20th Century Antiques

Last century's creativity is now appreciated, collectible

French Art Deco barrel back chair circa 1930.

Photo courtesy of The Levison & Cullen Gallery.

As each century passes, the furniture and decorative arts of the previous 100 years automatically become more valuable. And now that we've entered a new millennium, more importance is being placed on the furniture and decorative arts of the 20th century.
Designs that were once thought of as too avant-garde, too funky or too creative for functional use in a home are now appreciated for the bold thinking and originality that went into making these pieces. Investing in pieces from this era is a smart idea because many of the items are very affordable. This often overlooked but valuable market is worth investigating.
There are many furniture designers of the 20th century who are highly regarded as the best and most collectible. In fact, museums around the world own pieces by these architects, designers and artists and are currently expanding their collections. If you plan to start collecting, acquaint yourself with the designers and the authentic pieces since reproductions are widely available.
Beware of fakes
As with previous periods, there are always copies and fakes that can be confused with the originals. 20th century furniture carries marks, labels and various other means of establishing authenticity. Remember: Mass manufacturing in the 20th century made furnishings of that period more available and more frequently copied, so they should be priced according to fair market value.

The originality, creativity and success of certain furniture designers insure that their designs will always command high prices. Realistically, not many people are going to be able to afford a Rhulman suite of living room furniture since it runs well into the six-figure price range. However, there are many designers and many forms that are still available on the market at affordable prices, and are still very valuable to a 20th-century furniture collection.

The Eames chair, for example, is a virtual requirement in a 20th-century collection. While there are numerous reproductions and copies of this chair, there still are originals available at very affordable prices. Mies van der Rhoe creations are reproduced by Knoll though you can find originals for sale that are reasonably priced.
American Art Deco chest of drawers circa 1940,

Photo courtesy of The Levison & Cullen Gallery.

Look for unattributable pieces
Some 20th-century furniture and decorative arts are not attributable but have great lines and are appropriate for the time in which they were produced. While these pieces may not appreciate in value as much as the attributable ones, they are fun to collect, easy to find, relatively inexpensive and will still appreciate.
These creations are usually fun, funky and kitschy, and comprise most of the 20th-century furniture market because of mass production. Some examples include kitschy dinette sets from the '50s or bean bag chairs of the '70s.
Collectors can choose from the authentic original pieces; period pieces that have no attribution; and kitschy, fun pieces that showcase the attitudes of the day. Whatever your interest, enjoy the furnishings of the 20th century – they were made to be challenging, interesting, entertaining and functional. You can collect at any price range in this market, and it is easy to do the research. So head out to flea markets, estate sales and dealers. Collecting is fun and a great investment!

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