How to Value: 20th Century Design

Learn about how to value 20th Century Design, with our valuations and appraisals experts. Discover what to look out for and how it can impact the value.

20th Century Design

As the 20th century progressed, there was a greater and greater inclination towards the use of inexpensive materials in the manufacture of furniture and domestic wares. Without true ‘antique’ appeal either, it is usually the design of a 20th century piece that gives it its value and current fashion determines whether a piece will of interest to home-buyers, collectors, both, or neither.

Valuing Modern Items

Hailing from the middle of the 20th century along-side the onset of mass-production and development of plastics, the value of Modernist pieces are sometimes overlooked because of they are not rare and are primarily functional. In reality, some iconic furniture designs routinely fetch 4- or even 5-figure sums; these pieces aren’t valued for their rarity but for their embodiment of the style or period.

Because of the ubiquity of many designs, it is important that pieces are original or early examples and are in very good condition in order to sell well. Many designs are still in production in which case marks, stamps or labels, usually found on the base, reverse or inside, can be used to ascertain when a piece was made and by whom. When it comes to condition, the material needs to be taken into account. Plastic items are hard to restore and with time and use can be susceptible to cracking, scratching or fading if in direct sunlight. As with any wooden furniture, Modern pieces can attract woodworm or be damaged, either of which will greatly affect their value. Signs of repairs or restoration, including reupholstering or replaced parts have a similar effect.

Valuing Art Deco Items

As with modern pieces, Art Deco items which evoke their era are often most sought after. As a collector’s style, Art Deco has only grown in popularity since it first regained favour amongst collectors in the 1970s. As a result, pieces members of top design schools such as Bauhaus, the Cotswold School or the Cranbrook Academy of Art or pieces with a provenance linking them to exhibitions or the interior schemes of notable architects such as Frank Lloyd Wright, Ruhlmann or Le Corbusier have an added value. Furthermore, early examples of many European designs are more valuable as their designs were sometimes sold to larger furniture manufacturers from the 1940s. Identifying pieces can sometimes prove challenging; some have maker’s marks and others model-numbers, but in many cases it was manufacturing or distribution companies that marked pieces and so are not immediately attributable to a particular designer without an expert opinion.

Valuing Post-Modernist Designs

Because of its incredible variety, Post-Modern furniture, art and domestic wares are often the hardest to value. To make things worse, Post-Modern pieces sometimes come across as very dated, other times as appealingly artistic. On the other hand, pieces are usually well marked and can follow similar trends to Modern pieces in terms of value; pieces which echo their design epoch are generally most valuable and may of the materials used, in particular plastics, are difficult to restore and so condition is crucial. Because of their artistic focus, many designers made one-off or very limited edition pieces and their scarcity, if good designs, can grant them the highest value of Post-Modern pieces.

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