My parents were avid antiques collectors and I have inherited some marvelous items including a classic Eames lounge chair and ottoman. We purchased them at a New Jersey department store in 1984 for $400. At the time, we were under the impression that they were authentic pieces, but there are no identifying marks. We had the swivel mechanism replaced a few years ago and the man who did the work called it an "excellent copy of an Eames" and offered us $800. What is your opinion of its value?

Dear Helaine and Joe:


My parents were avid antiques collectors and I have inherited some marvelous items including a classic Eames lounge chair and ottoman. We purchased them at a New Jersey department store in 1984 for $400. At the time, we were under the impression that they were authentic pieces, but there are no identifying marks. We had the swivel mechanism replaced a few years ago and the man who did the work called it an "excellent copy of an Eames" and offered us $800. What is your opinion of its value?


Thank you,


J. MacM., Summerfield, Fla.


Dear J. MacM:


The design firm of Charles and Ray Eames sounds like it might have been composed of brothers or perhaps a father and a son, but these two were husband and wife. Charles Ormond Eames Jr. (1907-1978) married Bernice Alexandra "Ray" Kaiser (1912 - 1988) in the early 1940s, and together they became arguably the most important and influential American design team of the 20th century.


The pieces in today's question are a classic -- if not iconic -- Eames lounge chair and ottoman; style numbers 670 and 671, respectively. This set is such an important example of 20th-century design that it can be found featured in museums of modern art around the world.


It was first made in 1956 by Herman Miller Inc., a furniture-manufacturing company located in Zeeland, Mich. Over the years, this company produced a number of important American designs, including the "Marshmallow Sofa" and the "Noguchi Table," but those who work in a modern office might know Herman Miller best as the ostensible inventor of the office cubicle (the "Action Office II").


The Eames Lounge (670) and Ottoman (671) continue to be made to this day, with some technical differences. The chair was made from layers of molded plywood, which the Eames team pioneered as a furniture material in the 1950s (although it had been used before by others). It has been said that the first of this set (chair and ottoman) was given as a birthday gift to Eames friend and Hollywood director Billy Wilder.


The "original" -- or "vintage" -- 670 chair was composed of five layers of plywood made from Brazilian rosewood while the modern production is composed of three curved plywood shells made of seven thin layers of wood veneer. The very earliest sets also had rubber spacers between the aluminum spines; hard plastic washers were used in later models.


We are concerned that the set in today's question is unsigned and that it was bought in a department store in 1984. J. MacM. should examine the composition of the plywood that makes up his set in order to determine if his set is an original.


We cannot be absolutely sure from the photograph, but we feel this set could have an insurance-replacement value (with the replaced mechanism) in the $4,000 range.


Helaine Fendelman and Joe Rosson are the authors of  "Price It Yourself" (HarperResource, $19.95). Contact them at Treasures in Your Attic, PO Box 18350, Knoxville, TN 37928. Email them at treasures@knology.net.