Fake George Elmslie Chair

Value (2011) | $500 Auction
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GUEST:
We're members of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, and we love to go look at their exhibits, and they have a lot of Prairie School stuff. So we've been looking a lot at their exhibits, and one day we were online and looking at some stuff from an auction house in Iowa and saw a picture of this chair and looked at each other and said, "That looks exactly like that chair at the museum, doesn't it?" So we decided to buy it, sight unseen. We bid on it online and we won and we've been really excited about it ever since. We think it's a George Elmslie chair.

APPRAISER:
How much did you have to give for it?

GUEST:
Five hundred dollars.

APPRAISER:
Plus shipping?

GUEST:
Plus, yeah, $100 or so to ship it.

APPRAISER:
So you're in at about 600 bucks.

GUEST:
Right.

APPRAISER:
Well, what a lot of people outside of Minnesota don't know is that Elmslie, Grant Elmslie, was one of the great Prairie School architects. His firm, Elmslie and Purcell, had, only second to Frank Lloyd Wright, great house commissions of the Prairie School, which is American Arts and Crafts, late 19th, early 20th century. Elmslie came from a great lineage. He worked for Sullivan in Chicago and came out here to Minnesota and got some great commissions, some fabulous houses, and designed the classic pieces of Minnesota Arts and Crafts furniture. He's renowned all over the country and through the world because... great architecture and great architect design pieces. I'm going to ask you to hold the seat for me. When you look at his stuff, each one's different, but he follows a very basic pattern. This triangular piece in the back is very typical. It's the signature piece. And as you can see, the triangle extends down below the seat rail into the base, and he does these cutouts, and again, if you know the work of Sullivan, the great architect, he pioneered this style, and Elmslie followed in it and he thought it was a very organic style. Now, when we have this upside down here, you can see the dowel points here. You can see a lot of modern nails...Some things I don't like, okay? We've got plywood here. Now, they were using plywood at this time, but it's not usually typical for chair construction. When you look at it, you also want to see a real consistency of what we call the patina, the aging. We want all the surfaces that have the same plane to have the same color. So when you look here, we have a very light brown, very light brown here, slightly darker, slightly cleaned up here. And see here, there's a dowel hole here.

GUEST:
Yeah.

APPRAISER:
I don't know where it goes, because if I look in the back here, I don't see a matching hole.

GUEST:
Oh.

APPRAISER:
Now let's turn it back up. One of the nice things about going down to the museum is you can look at it from all angles, and the ones at the museum, it's a very straight leg with a slight kick at the base, okay? And this one has a more standard feature of a standard kick-back leg. Another thing you look at when you look here, you can see this is a veneer-- again, we saw that plywood-- and you see this band here? If you look at the examples at the museum, they've got a band here and a band here. So, things we look for are what we consider acceptable variations in a design, and those that indicate maybe something else is going on here, okay? Now, one of the things that the modern world allows us all to do is to sit in our pajamas in our living rooms and examine pieces hundreds of miles, thousands of miles away and have those eureka moments. The downside is sometimes we have the eureka moments and maybe we should look a little more closely. I have to tell you, I wish I could tell you good news.

GUEST:
(laughs)

APPRAISER:
I think this is a complete fake.

GUEST:
Really?

APPRAISER:
I think somebody made this to deceive.

GUEST:
No kidding.

APPRAISER:
I wish it was a Grant Elmslie, because if it was, in a retail environment, it'd be worth $50,000.

GUEST:
Really?

APPRAISER:
Yeah.

GUEST:
Oh, my God.

APPRAISER:
But the reality is...

GUEST:
Poor chair.

APPRAISER:
Yeah. The reality is, I think somebody took an existing standard, kind of Arts and Crafts chair, a $50 chair, and figured out a way that they could recut it and turn it into what they hoped was a very expensive chair.

GUEST:
Uh-huh.

APPRAISER:
Now, the chair is an old chair. Elements of it are an old chair.

GUEST:
Okay.

APPRAISER:
But the thing that makes it an Elmslie chair and the thing that caught your eye was this panel.

GUEST:
Yeah.

APPRAISER:
I think they put that in at another time.

GUEST:
Oh, that's so interesting. Well, I'm glad to know one way or the other.

APPRAISER:
I mean, you're not out too much money. The market value of this is exactly what you paid for it because you paid it.

GUEST:
Right.

APPRAISER:
I am of the position that a fake should be taken out and burned.

GUEST:
Oh no!

APPRAISER:
And the reason for that is if it gets back in the marketplace, it's going to fool somebody else.

GUEST:
Right.

Appraisal Details

Appraiser
J. M. Flanigan American Antiques
Baltimore, MD
Appraised value (2011)
$500 Auction
Event
Minneapolis, MN (July 09, 2011)
Form
Chair
Material
Wood

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