How to Authenticate an Eames Lounge Chair
by David Rosenwasser·
Eames Lounge: a timeless classic
The classic Eames lounge chair and ottoman is easy to love and easy to hate.
Since 1956, it has been the go-to lounge chair to say "I am sophisticated" or "I know design" or "I made it."
They can be found in the trash pile on the curb in Manhattan (we've owned one of those), in grandma's attic, in your lawyer's home office or in the homes of the late Steve Jobs and countless other notable names.
Some designers may think that the chairs are overused in design projects or may be too commonplace in magazines, but we think there's probably a reason for it.
Ray and Charles Eames: the visionaries behind the icon
The Eames lounge and ottoman were designed by two of the most recognized names in design: Ray and Charles Eames.
They were instrumental in changing the landscape of modern design and modern furnishings during the post-war period up until Ray's passing in the late 1980s. Their influence continues to this day, as furnishings by the Eames can still be found around the world in every type of setting, whether produced by Herman Miller or Vitra.
Even unlicensed reproductions give some sense of how important the designers were, in that Eames designs have been some of the most copied furniture to date, along with the Barcelona chair. We've seen knockoff Eames plastic chairs with dowel bases pop up everywhere from Amazon to Marshall's.
Want to buy an Eames lounge, but not sure how?
The Eames lounge is one of the most sought after pieces of the 20th century, and what most people want to know before buying one of their own is:
- How do you know if an Eames lounge chair and ottoman is authentic?
- How can you tell when an Eames lounge was manufactured?
- How rare or valuable is an old chair and ottoman versus a new one?
In this authoritative Eames lounge buying guide, we're going to run through the chronology of the Eames lounge production and explain when changes were made and how you can tell a real from a fake.
We hope that this can be the most comprehensive resource available to understand the production of the Herman Miller Eames 670 and 671 lounge chair and ottoman.
The Holy Grail: the swivel ottoman
Look back to the debut of the Eames lounge on NBC in 1956, and you can see the "holy grail" in action.
Within the community of collectors, the Eames lounge with swiveling ottoman is the most coveted and sought-after variant, as it is the earliest traceable version.
We have considerable experience with these chairs and have a few notable details to point out.
First, it is widely believed that this version with swiveling ottoman was produced for a very short period of time—perhaps for a few weeks to a few months. Similarly, it is thought that these examples may have been produced at the Eames office in Venice, California, or otherwise nearby in California, but not at the Herman Miller facility in Zeeland, Michigan.
Of the ten or so original examples we've had, none of them were found with tags or labels on the ottoman, and we believe it's possible that the chairs also were not given labels or medallions during this production run.
The two versions of the swivel ottoman Eames Lounge set
We know that there were roughly two versions of the swivel ottoman sets, made in the 1950s.
Since Ray and Charles Eames were constantly changing and improving the design, these changes are not perfectly associated with specific timing but rather reflect methodological iterations and logical improvements.
The earliest and rarest swivel ottoman version of the Eames Lounge
This version was distinct in that it had six shock mounts (rubber bumpers) on the backrest, which were identical in size. They did not have two larger shock mounts on the headrest.
On the inside of the plywood panels, they also had a unique connection with four snapping buttons but no clips, as we see on all chairs since.
The chair also had two screws used underneath the armrests, which were located in a different location than any other lounges and ottomans. Whereas examples from the late 50s and onward had two screws closer together, this variant uniquely had two screws very far apart.
We have owned two examples with the small headrest shock mounts, as described. One of them appears more recent, in that it no longer had four buttons for the cushions and instead had a rectangular version of the pre-1971 cushion clip style. Aside from these differentiating factors, it was otherwise identical to the next swivel ottoman variation. We have seen this type of example on three occasions: twice through sets we've owned, and once from another seller.
The later swivel ottoman version of the Eames Lounge
The variant that came immediately after this is still unbelievably rare, but we have dealt with them approximately eight times in-house and have seen a handful from sellers, in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) and in photos in the Eames house from the personal collection of Charles and Ray Eames.
This version has the noteworthy swiveling ottoman, which has distinct hardware designed to allow the ottoman to swivel.
It also has a small gap (1/8 inch or 3mm, approximately) between the shaft of the ottoman and the cast aluminum support into which the wood is screwed.
The chair has smaller and finer threaded feet (called "Domes of Silence"), which use 8/32 threads, as opposed to later 1950s examples and beyond, which use 1/4 20 threads.
The 670 base was adapted from a 1955 Eames dining table, which used the same glides and threads. Because the table did not hold the weight of a person, the smaller threads were sufficient. However, since it soon became clear that the small threads could not hold the weight of a person well, they were changed to 1/4 20 (much thicker steel).
Under the armrests of this version, you will find three holes drilled. For whatever reason, slotted screws were used more commonly early on, then transitioned to Philips within a couple of years. This is sometimes noted on the large screws used to secure the headrest, as well as the screws used to secure the bases to the plywood panels.
