Although it was invented for essentially practical reasons, the hall stand had great symbolic value for
the Victorians. Standing in the entrance, it set the tone for the whole house.
A privileged position by the front door meant that the hall stand was often the first thing a visitor saw. This made it an important piece of furniture to status conscious Victorian householders.
The hall stand was a 19th century invention. In previous centuries, the custom was to provide a row of pegs on
which to hang visitors' hats and coats. Hall stand first appeared in wealthy homes in the Regency, when they took the form of a simple turned post, set in a firm base and circled with arms on which things could be hung. By the end of the century, large, often elaborate hall stands were found in almost every home.
In the middle of the century, no gentlemen would venture forth without hat and cane, while
ladies invariably carried a parasol or an umbrella. All these items, as well as coats, capes and shawls, had to be accommodated. While some people could afford to hire a footman to deal with cloaks, most middle class households made do with a hall stand,
which by this time had developed into a substantial piece of furniture.
As entrance halls were no more than wide passage ways in most houses, space-saving was an important consideration; stands were designed to be placed against the wall, with the arms spread out sideways, a shelf half-way up the column and a drawer below it.
The next step was to add cane and umbrella stands on either side of the drawer, fitted with drip trays - sometimes metal, sometimes ceramic - to stop the hall carpets being stained with rainwater. Several stands also had inset mirror, so that men and women alike could check he exact set of their hats.
The majority of hall stands were made of wood. but the most massive ones, considered today to be most typically Victorian, were fashioned from cast iron, which was bronzed,
marbled or painted. Some of the bigger ones incorporated a lamp or lamp holder.
As the hall was a visitor's first introduction to the house, hall stands were intended to make an impression, and were made in all the fashionable styles of the day. Chinese, Japanese, rococo and neo-classical stands had brief
periods of popularity, and the Gothic style sold well in the middle of the century.
Sporting households preferred hall stands festooned with antlers, while the most enduring style, known as baronial, used dark, stained oak and panels of carving to suggest the wealth and stability to which every Victorian middle-class household aspired.
Late Victorian and Edwardian hall stands tended to be more plainly decorated, though still substantial pieces. Many of them were mass produced in inferior materials.
Genuine Victorian hall stands are not all that easy to find. They fell right out of fashion after World War I, and many were broken up and junked. The size of the survivors means that some antique furniture dealers cannot afford to stock them. Look instead for hall stands at
second-hand furniture warehouses, auctions and country house sales.
The most elaborate stands, in both wood and cast iron, tend to date from 1850 to 1870. Later ones tend to be much plainer and more functional. Better ones, though, were always dowelled together for additional strength, tin like mass-produced versions, which were put together with screws and glue.
Wall Stands have been out of fashion for so long that there are few reproductions or fakes. Beware, though, of stripped stands with brassed rails, which have been revamped with brass handles. They're usually overpriced, and if the stands were originally glued together, the joints will have been weakened by stripping. A stripped pine 'Victorian' hall stand is almost certainly wrong, as pine wasn't used for them in the 19th century.
Any hall stand should be structurally sound, and shouldn't rock or lean. Veneers were rarely used; woods tended to be used in the solid, then stained and varnished. Check that all the coat and hat pegs are in place - look for empty or filled screw-holes and a symmetrical arrangement - as they can be difficult to match. Most were made of brass or gilded iron and finished with china knobs.
Before buying a cast-iron stand, check very carefully for cracks and repairs. Even a well-mended cross-break on a piece of cast iron will affect the basic strength of the whole piece.
Check that the drip pans are still in place under the umbrella stands and are not cracked or broken. Some pieces were originally made with a drip tray under one side only; the other was meant for canes rather than for umbrellas.
Art deco designers produced hall stands made entirely of chromed steel.