It’s why two vintage examples of Charles and Ray Eames’ DCM chair carrying similar expectations at Los Angeles Modern Auction (LAMA) (26/20% buyer’s premium) on November 15 could bring vastly different prices.
The DCM (Dining Chair on Metal frame) was one of four plywood chairs by the husband-and-wife design team released to the marketplace in 1946.
In time, the DCM would become a standard fixture in the Herman Miller catalogue but only after 1949 when the manufacturing know-how and licences were bought from original maker Evans Plywood Division.
These early Evans chairs in rosewood ply and solid zinc-plated steel rods are super rare and distinctive for two specific construction details, namely the metal feet and the circular ends to the ribs that connect the seat and the backrest.
To serious collectors, these are catnip. Estimated at $1500-2500, it took $28,000 (£22,400).
Under Herman Miller the DCM (still made today) has gone through a series of subtle changes that also help dating. Outwardly similar, an ash plywood chair in the sale was probably from Miller’s second or third iteration with its rubber feet and oval ends to the backrest connectors.
Made a decade later than the Evans chair, it was guided at $1000- 1500 but took a modest $350 (£280).
The LAMA sale also included the return to auction of a chair created by Charles Eames and Eero Saarinen for the Museum of Modern Art’s Organic Design in Home Furnishings contest in 1940.
It was the event that announced the arrival of both designers with their joint entries winning in both the chair design and the living room categories.
Not only did the winners have their work exhibited in New York from September 4-November 9, 1941, but they were also awarded contracts for manufacture and distribution.
As indicated by a manufacturer’s label to the underside, the Eames and Saarinen chair was made by the Gardner, Massachusetts, firm Heywood-Wakefield with the complex Honduran mahogany shell created by the Haskelite Corporation using an iron mould.
However, although stocked by department stores from the day the exhibition opened, full-scale production of the chair never happened due to the US’s impending involvement in the Second World War.
This chair, previously owned by Lilian Swann Saarinen, first wife of Eero Saarinen, was last sold in May 2003 at Wright in Chicago when it realised $30,000. This time, estimated at $10,000-15,000, it sold for $24,000 (£19,300).
Wood replaces metal
A set of four chairs to one of Jean Prouvé’s best-known plywood designs, the Tout Bois, took $28,000 (£22,400). The form was first made in metal in 1934 but Prouvé adapted it many times throughout his career.
During the Second World War, Prouvé worked with the Vauconsant Company to produce the chair in wood due to the scarcity of metal. The earliest wartime examples, such as these c.1941, feature a frame of solid oak with side tenons passing through the back frame.
Bought by the consignor from New York dealership Sebastian + Barquet, in 2010, they were guided at $20,000-30,000.