Interest in vintage furniture is at an all time high with shows and auctions commanding top-dollar for your grandmother’s tired old Danish modern dining set. Scores of national chain retailers such as Design Within Reach, Modernica and Room & Board offer good replicas of many pieces, or contemporary licensed “originals”. But when buying vintage – whether from a dealer or an individual – how do you know you’re getting an authentic piece? A trained eye knows how to spot the details.
If you’re buying new, there’s only one source for an original – Cassina. They’ve held the exclusive worldwide rights since 1964, granted by the Fondation Le Corbusier. Cassina has their own stores in select cities and sell through other retailers everywhere. So if you want the real thing, just ask if it’s made by Cassina and check the tag and paperwork that comes with it. But if you’re buying vintage, know what to look for and never take the dealer’s word for it – it’s amazing how often they’re wrong.
Here are my rules for buying a vintage Corbusier LC series chair:
Rule 1: If it’s cheap, it’s fake. An authentic LC2 or LC3 Grand Confort chair starts at $3,200 new and prices range from $2,000 and up for good vintage pieces. If you think you’re getting a bargain for much less than that, the joke’s on you.
Rule 2: Just because it’s expensive doesn’t mean it’s real. There are a lot of good fakes – some are even better-made than the real thing – but they are not going to retain their value like the real thing. And ignorant (or ambitious) sellers can ask outrageous prices.
Rule 3: Know where to find the serial number. On Le Corbusier’s LC2 and LC3 chairs, feel under the upper-most chrome bar on the left arm of the chair. Authentic chairs have a serial number etched into the chrome – you can feel the bumps with your fingers. On some vintage pieces, the placement of the serial number may vary – sometimes it’s behind the backrest or on the right arm bar – but most years it was on the left side.
From the Cassina website: “According to the designer’s heirs “all pieces of furniture which do not bear the logotype Cassina, the signature of Le Corbusier and the production number are counterfeits”. All authentic Le Corbusier furniture is indelibly marked with the indicia shown below.”
A great side-by-side analysis of the real thing vs. a knock-off can be seen here.
If you can’t afford the real thing but want a good fake, look at the weld seams and the legs. The legs should end cleanly with a chrome end-piece – not with a rubber cap and not with tapered ends.
Learn about how to tell a real Eames Lounge Chair 670 and Ottoman 671 here. And in future postings, I will write about Mies van der Rohe’s “Barcelona” chair and ottoman, Noguchi’s coffee table, Arne Jacobsen’s “Egg” and “Swan” chairs, and other iconic – and often imitated pieces.