Telling the Age of Your Vintage (or Newer) Eames Lounge

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The most common way of determining the age of an Eames lounge chair is by knowing what the leather cushions contain. The lounge was originally designed in 1956 with 100-percent down and duck feather fill.

OK, now that you have discovered if that Eames lounge is real or fake (The Iconic Eames Lounge Chair; Is That One Real or Fake?), how do you determine its age? Because these chairs were mass-produced, certain parts, pieces and custom orders floated from year to year, so using exact years to date an Eames lounge often does not work. I have used years in this article as examples of periods between design changes, not as an exact science of dating a chair. Instead of determining the year the chair was manufactured; let’s refer to the design as “Series 1 production,” “Series 2 production,” and so on.

The most common way of determining the age of the chair is by knowing what the leather cushions contain. The lounge was originally designed in 1956 with 100-percent down and duck feather fill. After several years, most of the chairs were made with a mix of down feathers and foam. The reason for this change was that Charles Eames, the designer, didn’t like how the cushions became flat and unsightly after years of use. Eventually, sometime around 1971, all of the Eames lounge chairs were made with a mix of foam and fiber fill, no more feathers.

However, custom options were still offered to the public, and there is evidence of the lounge being offered with 100-percent foam cushions as early as 1960. A good way to confirm the age of the frame/cushions of the chair is to see if the clips, which hold the cushions to the wood shells, are circular and silver in color. If so, these are pre-1971 clips. After 1971, the clips became long, thin and black in color.

The earliest production chairs had push-on rubber “boot” glides on the feet of the ottoman.

The earliest production chairs had push-on rubber “boot” glides on the feet of the ottoman.

This design stems from the ottoman base being used originally as a side chair base, which was only designed to accept boot glides.

A side chair base, which was only designed to accept boot glides, was used as the original ottoman base.

A lesser-known way of determining a chair’s age is by close inspection of the foot glides on the ottoman. The earliest production chairs had push-on rubber “boot” glides on the feet of the ottoman. This design stems from the ottoman base being used originally as a side chair base, which was only designed to accept boot glides. When this base was adapted for use on the ottoman, customer complaints poured in. It turns out the boot glides were easily lost and not adjusting like the glides on the lounge chair base. This changed the design and called for the ottoman to receive adjustable, screw-in glides (domes of silence), which match the chair.

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First-year production can also be confirmed by the armrests carrying three screws instead of the more common two screws. These screws hold the arms to the frame. If you have an Eames lounge set and the ottoman has boot glides and the armrests have three screws, rejoice! It is of the earliest examples and about as close to 1956 as you can get!

Some say the chair can be dated by the wood type, which was mainly Brazilian rosewood veneer. This is more a question of desirability than age, as Rosewood was used for the Eames lounge until that particular wood species was discontinued in 1990 due to harvesting restrictions. Now, the lounge is made of walnut, cherry and palisander, which is a fairly close match to the original rosewood, but not as rich or vibrant when it comes to the wood grain.

The original round Eames label.

The original round Eames label.

The black horizontal label was used from the 1970s into the 1990s.

The black horizontal label was used from the 1970s into the 1990s.

The most recent label is the silver horizontal label.

The most recent label is the silver horizontal label.

Labels can also help with the dating of your chair. The round disc is the earliest label design, and was used from 1956 to the 1970s. The black horizontal label was used from the 1970s into the 1990s, while the most recent label is the silver horizontal label.

There is some debate as to the illusive “swivel ottoman” and whether it was part of the first production run by Herman Miller in 1956. Some suggest the chairs were produced with swivel ottomans up until 1958. If this were the case, however, more lounge chairs with swivel ottomans would have turned up on the open market, especially with the popularity of this design and the number of chairs produced during the first two years. In 15-plus years of dealing with this design, I have never seen a swivel ottoman nor heard of one coming to market.

I have spent the last several weeks researching the swivel ottoman and found nothing to show the swivel ottomans were mass-produced. After speaking with numerous other experts, auctioneers, collectors and dealers, only one person had heard rumor of a swivel ottoman being seen in India and owned by a company (now former) where the Eameses designed their offices in the mid 1950s.

The swivel ottomans were obviously part of the prototypical run of this design in 1955, early 1956. What I do know is the first 10 chairs or so were produced at the Eames Office in California, and not mass-produced by Herman Miller. These chairs most likely had swivel ottomans, and evidence of this is seen in the Eames Lounge Chair video which aired on the Arlene Francis Home Show in 1956. As far as the swivel ottoman goes, it is as rare as hen’s teeth! If you know of a swivel ottoman out there ,or one that has been sold, please send me some info on it as it would be very intriguing to hear some history! Oh, by the way, the swivel mechanisms involved a bronze ring so if a bronze ring is missing, then the ottoman has most likely been doctored or it is fake.

Values can range quite a bit when it comes to selling or buying and Eames lounge. Because the chairs are still in production by Herman Miller, the older chairs will bring the highest prices if the condition is acceptable. If you want to purchase new, you can expect to spend around $3,500 from Herman Miller or an authorized dealer, or more if you upgrade the chair with certain options. A newer “used” chair usually sells in the $2,400 to $2,900 range. The earliest versions fetch anywhere from $4,000 to $5,000 or more—according to recent auction sales—if they are in unrepaired/very good to excellent condition.

Here is a quick, easy way to remember approximately how to date an Eames lounge if you have one or if you plan to buy one in the near future. Just remember, when it comes to buying an original Eames lounge chair for investment, the earlier the better!

SERIES 1 PRODUCTION: Silver circular clips, down cushions, boot glides to ottoman base, three (3) screws to armrests.
SERIES 2 PRODUCTION: Silver circular clips, down cushions, adjustable/screw glides to ottoman, two (2) screws to armrests.
SERIES 3 PRODUCTION: Long black clips, foam cushions, adjustable/screw glides to ottoman, two (2) screws to armrests.
SERIES 4 PRODUCTION: Any lounge produced after 1990.

I would like to thank Daniel Ostroff from Eames Office for his help in providing images and info for this article. Further informative and historical information regarding Charles and Ray Eames can be found at the following sites:

www.eamesoffice.com
www.eamesfoundation.org
www.vintage-eames.com

For very specific questions regarding your Eames item, you can contact Daniel Ostroff via e-mail at vintage@eamesoffice.com. He is not an appraiser; those types of questions should be directed to me.

Other articles about the Eames Lounge Chair by Bradley Downs:

The Iconic Eames Lounge Chair; Is That One Real or Fake?
How to Tell if a Eames Lounge Chair Has Been Repaired

Bradley Downs is a Worthologist who specializes in mid century modern furniture and the owner of www.odd2mod.com in Atlanta, Ga.

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