A rare and unique example of the Ernest Race Neptune lounge chair.
Originally commissioned in 1953 by the cruise liner company Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company (P&O) for their oriental routes this is a very early and unique example of Ernest Race’s Neptune lounger.
The chair was originally developed by Peter Kidman of Aylesbury Bros and it’s known that a number of prototypes were made before production began to test various plywood types and fittings. In addition, some are found with a handle hole in the footrest and some not; this likely because the hole proved to be a weak spot in the design regarding production and weathering. Prototypes were believed to have been made in a variety of laminates but production initially began in beech laminate which was later replaced by Gaboon Mahogany as it proved more durable. Early production models also featured brass and copper fittings which were later found to seize up and were later replaced by nylon capped hardware. The chair cleverly used the same plywood manufacturing mould for the seat and the back which kept production costs at a reasonable level for such a bespoke design but this is why the chair could not be hinged to fold flat – you will see when you look at the design that the foot and back rests could not sit inside each other to fold unless they were offset (the foot rest needs to sit lower than the back rest for the curves to fit). On this basis an ingenious system of canvas straps were utilised that allowed the chair to fold inside itself (it folds to just 12cm deep) and were also used as carrying straps in transit.
The straps, however, had additional benefits in that the ones you see at arm level provide a comfortable place to rest one’s elbows when reading a book! But predominantly they were used to tension the frame so that when set up in the lounging position they force the foot rest back into the locating brackets at the base of the back rest. And that detail is one of the things that make this particular example very interesting because when you look at the base of the back rest you will see two half-moon shaped brass insets. I’ve never seen these before on any version of this chair and far from being just decorative they do have a practical use. You can’t see it on the photos but where they sit is directly over the locating brackets and on most versions it is possible for the foot rest to disengage from the back rests as there is no lipped edge to stop this. This however, is not a problem in use but in unfolding the chair for use as without these it’s quite a struggle to open the chair out into its seating position and lock the two sections in place.
Another unusual aspect of this particular example is that it is furnished with a brass rod that acts as a retainer for the head rest at the top of the seat cushion as every other example just has a simple wooden toggle. The seat cushion has clearly long since perished and it has been replaced with a cream vinyl pad and footrest at some point in its no doubt colourful life. Early models had a short integrated back and seat cushion and this was later replaced by a full length version so again we have an unusual detail as this cushion set is different in that it has the original design but with an added foot rest. On this basis it has all the comfort of a full length pad but it also adds an aesthetic feature in being able to see the contrast of the wood between each pad, which to my mind is more appealing.
The frame is in very good vintage condition with patina and knocks here and there just as you would expect from a chair that is nearly 70 years old. But it’s the right kind of patina that enhances the appeal of its history rather than detracts and stands out to the eye. It is unique as the added details sets it apart from any other Neptune chair that I’ve seen for sale. On this basis it makes one wonder if it was one of the early prototypes or whether, with the added brass locking brackets, the split cushion design and head rest bar, it was specifically commissioned that way for a particular client.
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Ernest Race Neptune lounge chair 1950s for P&O
Plywood, brass, copper and vinyl
Vintage British Design, Mid Century, 20th Century Design
Era or date of production
H100 X W130 X D57cm
Seat height – 37cm
Folded storage depth – 12cm
Number of pieces included in price
3 (chair and 2 piece cushion set)
Very good vintage condition with signs of wear and patina commensurate with age.
Questions or offer
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