Aside from this, you will note that the base of the ottoman is not drilled underneath and was used with slip-on boot glides.
While these examples have had round, pre-1971 cushion clips, it would not be surprising to see the earlier rectangular clip used, as this may have carried on loosely while the swivel ottoman variant was being changed.
The fixed ottoman Eames Lounge set: 1956-1970
Last 1956 Eames Lounge variant with boot glides
In our Eames lounge chronology, we are still in the year 1956. From readings and discussions with scholars such as Daniel Ostroff, the Eames office received word from customers that children were spinning on the ottoman and hurting themselves or causing frustration for their parents. As a result, a decision was made soon after production to end the swiveling functionality and make the ottoman fixed.
This leaves us with one version, which is still thought to be produced in 1956. This example has all of the details typical of other late 1950s chairs, with a few exceptions.
Some of these chairs used the 8/32 threads carried over from the swivel ottoman examples on the "Domes of Silence." We have not seen these threads on any versions after the boot glide examples.
These also had a range of labels used on them. We have owned some versions that had rectangular foil labels (typically thought to be used from 1951-1956—thanks to Robert Deeming at Eames.com for the date information). Other examples have used the round and white Herman Miller medallion, which was used well into the late 1950s and early 1960s. Some examples have not shown evidence of labels, though the labels could have fallen off.
While not exclusive to versions with slip-on boot glides, these sets consistently have three screws under the armrests.
Based on readings and scholarly discussions, complaints also came in from customers early on in production that the slip-on boot glides would come off easily and get lost. Furthermore, it was difficult to keep them balanced on unleveled surfaces. The ottoman glides were changed to be drilled and threaded, with "Domes of Silence" used shortly afterwards for the ottoman.
Late 1950s Eames Lounge variant
It is thought that the boot glides were retired during the year 1956 or potentially a bit later. Regardless, the next iteration retained all typical pre-1971 details, though it had three screws under the armrests and a white, round Herman Miller label.
Variants with this combination date between circa 1957 and 1960. We have had one example in-house with a label inside the cushion dated to December 4th, 1959.
1960-1971 Eames Lounge variant
Examples from the early 1960s onward will no longer have three screws under the armrests and will instead have two. The use of three screws likely stopped during the year 1960 or around that time.
In that same year, another notable change occurred. Herman Miller was incorporated and was then noted on patent labels as Herman Miller, Inc. as opposed to Herman Miller Furniture Company prior to that year.
The round, white medallion was used until 1964 (thanks again to Eames.com), where it was then replaced with a black medallion of the same shape and style.
Later that year, the label changed again, but only slightly, with a ring removed. That label was used into the late 1960s.
While this has not been further verified, we have also seen a third round, black medallion, which we believe to have been used circa 1969-1971. It has been found only on transitional Eames lounges, as changes were made to the newer clip and cushion style.
What is notable about the 1960-1971 set is that these will have cushions filled with duck and goose feathers, rubber used for the shock mounts on the back, round clips used to connect the cushions to the plywood panels, a shinier glove-grade leather used for the upholstery, cardboard-like backing for the cushions and a round, metal Herman Miller medallion.
Chairs that pre-date this also use the same leather and cushion construction.
All of these chairs use Brazilian rosewood veneer for the inside and outside face of the plywood, including pre-1960 examples.
The fixed ottoman Eames Lounge set: 1971-present
1971-1991 Eames Lounge variant
In 1971, multiple changes were made all at once—or, at least roughly at once.
Firstly, the cushions were changed from feather-filled to foam- and fiber-filled cushions. These look more plump and also tend to stay in better condition over time. From our observations, it also seems as though new and more durable leather was sourced, as the feel and sheen changed.
To the cushion backings, a textured plastic board was then used, replacing the older and less durable cardboard-like backing. In order to connect the cushions, metal hardware was no longer needed on the cushions. Instead, a cut was made to the backing and a round, metal clip was then developed for use on the plywood panels. This allowed a more fitted and seamless connection to the plywood with almost no gap whatsoever between the plywood and the cushion.
During this time, Brazilian rosewood was also used exclusively. From our observations, the type of finish and sourcing of Brazilian rosewood may have also changed at this point, as the finish took on a slightly greater sheen, and rosewood after this period was sometimes more dramatic.
The cast aluminum bases also have a more refined finish, whereas the casting marks were often rougher on earlier examples. These characteristics would likely be attributed to new tooling used at the factory, though form remained identical.
Circa 1974 (thanks again to Eames.com), the plywood panels were changed to incorporate seven layers rather than five, as was used before, providing additional strength.
The bumpers or shock mounts used on the back and headrest were also changed to plastic.
During this period, Herman Miller used a black, rectangular label with rounded edges. Larger paper labels are also more commonly found on these versions in addition to the patent labels.
Check out our video to learn more about authenticating your Eames Lounge Chair.
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