Contrasting items of furniture from the 18th to 20th centuries made their mark at February sales.
Leading the day at Dawsons (23% buyer’s premium) was a so-called Short Chair, designed by Marcel Breuer for the pioneering London firm Isokon for whom the Hungarian worked alongside former Bauhaus colleague Walter Gropius after they fled Germany.
Production of the chair began in 1936 and, although both Breuer and Gropius had left for the US, continued until 1939 when the UK’s stock of plywood was requisitioned for the war effort and the Isokon factory closed.
Production resumed in 1963 and continues today and the chair offered at Maidenhead on February 25 is difficult to date. This, along with its fairly fragile condition and a 3in (8cm crack near the foot/knee rest section of the chair, was behind the tempting £400-600 estimate.
After it sold to an online private bidder at £7800, auctioneer Harrison Goldman – who wrote about the Isokon in his degree thesis at the Courtauld – said this was a “fantastic price, possibly a world record, indicating that the chair was pre-war”.
The chair was given its name because it was a 3ft 4in (1.02m) adaptation of Breuer’s more numerous and more famous laminated and solid birch Long Chair, an example of which – from the same Hampstead house – was also offered in the Maidenhead auction.
The 4ft 9in (1.46m) long chair, like the smaller model, lacked the stamps for Isokon or Vestra (the plywood company) but old repairs to the arms and cracks to the footrest and, again, the price it made, suggested to Goldman that it was pre-war. Against a £500-700 estimate, it sold to the UK trade at £3600.
The antique star was a c.1720, walnut veneered ‘Shepherd’s Crook’ armchair.
With burr walnut veneered cartouche back and oval drop-in seat, it had numerous old running repairs and needed work but its quality was undoubted – Gillows of Lancaster produced copies throughout the 19th century. Against a £400-600 estimate, it sold to the UK trade at £3300.
“It had been repaired/restored and arguably over polished, but it was still a rare thing and an unusual design which wouldn’t look out of place in a mid-century interior,” said Goldman.
Scandi and Irish
The ever-popular Irish connection and the current high demand for Scandinavian material fuelled demand for the two furniture stars at Maxwells’ (20% buyer’s premium inc VAT) sale.
A triple-fold top mahogany card table catalogued as early/mid Georgian (possibly Irish) had some old repairs, wear and small loss to the frieze drawer but was in overall good condition. It attracted five bidders on the phones vying with online rivals before it went to the UK trade at £3900 via a bid on thesaleroom.com.
A mid-20th century teak dining suite designed by HW Klein for Bramin of Denmark was the Scandi star at the Stockport auction house’s February 16-17 sale. Comprising a table extending to 6ft 5in (1.95m), a sideboard and six chairs, it was in good condition bar some sun bleaching to three chairs and went to a local couple at £2700.
Possibly the most iconic design in modern furniture is the lounge chair, model 670, and ottoman, model 671, designed by Charles and Ray Eames for Herman Miller.
It was designed in 1956 and in production ever since but key to the example at Cheffins (24.5% buyer’s premium) was that it was a comparatively early piece, probably dating from the 1970s.
There was some bleaching and scratching to the rosewood faced plywood shells (it required a CITES certificate) and the black leather upholstery was worn and, on the ottoman, torn.
But it retained the Herman Miller labels and almost doubled the top estimate at the February 25 Cambridge sale, going to a London buyer at £3800.