Forget About Price Guides; for Mid Century Modern Furniture, Look for Reference Guides
By Bradley Downs
With the advent of the Internet and the numerous auction houses started across the country over the past 10 years, I no longer like to use the term, “Price Guide.” The reason being is that there really is no set guide for pricing Mid Century Modern, as there are way too many variables when it comes down to it. Your best bet when researching MCM is to get some good reference books, many of which will show prices, but you should ignore the stated amounts as most of the prices are outdated or inflated.
These reference books are there to help you a mental picture of what to look for and when you do see something, it will then be up to you to decide what a fair price is. Of course the lower the price the better, but anyone looking for a bargain knows where to start, whether it be a thrift store, flea market or estate sale. Below are a few books of reference that I prefer. They are informative, fun to read, and most all can still be purchased today either online or through your local bookseller. I will also list a couple books which are out of print (OOP) and are a little harder to find but are worth it in the end. The Internet is a great place to reference as well but nothing compares to a good read!
1.) Mid Century Modern, by Cara Greenberg. This is one of the first MCM books ever published and it is still one of my favorites. A ton of pictures and a good history behind the items pictured with a touch of nostalgia to the book itself.
2.) Classic Herman Miller, by Schiffer. This book goes through the history of the Herman Miller Furniture Company and takes note of its most notable designers such as Charles Eames, George Nelson and Isamu Noguchi.
3.) Knoll Furniture 1938-1960, by Schiffer. This book will carry you through the Knoll Furniture years from beginning to 1960. A ton of history and a ton of pics from the original Knoll catalogs!
4.) Contemporary, by Lesley Jackson, OOP. This is a thick and very interesting book which covers 20th century American Modern Design and architecture. The perfect “coffee table” book!
5.) High Styles, by Summit Books of New York, OOP. This book is an excellent read, very informative and descriptive! Each chapter is started with a commentary by some of the greatest designers of the 20th century, in their own words. Definitely add this one to your MCM book collection as soon as you can.
There is literally 10 times the number of books mentioned above, and most are available today but many simply carry the same stuff as the next one. Start a good library with the basics and then move on to the other books which go into lighting and accessories. Even old Sotheby’s or Christie’s auction catalogs are great to have on hand as you then get to study some really obscure pieces. Good luck!
Bradley Downs is owner of www.odd2mod.com in Atlanta, Ga.