You could, quite literally, be sitting on hidden treasure. That old rocking chair in the corner of granny’s bedroom, or the dining chairs you’ve sat on since you were a child could very well turn out to be valuable collectibles - worth some serious money.
Because it’s not just toffs with a family collection of Chippendale, Hepplewhite or Sheraton heirlooms who are sitting on valuable antiques, some iconic pieces of furniture from the 50s and 60s are also highly sought-after.
Many of us could have collectible and indeed valuable pieces of furniture in the family. Whether it’s an old chair that’s gathering dust in the loft, or a side table that’s seen better days, it’s time to start looking at granny’s old stuff in a new light.
Hip young things
If the names Arkana and Ercol don’t mean anything to you yet, they soon will. Especially if you find you have some in your home.
Dating back to as recent as the swinging sixties, Arkana furniture is now highly collectible. Hip young things who embraced the whole new era of fashion and home design would have snapped up the iconic Tulip table and chairs for their dining rooms. They were mass-produced and continue to be so by other companies copying the style, but if you find an original you’re on to a winner.
Themselves a copy of furniture designed by Eero Saarinen, they are now collectible in their own right. The table, based on the design by Saarinen was produced by Maurice Burke for Arkana, a small Dundee-based company a few years later. Today they sell for close to £2,000 for a full set; with the chairs selling for as much as £350 each in good condition.
Other collectibles, likely to catch the eye of any Arkana fan, are Burke’s leather and chrome armchairs, with their shaped leather seats slung on a chrome frame. These can fetch over £1,000 a pair.
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Could you be sitting on a sought-after piece?
Another name to look out for, from the same period, is Eames.
Eames is universally renowned for his iconic chair designs. As antiques expert Judith Miller, co-founder of the eponymous Miller’s Antiques points out, the Washington Post once said Eames "changed how the 20th century sat down".
Eames was around at the same time as Saarinen, and together they started experimenting with plywood. Today there are plenty of copy-cats designs around still being produced and selling. And indeed Eames chairs are still in production, so make sure the piece you have is a vintage original, before you start seeing pound signs.
As a rule of thumb, most Eames chairs produced after World War II were made by the Herman Miller Company and usually bear this mark. Early plywood examples show the influence of Finnish design, while later designs are typically made with a fibre-glass or plastic shell.
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Ercol dining table: CC by Jez Nicholson
‘Ugly’ Ercol now desirable
Another name to keep an eye out for is Ercol. Once everywhere on the high street, Ercol furniture is now highly collectible, with pieces selling for upwards of £150 a pop.
Bea Bradburn, a collector of vintage furniture says she remembers Ercol furniture on sale at shops on the high street when it was first produced.
“A department store down the road from us sold it and I remember my parents didn’t like it one bit. They certainly didn’t want it in their home. They thought it was rather ugly!
“But times change and that very rustic feel that Ercol has is what appeals to collectors today.”
Mark Hill, co-author of Miller's Collectables Price Guide, says you should keep your eyes peeled for Ercol pieces from the 60s and 70s, especially the nest of three ‘pebble’ tables, particularly the ones in blonde wood. They now sell for as much as £300 each.
As he says: "You'd imagine it’s just the sort of furniture sitting unloved in a corner somewhere."
What to do if you find some
Mark Dodgson, from the British Antique Dealers Association says if you do find some Arkana, Ercol or Eames furniture at home, says it’s wise to resist the temptation to stick them on eBay and instead get a proper valuation.
As he says: “It’s tough for the uninitiated to estimate the value of something, and expectations of the value of their possessions often exceed what they’re actually worth.”
But if you’re an eager seller, a trawl through the internet should give you a pretty good idea of their potential value. Numerous vintage and pre-loved furniture shops sell the likes of Arkana and Ercol, and are often keen to buy pieces to sell on to eager clients.
Do remember though that the popularity of individual designers, eras and even styles of furniture ebbs and flows. At the moment 50s and 60s if sought after, while experts say Victorian furniture is currently less in vogue that it has been in the past.
Also bear in mind that the financial downturn can affect prices. So if you’re feeling the squeeze and hoping to make a quick buck from an old piece of furniture, you might get less than you’d like.
However, if nothing else, you know you have a highly sought-after piece of furniture in your possession that, with a bit of luck and some TLC, will only increase in value as time goes on.