Antiques dealers pick 20th century objects of lasting value

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Are those sleek, elegant, modern, bentwood upholstered armchairs by Tiffany and Tiffany in Murphy Brown's living room destined for prime time at antiques shows a century from now?

Will chrome and glass cocktail tables endure? What about Barbie dolls?

Terrific opportunities are coming to see and buy the best of 20th century design. Sanford Smith's annual Modernism show is scheduled for Nov. 19-22 at New York's Seventh Regiment Armory, and clones are proliferating throughout the country. Sotheby's is auctioning dealer Barry Friedman's landmark collection of modern design in New York Nov. 19, and Cincinnati's Don Treadway is holding another of his popular 20th century furnishings auctions Nov. 15 at the John Toomey Gallery in Oak Park, Ill.

Just in time for these sales, scores of antiques dealers, decorators, and collectors around the country were asked to do the impossible: gaze into a crystal ball and predict what 20th century creations may be hot 100 years from now. What follows is a hit parade of some of this century's classics, arranged by decade.

1900s

"Lamps by Louis Comfort Tiffany will endure, they look Art Nouveau and, like 19th century antiques, have beautiful hand-craftsmanship and display a Victorian preoccupation with nature," says Alastair Duncan, author of "Louis Comfort Tiffany" a biography just published by Abrams ($39.95). The market is rebounding: a rare Spider Web lamp was offered at Sotheby's yesterday with a $400,000 to $600,000 pre-sale estimate.

More affordable pieces include small gold-colored Favrille glass vases and bowls (prices start at $50) and Tiffany Studios' bronze desk sets (individual pieces range from $200 to $1,500 each).

Frank Lloyd Wright chairs from the first decade of the century (and all periods) already are expensive and good bets for continued Pantheon status.

Josef Hoffmann's 670 "Sitzmachine" bentwood chair, a modern machine for sitting, manufactured by J.& J. Kohn in Vienna (circa 1908), "sums up the avant garde," according to dealer Jonathan Hallam of the Friedman Gallery in New York.

1910s

The 6.5-ounce returnable Coke bottle with the famous embossed script logo was nominated by pop culture collector Alex Shear as the instantly recognizable icon of the century. It was introduced in 1915 and used until 1955, when the shape was refined by designer Raymond Loewy, who added white lettering.

Another untraditional choice is the traditional rural mailbox, designed in 1915. "It was the fax machine of its period, heralding the information age with mail delivery. Before RFD (rural free delivery) people who lived in the country had to go to the post office for their mail," says author and photographer Richard Sexton of New Orleans, whose book "American Style" (Chronicle Books, $16.95), is a testimonial to 20th century material culture.

Gerrrit Rietveld's beech and deal wood Red/Blue constructivist chair with a sloping plank back, designed in Holland circa 1918, received many accolades.

1920s

Tubular metal cantilevered chairs are winners. Dealer Mark Isaacson of Fifty/50 in New York picks the first, designed by Dutch architect Mart Stam in 1926. Another version, "Cesca," by German architect Marcel Breuer, followed in about 1928. Then came Mies van der Rohe's popular interpretation, "MR Chair." The better-known Breuer and van der Rohe chairs have fetched up to $20,000 each; the lesser-known Stam creations are a comparative bargain at about $3,500.

1930s

For the ultimate in streamlined elegance from the era when functional design bespoke modernism, a good choice is architect Kem Weber's circa 1934 Zephyr digital clock. They now run about $750 each.

Walter Dorwin Teague's rare and expensive round "Bluebird" radio, circa 1937, made of blue-colored mirror glass by Sparton Radio Corp., is a reminder of Art Deco's lasting influence and radio's impact on American society.

"Mickey Mouse falls into the area of art nicely designed over a long time, and will endure," said auctioneer Ted Hake, of Hake's Americana and Collectibles in York, Pa.

940s

Some say the seat and back of Charles and Ray Eames' surprisingly comfortable Model LCW molded plywood Lounge chair resemble potato chips. "It's probably the most important chair of the 20th century, combining technology, new materials and a new look in seating," Mr. Isaacson said. When introduced by Herman Miller in 1947, they cost $17.85 each; today, they're $25 to $1,250 depending on condition.

1950s

Eero Saarinen's innovative and graceful circa 1956 molded plastic tulip chairs (up to $600 each) and matching tables (up to $5,000), made by Knoll, are often imitated but never equaled.

This was the age of rock and roll and the 1952 Gibson Les Paul guitar made it possible, so Mr. Sexton proclaims it a 20th century classic.

Barbie, Mattel's most famous doll, is fondly remembered by a generation of kids whose children now covet her too, Mr. Hake observed. A mint condition, original, 1959, blond Barbie can fetch up to $1,500, says dealer Irene Davis of Oak Hall, Va.

Studio glass and studio pottery by Maija Grotell, Peter Voulkos, and Gertrud and Otto Natzler will remain desirable, according to dealer Denis Gallion.

1960s

New York collector Donna Schneier says the '60s are best-remembered by works from the crafts revolution, including Wendell Castle's carved wooden furniture, Dale Chihuly's and Howard Ben Tre's glass, Albert Paley's metal jewelry, and sculptural fiber designs by Sheila Hicks, Claire Ziesler and Lenore Tawney.

1970s

Frank Gehry's innovative, durable and sculptural "Easy Edges" corrugated cardboard furniture wins hands down. Once sold in department stores, it's now found in art galleries.

Philadelphia designers Barbara and Robert Tiffany's ubiquitous and widely copied 1977 "Openers," the first frameless high-style foam chair that flipped open into a bed, remains inexpensive and handy multipurpose furniture suited for changing family patterns and lifestyles.

Oddball toys may make a comeback. "What will be rare are things that slipped through the cracks, but they must also speak of the era," predicted Carversville, Pa., auctioneer and collector Noel Barrett. "Large Star Wars action figures were a flop when new; they were too expensive, about $10-$12 each," he said, "But now they sell for about $125 each in mint-in-the-box condition."

1980s

Architect-designed furnishings defined the decade: Favorites are Robert Venturi's Chippendale Chair by Knoll, 1981, picked by Mr. Straus, and Michael Graves' limited edition silver tea sets with mock ivory handles and Bakelite accents, suggested by Ms. Schneier (they cost about $10,000 when new and now sell made-to-order for around $40,000 at the Max Protetch Gallery in New York).

Swatch Watches remain timely. "These style-conscious, mass-produced, affordable, rugged, and virtually disposable watches epitomize marketing's impact in the '80s, says Metropolitan Home magazine's antiques and collectibles columnist, "Dr. Swatch." (No relation to the watch.)

1990s

Although too early for most to hazard guesses, Mr. Shear already has cast his vote: Desert Storm Memorabilia. He's bought figures of General H. Norman Schwarzkopf and General Colin Powell, a George Bush doll, and a cache of leaflets dropped from American planes urging the Iraqis to surrender.Solis-Cohen Enterprises

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