Herman Miller Storage Unit, ca. 1950

Value (2016) | $20,000 Auction
Watch  

GUEST:
I bought this at an auction from an artist who was well-known in the area. I was excited to go to the auction. I actually postponed a hernia surgery to attend the auction. When I went to preview the auction, I suspected it was Eames, and then when I looked in the drawer, I knew it was. And so I sat through the whole auction and I won the bid, so...

APPRAISER:
The cabinet is designed by Charles Eames for the Herman Miller Furniture Company. In the original catalog from 1952, it was known as the ESU series, ESU standing for "Eames Storage Unit." This exact model was known as the ESU 420-N. The "N" designation is for the neutral color palette, "400" is because of the 400 series, and "20" designation is for the drawers and door combination. It was designed at a time when manufacturers and designers were teaming up, and the best design minds were being paired with some of the best manufacturers. All of these parts were custom manufactured. There's actually 341 pieces on this cabinet.

GUEST:
Wow.

APPRAISER:
I counted them this morning.

GUEST:
Wow! You're crazy. (laughs)

APPRAISER:
There's a lot of companies today that are very successful with producing something that comes in a flat pack and is shipped out and the consumer actually puts it together.

GUEST:
Right.

APPRAISER:
This was far too complex for a consumer to assemble themselves. So these all had to be made in the factory at Herman Miller in Zeeland, Michigan. They all had to be assembled there, then put in a large cardboard carton and a crate and shipped out by rail or truck in 1950 across the country to their destination. And that actually proved to be a little too expensive, and also the design of the item suffered in transit. The biggest flaw of this design is that the legs are very thin and are designed to take a lot of weight compressed straight down, but they're not designed for lateral movement. So in shipping, or when you pile a lot of heavy items on top of this and then you want to move it even just an inch, those legs can kind of give way. It has a label here in the drawer. That label is from the early 1950s. The reason I know this is from between 1950 and 1952 is that in 1953, this entire cabinet was redesigned.

GUEST:
Oh!

APPRAISER:
The weakness of the legs...

GUEST:
Was fixed?

APPRAISER:
...was fixed, and new legs were designed that were inset into the bottom. This version, which was commonly referred to as the first series version, has these original legs. How much did you pay for it?

GUEST:
$15.

APPRAISER:
In 1952, these were about $200, which was fairly reasonable. In today's dollars, that would be about $1,700. There's few of them that survive in good condition. I would call this one of the best survivors I have ever seen, and I specialize in this type of design.

GUEST:
Wow.

APPRAISER:
At auction, which is probably the most common place that these would show up today, I think this would sell for about $20,000.

GUEST:
What?! Really?

APPRAISER:
Yes.

GUEST:
Uh... (tearful laughter)

GUEST:
Really?

APPRAISER:
Yeah.

GUEST:
Wow. I was going to be cool. I had no idea. I thought maybe $800. I have two like this and two small ones, and we love them. Oh, I had no idea. Wow, that's very cool. Wow! (laughs)

GUEST:
I had no clue.

Appraisal Details

Appraiser
Los Angeles Modern Auctions
Sherman Oaks, CA
Appraised value (2016)
$20,000 Auction
Event
Fort Worth, TX (July 23, 2016)
Category
Furniture
Period
1950s
Material
Metal , Wood

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