Identifying Vintage Eames LCM Chairs

Front view of Eames LCM aniline chair
Front view of Eames LCM aniline chair

Over the weekend I found a pair of Eames aniline LCM (Lounge Chairs Metal) in the wild.  I had truly given up hope of finding any more vintage Eames LCW or LCMs out in the wilds of used furniture shops and flea-markets.  They are such iconic chairs, and far fewer of the Eames plywood chairs were made than say, the fiberglass Eames shell chairs, that I figured I would have to pony up at an auction or go to a dealer if I wanted any more.

The pair of black aniline LCMs
The pair of black aniline LCMs

Yet low and behold we found a pair of the black LCMs at a wonderful vintage/junk/estate sale store which I regularly drive over an hour to check out.  It’s packed to the rafters with odds and ends, and you never know what you will find if you have a few hours to dig.  My favorite kind of store.  When found them the backs of the chairs had been glued on upside down (since corrected).

Since there are tons of gorgeous photos of these chairs all over the web I thought I’d try to post something useful about them, rather than just pretty photos.  I figure some tips about how to identify and authenticate the original/ vintage production chairs would be the most useful.  Since all kinds of shady people have tried to pass off fakes as authentic vintage chairs

Side view of the LCM
Side view of the LCM

First, off these chairs were first produced by Evans Molded Plywood in California from 1946-47 for Herman Miller, after that production was moved to Herman Miller facilities in Michigan.  Evans productions are the earliest versions of the chair and they command higher prices because of this. (A good chart showing the years certain woods/colors were used is found on the LCW wikipedia article here.) I won’t go into all the specifics of Evans production in this post, and it gets down to screws and screw patterns for some.

I own a LCW (Lounge Chair Wood) Evans production chair and when I do a post on it I will get into the nitty gritty, for this post we are going to concentrate on the Herman Miller Michigan production, which are what these black LCM chairs are, as are the majority of other plywood chairs.  Note the information below is specifically for vintage HM LCM chairs (the metal and plywood chairs) but in most cases they hold true for the LCWs as well. (and DCW (Dining Chair Wood) and DCM (Dining Chair Metal) chairs.

TIPS TO IDENTIFY AUTHENTIC VINTAGE EAMES LCM CHAIRS – HERMAN MILLER PRODUCTION

DATE STAMP OR LABEL: 

"4 52" Date stamp painted on bottom of LCM
“4 52” Date stamp painted on bottom of LCM

The chairs I found were early Herman Miller production – made in April of 1952 to be exact.  How do I know that? Because these early black HM chairs have date stamps on the bottom.  The date stamps is an easy way to authenticate early HM production. They were always done on the black aniline plywood chairs because the black color made it necessary to spray stencil on a date for it to show up. I believe the same is for the rare red aniline version of the chair. Not all of the natural wood (Rosewood, Birch, Walnut, Oak, Teak, Cherry, etc..) chairs had a date stamp applied.

If your lucky the chairs might retain a Herman Miller foil label, an example of one is here.  (The modern production chairs, being produced by Herman Miller in the last 15 years now use a small black plastic plaque with the Herman Miller name on it.  These are not vintage chairs but are at least authentic production. Except for a few years the plywood chairs have been constant production by Herman Miller or Vitra (the European company licensed to produce the design) since 1947.) When people say “authentic chairs’ they mean produced by Herman Miller (or Vitra) the company that holds the license for the design.  In the last decade plenty of Chinese companies have been imitating and copying this chair. When it comes to market value the knock off are virtually worthless and will stay that way.  (I despise the influx of cheap, inferior Chinese knock-offs.)

Underside of chair, line to right of the vertical metal bar is an example of dilapidation.
Underside of chair, line to right of the vertical metal bar is an example of dilapidation. 3 shock mounts w/ original screws are visible too.

PLYWOOD DILAPIDATION
One thing a con artist cannot fake is plywood dilapidation.  Even the best cared for and stored plywood will suffer a small amount of dilapidation, which basically amounts to some separation of the veneer.  In the photo to the left you can see the line running up the entire backside of the chair, that is an example of dilapidation and will occur on the underside of vintage chairs.

SHOCKMOUNTS
Once again, even the best cared for LCMs and LCWs will show signs of their age.  The shock mounts (The black rubber-like disc on the backs of the chairs ) will harden and be a bit brittle.  In the worst case scenario the shock mounts can be completely dry rotted and must be replaced.  However, in a well cared for chair they have just become more brittle and delicate.

