Short version, research, look, touch, smell, hardware.
Long version..so, early this week I spotted something listed on an online selling site which peeked my interest. Green leather Mad Men style chairs listed as Danish Modern 60's era reclining chairs.
I started researching and came across a similar item for sale on a high profile vintage furniture website which stated they were called the Ekornes Amigo chair. At this I got a bit more interested given that the name Ekornes implied they were designed by Norwegian Jens Ekornes, he of the infamous reclining easy chair and I'd found a pair! However, I could not find any reference to this particular chair design. I should have stopped at this point, but, I wanted these to be something special so I continued looking into them.
A bit more image research led me to another chair design, very similar, but with more graceful lines credited to a designer by the name of Lied Møbler and yet another site suggesting Møbler had worked in partnership with Ekornes early in their career. This led me to jump, or should that be leap, to the conclusion that these were special chairs. Fakes often use this combined design technique. Similar in style to two separate chairs but not exactly like either.
When I got to see them first hand it was obvious they were not authentic mid century armchairs.
They looked too new and they did not feel like real leather. They were made out of bonded leather which is a cheaper fabric, made by layering and pressing a pulp made from shredded animal hide, and a polyurethane coating which is embossed with a leather-like texture. Real leather is one of the few materials which actually improves with age. It gains a soft silky feel and a warm shine as it matures. Bonded leather was in use in the 50s and 60s, however, it does not improve with age, it simply wears away over time leaving white patches of grainy fabric.
In addition they did not have the distinctive 'old leather' smell (yes I did give them a sniff). Bonded leather also smells different to real leather due to the added chemicals used in its manufacture. These chairs did not have an aged leather patina, there were no grainy patches as would be expected from aged bonded leather and they did not smell right.
Another good tip is take a close look at the hardware used to fix the piece together. Vintage metal screws, bolts and nails can not hide their age. If the seller says they had to replace the original hardware then ask to see the original bits. A reputable dealer will expect this and will have kept them for inspection.
Fake wooden wooden chairs, that is new chairs that are being passed off as vintage, are harder to spot simply from the materials as wood can be sanded to essentially reveal a fresh new surface, as good as when they first left the factory. This is why some buyers prefer to buy vintage items in vintage condition rather than re-finished. I take this into account when renovating furniture and I will always leave traces of the original surface, usually on the underside. And if a piece has a lot of stories to tell with its aged appearance I may well leave it as it is and enhance and protect it with a quality wax.
So there you have it. I'm glad it happened. It will lead me to be more thorough with my research in future only relying on reputable sources and not just any website I find which tells me what I want to hear. And I'm sure there will be more lessons to learn on this subject as time goes on and I will be passing them on as I discover them.
If you are looking for authentic vintage mid-century pieces come back and take a look on the our shop page. New pieces will be added regularly.