Collecting can make a worthwhile investment. From collectibles to fine art, collecting can be an enjoyable and rewarding form of investment. In this post, we explore antique furniture buying for investment.
Firstly, ‘buy what you love’. While perhaps cliche, successful collectors show that following your passion is essential to success. As when choosing art for investment, it is important to explore and develop your tastes. When you know what you love, instinctually and intellectually, you are well-positioned to make sound investments.
Secondly, ‘buy the best you can afford and ensure it is the real deal’. Makes sense. However, how can you evaluate a piece and appreciate its quality?
[If] you want to hedge your investment there are a few golden rules that should apply when you evaluate an object. Condition, proportion / design, rarity, surface, provenance, and quality all contribute to both the success and monetary value of a piece.Town and Country Magazine
In other words, considerations of authenticity, condition, quality and so forth, determine the overall investment value of a piece. Let’s look more closely at each of these considerations before diving into a real-world example.
Understanding Antique Furniture
Evaluating antique furniture begins with research. Building intellectual capital around the kinds of pieces you love forms the basis of your ability to judge a piece’s merits. That is, visit galleries, meet with knowledgable collectors, read news and articles from the community of collectors. In this way, you can develop a level of expertise.
Become an expert or at least knowledgeable enough to distinguish the fabulous from the fake. Try to learn from a pro who has no financial stake in helping you—say, another collector rather than a dealer. (If you can’t become an expert yourself, find one you trust to guide your purchases.)Forbes
From this starting point, you can assess the particular merits of any individual piece.
Many factors can influence an antique’s rarity. For instance, ‘rare’ can mean scarce. That is, the object itself is an uncommon example of its type. Alternatively, ‘rare’ can mean atypical in other ways, such as a very well-documented provenance.
Provenance is an item’s verifiable history or its source. In other words, antique furniture often comes with a story. A story about where an item came from, who fashioned it, people who owned it and so on. Provenance is evidence to support that story. The stronger that evidence, the more value it can impart to a piece. Provenance on its own cannot guarantee value. However, for items with great rarity, surface and quality provenance will add value.
Antique furniture derives much of its unique beauty from the colour and surface of original materials. Moreover, pieces with well-cared for and beautifully worn surfaces exhibit great authenticity. As you can see, antique furniture may have many layers of value, ie a rare piece with great provenance and superb surface. Now, add quality to this list.
The quality of antique furniture refers to an item’s craftsmanship. For example, the detail and execution of carving. Or the construction techniques and materials used.
In summary, a number of factors contribute to the investment value of antique furniture. Clearly, the more robust each of these factors, the higher the cost for an item. In turn, that cost represents the longer-term value and potential investment return for a piece. While antique furniture can be a great investment, there are also opportunities to store and accumulate value in vintage pieces.
Antique vs Vintage Furniture
Debates among experts aside, the generally accepted definition of antique furniture is anything over 100 years old. Of course, factors such as rarity, provenance and etc also play a part. Therefore, some experts argue that ‘antique’ equates to ‘masterpiece’. Thus, many widely produced early-twentieth century items are excluded as antiques.
So what about modern furniture? Mid-century modern design appeals to many collectors. However, it is neither old enough to be antique furniture nor is it recent enough to be simply ‘used’ or ‘second hand furniture‘. For authentic examples of modern design, the term ‘vintage’ might be better.
[For] the term vintage to accurately apply to it, an item should be somewhat representational and recognizable as belonging to the era in which it was madeApartment Therapy
The same factors that add value to antique furniture apply to vintage furniture. That is rarity, provenance, surface, quality and so on. Indeed, as poor-quality imitations can be more common for modern design, authenticity and quality can be even more important considerations for vintage furniture.
Authentic Vintage Furniture: Cassina Le Corbusier Chair LC-4
Let’s look at an example: the Le Corbusier Chair LC-4 by Cassina. First produced in 1928 by Swiss and French architects – Le Corbusier, Pierre Jeanneret and Charlotte Perriand – the chair was designed as ‘nine ways to sit’. Made to last a lifetime, original pieces are very rare. While relatively young, the combination of provenance, rarity, design and quality mean that originals command prices in the hundreds of thousands. Yes, far in excess of £100,000!
This icon of twentieth-century decorative arts was so expensive to produce that only 172 were made between 1928 and 1935. However, in 1965 Le Corbusier granted Cassina exclusive international rights to reproduce his chaise longue. Indeed, Cassina, high-end Italian furniture design and manufacturer, continues to produce them to this day.
However, as is often the case with iconic design, many lower-end manufacturers got on the bandwagon. Now, there are many copies or ‘Corbusier style’ versions available. Often poorly made, these copies cannot offer you any investment value.
Vintage Furniture Buying: Sorting the Wheat from the Chaff
So, what to look out for. Firstly, Cassina always stamped the base. Check the top chrome tube at headend. This stamp indicates the date of manufacture. The earlier the better. Moreover, you can check the number with Cassina themselves to identify when it was produced. In this way, you can confirm the provenance of the item. This mark of authenticity speaks to both the quality of the item and its overall value.
Next, inspect the condition. Are the springs, straps, headrest and buckles all original? Here you are gauging the surface of the piece. For instance, you should be looking at a fair amount of patina on the buckles and leather. The cushion should be quite thin as more recent copies use thicker, foam bases. Likewise, check the condition and quality of the stitching.
Before You Buy
Once you believe you are looking at a genuine Cassina LC-4, dig deeper into the item’s provenance. Find out it if the piece comes with original paperwork. What other information proves the piece’s provenance? Similarly, who has owned the piece? The fewer owners, the better. Finally, is the person/dealer you are buying from legitimate? Do they offer a guarantee of originality?
As with all purchases take your time and if in doubt do your own research. Expect to pay £1500 for a newer poor condition example, and up to £15,000 for an older example in fine condition. In terms of investment, you can’t really go wrong with these, as long as you have properly assessed the provenance and quality of the piece. As true icons of design, they will always be collectable.
Finding Quality Modern Furniture
MRS FOX isn’t your typical furniture shop in Cambridge. As degree-qualified valuers, we specialise in buying, selling and sourcing authentic pieces of 20th-century design, fine art and decorative arts. So, browse our shop online, or contact us to learn more.