Rocking chair beside windows, grey wood flooring, driftwood with gold bells hanging on wall

The New Gloucester Rocker


A rocking chair emanates nostalgia, a sense of comfort, relaxation, and a lulling quality made for front porches, tucked-away corners, and quiet nurseries. Seemingly encoded in our DNA, this gentle rocking motion has immediate palliative effects. Perhaps that is why in 1982, a serendipitous commission allowed Tom to explore a design he had been toying with for several years.


Tom and Aaron Moser hanging the shop sign in Portland, rocker detail, rocker on workbench, seat and arm detail of rocking chair



“At this time, we had our showroom in Portland on Cumberland Ave., and there was a wonderful antique store in the Old Port section of town. Well, I walked by the shop window one day, and there was a Windsor-style fan-back chair with a narrow crest and a wide seat. Almost all Windsor chairs are the opposite,” says Tom Moser. “Well, this fan back Windsor was the reverse, I had never seen anything like that before, and I can’t say as if I have ever seen anything quite like it again,” says Tom. “That chair really influenced me.”



Back view of crest on spindle rocking chair



There were several forms Tom could draw inspiration from; a Shaker ladder-back rocker, the Boston Rocker, Salem, or mission-style rockers of California. The most well-known style in New England was the Boston Rocker. Contrary to its name, the first Boston rocker was built in Connecticut around 1825 by a man named Lambert Hitchcock. Hitchcock’s design took the Boston chair, a traditional fan-back style chair, and placed it upon two runners or rockers. The Boston rocker is most notable for its ornate carvings or floral paintings along the crest and decorative turned legs and spindles attached to a curved arm. The Salem rocker followed the Boston rocker in design with a slightly lower back and more angled seat.



Three images of walnut rocking chair arm and back detail



“I thought,” Tom says, “Why not do a Boston rocker where the spindles come into a smaller crest rail and engulf the sitter?” Other notable refinements to Tom’s “Boston Style” rocker include the floating arm. “I wasn’t particularly interested in creating a sack-back style rocking chair. That is to say; I didn’t want the arms to attach to the back of the chair,” he says. To maintain the light and airy profile, he designed a floating arm attached by wedged tenons to the front three spindles that barely touch the back, giving the illusion that the component is floating atop the spindles.



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As the chair needed to be big enough to hold a full-grown man, Tom knew he needed to create a wide seat. The seat of the Boston Rocker was narrow and scrolled. “The Salem Rocker had a much flatter and wider seat, and aesthetically, I was drawn to this simpler design,” says Tom.



New Gloucester Rocker and Shaker ladderback rocker in situ



The final refinement to the design was the rockers themselves. Many early rocking chairs had short and thin rockers. Creating a balanced, sculptural, and robust rocker was paramount for a chair designed to withstand years of use. “The Shakers had what was called a suicide rocker. It was a ladder-back chair with very short and thin rockers, and if you when back far enough, you would topple over backward. So the detail in our design brings the chair back to the center, preventing that from happening. This detail exists on all our rockers,” notes Tom.


“Since the chair was designed and built in our New Gloucester workshop, we called it the New Gloucester Rocker, and it became one of our signature pieces,” says Tom.




The rocking chair, in its somewhat modern-day form, dates back to the early 1700s when the rockers were formed by attaching the blades from ice skates to the bottom of a chair. Since then, the rocking chair, a uniquely American design, has come a long way from its primitive beginnings. Today’s forms are modern and sleek, and complement any decor creating a timeless heirloom for a contemporary space.




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