Why vintage mid-century furniture is still such great value

This blog is based on information from a 1971 Heals of London catalogue with price list that we recently added to our collection of original mid-century furniture catalogues. This catalogue includes various dining chairs that were made by the top quality Danish maker JL Moller who are still making some of the same models today and can still be bought new in the UK.

We’ve taken the 1971 figures and adjusted them for British inflation over the last 48 years using an online inflation adjustment calculator. Today we’ve become used to low inflation but in the 1970’s inflation was high for various reasons .

In 1971 the most expensive contemporary furniture in the Heals catalogue was either Moller rosewood or British chrome plated steel and glass by Merrow Associates or William Plunkett. Today the Merrow and Plunkett pieces in metal and glass would be made relatively cheaply in the Far East and it looks to be ridiculously expensive as a result. All the teak and rosewood pieces in the catalogue were made by traditional craftsmen who would have been on 6 year apprenticeships in the UK and their equivalent in Denmark.

The 2 things that influence the cost of new craftsman made furniture most are cost of timber/veneers and the labour costs. In the 1960’s and 1970’s their was a vast pool of properly trained traditional cabinet makers and chair makers so labour costs would have been relatively low. Today very few people are prepared to go through the necessary training and those that are expect to be paid a lot more than their predecessors.

The timbers and veneers available today are different to those that top quality makers could buy back in around 1970. Rosewood and particularly Rio Rosewood is quite rightly now protected and in theory hasn’t been available for use for many years. However somehow Moller apparently still make some but not all models of their chairs in rosewood as they are shown as options on 1 British website offering them new. I haven’t seen the new Moller rosewood chairs but have seen some late 1970’s and 1980’s Danish rosewood furniture and the wood is nothing like the striking Rio Rosewood that you see on vintage 1960’s and early 1970’s pieces.

The classic Moller chair that people mainly think of today is the Moller 78 in rosewood. The 1971 Heals catalogue price was £39.65 for 1 chair with fabric seat which adjusted for inflation would be £603. The new price for the same chair today is a whopping £1545!

If you then look at a more standard Moller Model 71 in teak which in 1971 would have cost you £20.85 which inflation adjusted is £317. Today the same chair in oiled teak would cost you new £837. Vintage Model 71’s in good condition sell for around £250-£300 when in sets of 4 or 6 so very similar to the new price in 1971 adjusted for inflation. Again I haven’t seen a new teak one to compare it with a vintage one but i’d expect the vintage one will have been made using nicer teak.

The only piece in the Heals 1971 catalogue that we’d happily order at inflation adjusted prices is a Hans Brattrud designed stacking chair. Vintage ones currently sell for about 50% more but in most cases prices for vintage pieces are a lot less than pieces cost new in real terms. Of course if you look at prices on websites like First Dibs or in expensive Fairs then prices may not be so good.

Vintage furniture is on the whole a bargain, but we never think it should be looked upon as a financial investment. It’s there to be used and loved and yes it may go up in value. If you spend the a lot of money on new furniture it quickly loses it’s value as it goes straight to second-hand as soon as it leaves the shop.