liechtenstein chair, but already showed all characteristics regarding form and construction of the later mass-produced pieces. It appeared as chair no. 1, with capitals on the front legs, in the first broadsheets and sales catalogues.

In addition to the Schwarzenberg chair, chair models nos. 2 to 4 were also created in this time. A remark by Heller illustrates that Michael Thonet produced not only parquet floor but also chairs for the Palais Liechenstein during this time: „When the work for the Palais Liechtenstein was at an end, the Thonet workshop at Leistler‘s mainly produced fine parquet floors as well as bent-wood chairs“.

In recent years, some chairs have been found that do not have the slightest makers´s mark and that, with the exception of the front legs, are made entirely out of laminated wood. The stamps „Thonet Wien Gump.396“ and „Thonet Wien Gump.“ that Thonet applied to his chairs can certainly not be dated earlier than 1849. Since Michael Thonet evidently started signing his furniture in a general way only when the workshop in Gumpendorf opened, it is certain that the chairs in question date back to the period between 1846 and 1849.

In 1849, Karl Leistler turned down an offer from Michael Thonet to enter into partnership with him. Michael Thonet therefore started an independent business in May 1849, together with his sons Franz, Michael, August and Josef Thonet, on the first floor of the house in Gumpendorf, Hauptstraße no. 396, on the corner of the Kaserngasse.

The commonly held opinion that Anna Daum‘s Coffeehouse is the first public establishment with bent-wood furniture, is mistaken. A letter by Michael Thonet jr., dated August 15th 1851, to his friend Jakob Henrich in Boppard tells us that about six months earlier than Anna Daum, J. Bartl ordered not only four dozen side chairs, but also one dozen armchairs of model no. 4 to furnish the hotel „Zur Königin von England“ in Pest (Budapest).

In 1859, model no. 14, the classic Thonet chair par excellence, is developed in Corycany.