FEET
Sadly loss of the original feet on LCW and LCM is extremely common.  I was very luck to find

Original Feet, aka Domes of Silence
Original Feet, aka Domes of Silence

chairs that had all their feet in tact, which gives me a chance to show you what the originals look like.  These are called “Domes of silence” since they were designed not to squeak and screech on floors when being moved.  Similar replacement feet have been made, but there are differences if you bother to compare.

SCREWS?
You will hear a lot of talk about screws and screw patterns as a way to ID LCW/ LCM chairs, but this is usually concerned with the early Evans production chairs.  The screws changed over the years and vary on certain chair models.  Unless you are trying to ID an early Evans production chair, there are far better things to focus on for identification purposes.

METAL
On a vintage production LCM you can expect to find some degree of pitting on the metal.  Some will be far worse than others, but chrome that is 50 plus years old will show signs of deterioration. If the chrome metal is shiny and perfect, it is fairly recent production. However, don’t let signs of pitting and deterioration convince you its vintage either.  Cheap chrome plating can look awful after only a year or two of humid conditions.  Sadly some sellers will even expose metal to corrosive materials or water to fake signs of age and use.

The Back Rest mounting, shock mounts and shows some pitting on metal.
The Back Rest mounting, shock mounts and shows some pitting on metal.

One more important detail….CHECK for REWELDS
Not an ID point exactly, but a buyer beware tip for vintage LCMs. These chairs could have had a lot of abuse over the years and many times the metal welds snapped or broke.  So it’s important to check and see if any re-welds have been done.  You want a chair with welds in tact, if they aren’t or if re-welds have been done your chair is probably not going to be structurally sound.

There is lots of other details and identifying features for these chairs, but it breaks down into specific production years and models.  The above is just a good general check list.  If you know more about which type of chair you have, and think you know the general era of production, you can dig even deeper to verify it.  But hopefully the above is a good start if you are inspecting a chair or thinking of buying it.  If you are buying via mid-century modern dealer they should easily be able to explain and point to all of the identifying features to prove any claims about production and age they make. However, always do your homework.

As a parting shot I wanted to include a photo of several Eames chairs together (and one Knoll tulip chair) to give you an idea of size and height on these chairs.  If you’ve never happened to see a LCW or LCM chair in person you might be surprised at exactly how low to the ground the chair are. (In fact I’ve heard some people refer to them as “Low Chair Metal” rather than lounge due to this.)  The photo below has a doorknob in the shot so you can judge the scale.  This is one of the main difference between the lounge and dining (DCM) versions of the chair – and lounge chair seats are wider.  The dining chairs are a few inches higher so they can comfortable match up with a table.

4 Eames chairs together, w/ 1 Knoll tulip chair. Door in photo shows scale.
4 Eames chairs together, w/ 1 Knoll tulip chair. Door in photo shows scale.
Advertisements

4 Comments

Add yours →

  1. Hi I enjoyed your comments , I have just found 3 lcm chairs all original in a garage they had been there for 12 years all but one needs minor repair they all have the original detail you explained . I live in Victoria , Australia I bought these chairs for $80, I am very excited about the find long live mid century kind regards Paul

    • Hi Paul: You may want to do some digging about your chairs. I remember years ago a man posted photos of some LCM chairs he found in Australia on a forum called Design Addict, but while they looked very close there little odd differences on them that some of the experts noticed. I can’t remember how it was resolved, it seemed that at one point (maybe before Vitra (their licensee in Europe) started importing to Australia) that another company was producing Eames type chairs for the Australian market. I can’t remember if it was ever determined if these were official sanctioned Eames chairs or if these were early “bootleg” chairs someone enterprising Australian company made. Either way it was very interesting and should be investigated further. (Of course, you could have some actual American Herman Miller production to that were imported to OZ but that seems unlikely, but not impossible, if they are truly more than 40 years old.) Cheers!

  2. My old black LCM from Herman Miller HK has 2 sinken screw fixtures on the front surface of back plywood, which I haven’t found at anywhere.

    • Sadly, that’s because someone tried to permanently “screw on” the back piece. HM/Eames chair back piece is mounted with shock mounts on the back, specifically to avoid marring the look of the back rest on the front, but age and use can make the back rest detach from mount. (It’s a common issue) Unfortunately, some people will simple screw them on to “fix” the chairs and ruin a major design feature of the chair by doing so. Always avoid chairs that have screws holes on the seat or back rest because some amateur has done it as a bad fix to the chair- and it can ruin the value too.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: