Saturday, June 7, 2003

Metal furniture soon was made for the masses

Antiques detective

By Anne Gilbert
Enquirer contributor

The design world ridiculed Marcel Breuer when he introduced metal furniture in 1924. His early version used steel tubing and the designs were inspired by the bentwood pieces of the Vienna Secession.

This was the first time that steel, an industrial material, was used for home interiors. However, when Breuer's tubular steel and modular furniture was shown at the 1927 Salon des Artistes De'corateurs, the designs had become simplified and were on their way to being mass-produced during the Art Deco era.

Tubular aluminum and chromed furniture made early appearances in kitchens. It was the table with the Formica top. It also showed up in beauty shops and diners in the 1940s and '50s.

But at the same time, metal had gone upscale, with designers using it to create quality furniture.

An early metal furniture design was the stacking chair with a tubular steel frame, first mass-produced by the Thonet Co. It was quickly adapted for use in restaurants, concert halls and other businesses.

One of the company's important designers was Charles Edouard Jeanneret, known as Le Corbusier.

Carrying out the new philosophy that fine design should be affordable and available to the masses, Le Corbusier used simple materials, such as canvas held taut by spring fastenings, to cover the chairs. One of his best-known chairs used pony skin stretched between metal tube supports.

Both of these chairs would sell for thousands today - so much for "affordable to the masses."

Designer Arieto "Harry" Bertoia (1915-1978) decided from the beginning of his career to use only one medium for his work: metal. His legacy includes not just furniture but also jewelry, holloware and art.

Nevertheless, what Bertoia is best known for is the metal and wire furniture he made for Knoll Associates. His "diamond armchair, model 421-1" is still made.

In these days of Internet buying and selling, the "secondhand furniture" store has all but disappeared. It was once the mother lode for treasures from the '40s, '50s and '60s. Now the owners have become "dealers of Modernism."

Since many pieces have been reissued and reproduced, collectors need to do some research and know their dealer or auction house. Not every piece of "Deco" or "Modern" furniture is worth the hefty price tag.


Question: I received a piece of china 25 years ago that has coat of arms motif and two handles. On the bottom it says: "Paragon. By appointment, a perpetual souvenir in Paragon china to commemorate the visit of their majesties King George VI & Queen Elizabeth to Canada and the United States of America 1939. Made in England." Do you know anything about this piece ?

Answer: Your loving cup is a British Royalty commemorative piece and very collectible. They have been made since Queen Victoria's reign. Its value is about $150.

Contact Anne Gilbert by mail: c/o Cincinnati Enquirer, 312 Elm St., Cincinnati 45202. Photos cannot be returned.

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