Treasures

Stylish midcentury recliner carries an unfamiliar name

 
 
This stylish recliner is probably less than 25 years old and is a knockoff. But is it still collectible?
This stylish recliner is probably less than 25 years old and is a knockoff. But is it still collectible?
HANDOUT / MCT

McClatchy-Tribune

Q: We received this chair from a friend. The label reads “Plycraft Inc. Lawrence, MA designed by Lou App Copyright 1985.” I have researched midcentury modern furniture with no luck. I hope you can help.

P. G., White Haven, Pa.

A: Part of your research problem may stem from the fact that the term “midcentury modern” generally refers to items made in the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s — and this very stylish chair was made significantly later than that. There is no question that it does have the feeling of earlier times but it was manufactured in the late 1980s or even the early 1990s.

According to his obituary, Paul R. Goodman, who died in 2003, was born in 1912 and graduated from the Boys Latin School in Brookline, Mass. He then graduated from the prestigious Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

Initially, Goldman manufactured sailboats in Lawrence, Mass., and developed “Plytube,” a molded plywood tubing, that was used by the U.S. military during World War II and the Korean Conflict.

In 1953, Goldman opened Plycraft, which made knock-off furniture in styles created by “Ray” (born Bernice Alexandra Kaiser) and Charles Eames and other designers of mid-20th century furniture.

The Eameses were pillars of the midcentury movement and they worked with Herman Miller of Zeeland, Mich., to create and market highly innovative interior furnishings made from plastic, fiberglass and plywood. It is thought that Goldman saw a business opportunity and jumped into the business of basically “following the leader.”

Goldman is often incorrectly credited with designing some of Plycraft’s furniture when, in actuality, he hired others such as George Mulhauser and Norman Cherner to create for him. There is a story that Goldman hired Cherner to design a chair for Plycraft that was comfortable, easy to manufacture and sturdy. Cherner is said to have delivered a design only to be told the project was cancelled.

A few months later Cherner is said to have discovered that the design for “his” chair was slightly changed and produced by Plycraft credited to a designer named “Bernardo.” In the ensuing lawsuit, Goldman admitted that the name “Bernardo” was made up by his publicity team.

As for Lou App, it is speculated that this name is a reversal of the letters in Goldman’s first name, Paul. Instead, the bentwood, reclining, open arm chair in today’s question is an out-and-out knock-off of an Eames piece.

Goldman produced his copies of midcentury design until his factory burned in 1993. Heretofore we have said some negative things about Paul Goldman, but we hasten to add that he is considered by some to be “the father of plywood technology” and his chairs were used in Lincoln Center in New York City.

His “Mr. Chair” and his “Cherner Chair” have become collectible classics, and one of his pieces, “The Rockwell,” is so named because it appears in a Norman Rockwell Saturday Evening Post cover. The piece in today’s question is very stylish and if it were in perfect condition it might have an insurance replacement value of approximately $400 to $500.

But in its current very worn condition, that value is somewhat lower at around $200 to $250.

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