Why Unknown and Anonymous?

by George Schwab

Unknown manufacturer and Anonymous designer are the most numerous descriptions of the provenance of the Mid-Century Modern and Danish Modern furniture, lamps and accessories that we have listed.

This is true not only of our site but almost all of the sites dealing in this genre of furniture. Why is this? What are we to think of the pieces described as such? Does the lack of identifiable manufacturer and designer affect the price and value of these pieces? I’ve spent some years thinking and studying on this but others have had much more experience in dealing with issues of provenance and I welcome being schooled by them. No problem. Here’s my take on it.

Two Danish modern lounge chairs. On the top: designer- anonymous and on the bottom designer- Ib Kofod Larsen. Two Danish modern lounge chairs. On the top: classic Mid Century Modern chair designer- anonymous. On the bottom: Danish modern lounge chair designer- Ib Kofod Larsen

A hurricane of Modernism in architecture and furniture design swept manufacturers and designers around the world after the end of World War II. In America, Frank Lloyd Wright and the refugees from the Bauhaus planted the seeds for it. In Europe, the memory of the Bauhaus and the Russian Constructivists did the job. In America the seeds flowered first in California and then quickly bloomed in manufacturers like Herman Miller, Knoll and Craft Associates with designers like Charles and Ray Eames, Marcel Breuer, Harry Bertoia and Adrian Pearsall. In Europe Modern design flourished in Denmark with makers such as Carl Hansen and Son, G Plan and Andreas Tuck backed up by the alumni of The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, School of Design. These included Hans Wegner, Finn Juhl, Arne Vodder and Grete Jalk. We all know these manufacturers and designers but who are the Unknown and the Anonymous?

Modernism didn’t just influence the famous and well known in America but also those hundreds of small furniture manufacturers in the Carolinas, Ohio and across the upper Midwest. They also wanted to get into this new market for Modern furniture so they put their designers (sometimes, I’ll bet, it was the owner of the factory) on the job. As we can imagine, the result of their efforts fell on a continuum of quality and originality from poor copies of well known pieces to truly outstanding examples of cutting edge Modern Design. The proof of the pudding is in the product. Still in all, today, the manufacturer is Unknown and the designer is Anonymous.

In Denmark, every little town has a furniture factory. They mostly provide for domestic market in household goods with very few pieces destined for the international market. Their craftsmen are justifiably proud of their skills, sometimes third and fourth generation cabinetmakers. The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, School of Design doesn’t just produce the stars we listed earlier but many very good designers who labor anonymously, take pride in their work and like in America, produce designs of varying quality. Where the quality is outstanding, it’s obvious.

Mid Century modern Lyrical arm chair, unknown manufacturer and anonymous designer, next to a side table by Danish designer Greta Jalk. Mid Century modern Lyrical arm chair, unknown manufacturer and anonymous designer, next to a side table by Danish designer Greta Jalk

I believe that there is another category of Unknown manufacturers and designers. I do believe that most designers have contracts with manufacturers to produce pieces exclusively for them alone. I believe that sometimes a designer will work for makers other than those that they are contracted. I think this may be done with or without the contracted manufacturer permission, but in any event the designer cannot be associated with the piece. Thus, the designer and manufacturer are Anonymous and Unknown.

As to the value of these anonymous and unknown pieces, well, that depends on the quality of the materials, the quality of the construction and finish as well as the quality of the design. As we said earlier, the proof of the pudding is in the product. We at MidMod décor have decades of experience in evaluating the quality of design and the quality of the manufacture. We give precedence to well known designers and manufacturers but we do not shy away from the Unknown and Anonymous pieces that have stood the test of time. But ultimately the buyer of such pieces must feel deeply about these pieces and choose them based on the resonance and joy that they bring to their hearts.

Danish modern side table, we call him Mr. Smiley. Designer: unknown.