Original Wassily chair, with bolted metal frames, could bring $30,000 or more

CURIOUS COLLECTOR

August 29, 1993|By Sally Solis-Cohen and Lita Solis-Cohen | Sally Solis-Cohen and Lita Solis-Cohen,Contributing Writers Solis-Cohen Enterprises

Q: What's the value of our pair of Wassily arm chairs covered in heavy black leather, which I believe are from the 1920s? They've been a topic of conversation among our friends and relatives as to their worth ever since you mentioned similar ones in an article last fall.

A: Your chairs appear to be revivals of Marcel Breuer's famous 1925 design. Breuer named his popular and innovative chair after Russian abstract expressionist artist Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944), a fellow instructor at Germany's Bauhaus academy. Rare, sought-after original Wassily chairs from the 1920s, made by Standard-Mobel Lengyel & Co. of Berlin, have backs, arms and seats made of sturdy cotton-canvas "Eisengarn" ("iron-cloth") straps. Their black-painted, nickel-plated steel frames are joined by nuts and bolts. Thonet, the Austrian furniture manufacturer famous for its bentwood chairs, produced version of the Wassily chair around 1930 with chromium-plated tubular steel frames and a strengthening bar across the base. Wassily revivals from the 1960s and 1970s, made by Knoll International and an Italian firm, have welded frames and leather coverings like the ones you describe. There are also many knock-offs on the market, and quality and condition vary greatly.

An original 1920s Wassily chair from the collection of antique dealer Barry Friedman fetched $30,800 (against a $30,000-to- $50,000 pre-sale estimate) last November at a Sotheby's auction in New York.

According to Jonathan Hallam of Barry Friedman Ltd., 851 Madison Ave., New York, N.Y. 10028, (212) 794-8950, a dealer might retail your chairs for up to $2,000 for the pair, depending on their maker and condition.

Q: My daughter-in-law found an old vacuum cleaner composed of a large metal can resting on a wooden frame. When a handle is moved back and forth, it creates suction. The canister is marked "Everybody's Vacuum Cleaner." How old is it?

A: Your hand-crank vacuum, missing its nozzle and wand attachments, dates from circa 1910 to 1915, and is worth around $50 as is, according to collector-dealer Peter Frei, P.O. Box 500, Brimfield, Mass. 01010, (800) 942-8968. Mr. Frei, a specialist in early technology, says that in good condition and complete with its missing attachments, your vacuum could fetch about $150.

Lever and hand-crank pump vacuum cleaners were introduced in the 1870s and made for over 50 years. The earliest and most exotic pump models can fetch up to around $225, Mr. Frei says. In 1908, when less than 10 percent of the nation's residences were wired for electricity, William Henry Hoover bought the patent for the first effective electric vacuum cleaner, the "Model O" manufactured by the Electric Suction Co. of North Canton, Ohio, launching the heyday of "Hoovers." Many pre-1920 electric vacuums in good condition can sell for $200 to $400 each.

Q: What's the value of our two old Philadelphia Athletics yearbooks?

The 1949 yearbook has Connie Mack on its cover; the 1953 cover features an elephant in uniform pitching a baseball.

A: Although old baseball cards and players' uniforms get the most attention, sports memorabilia of all sorts is a booming collectibles field. Your baseball yearbooks are worth around $25 to $30 each in good condition, according to Roderick A. Malloy, author of the just-published "Malloy's Sports Collectibles Value Guide, Up-to-Date Prices for Noncard Sports Memorabilia" (Wallace-Homestead, $17.95). Baseball yearbooks from the 1930s or earlier generally are rarer and more expensive than more recent editions, notes Mr. Malloy, who also edits Malloy's Sports Cards and Collectibles, a magazine for collectors. Annual subscriptions cost $18.99 from Attic Books Ltd., P.O. Box 569, Ridgefield, Conn. 06877.

Recent auction prices

Prices include any applicable buyer's premium.

At Leslie Hindman Auctioneers, 215 West Ohio St., Chicago, Ill. 60610, (312) 670-0010:

* American Empire sofa, circa 1840, scrolled and foliate crest and sides, upholstered back and seat, lion paw feet, 77 inches long, good condition, $1,540.

* Telephone booth, American, circa 1950, maple, bi-fold door, laminate interior, original rotary dial telephone, good condition, 7 feet high, 2 feet 7 inches wide, 2 feet 7 inches deep, $275.

* Bronze sculpture, "Stalking Lion," by Louis Vida (1831-1892), French, greenish-black patina, inscribed "Vida" on base, 20 1/8 inches long, good condition, $1,980.

* Victorian cast-iron hall tree, probably American, late 19th century, foliate form, griffin-shaped coat hooks, umbrella and walking stick holder at base, 66 inches high, good condition, $330.

* Color lithograph, "Spiral," by Alexander Calder (1898-1976), American, signed in pencil, numbered 12/120, 35 by 23 3/4 inches, good condition, $302.50.

Have a question about an antique or collectible? Write to the Solis-Cohens, P.O. Box 304, Flourtown, Pa. 19031-0304, enclosing a clear photo of the whole object and all marks. Photos can't be returned. Although personal replies are not possible, questions of general interest will be answered in this column.

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