Michael Thonet Furniture



2015-06-26 10:40:21

Michael Thonet (born 2nd July 1796) was a furniture maker of German-Austrian descent.


Brief history and description of designer

Born in Boppard, Germany in 1796, Michael Thonet underwent a cabinet-making apprenticeship and established his own cabinet-making workshop in 1819. Around the year of 1830, Thonet started experimenting with making interesting and innovative styles of furniture by bending cut, laminated wood and gluing it in different shapes.

It was using this method that he happened upon perhaps his most famous creation, the ‘Boppard Chair’, which he made in 1836, before continuing to create many more items of ‘bentwood’ furniture.

After exhibiting his furniture at the Koblenz Art Association exhibition, his designs were spotted by the Austrian Chancellor, who as a result invited Thonet to Vienna. Here he met the Viennese Royal family, who commissioned Thonet to make some chairs for the palace garden. Thonet’s 1849 chair, ‘Sessel Nr.1’. was made for this purpose, and after other designers began to copy his work, Thonet started to mark his furniture on the underside with a stamp.

He registered his workshop as Thonet Bros. in 1853, handing control over to his five sons. Thonet Bros. ‘Sessel Nr. 14’, otherwise known as the ‘Viennese Coffeehouse Chair’, subsequently sold over 50 million copies by 1930, making it the bestselling chair in the world. Thonet died in Vienna in March 1871, at the age of 74.

By the time of his death, Thonet Bros. was operational in numerous European cities, as well as the United States.

Guide for Collectors

Thonet’s lightly rendered designs were a marked departure from many of the heavier designs which had gone before. They also served as a precursor in the 19th century to industrialized mass production of furniture, as the individual elements of his work, following the modular concept, were well suited to being reaffixed and remodelled to create an entirely new piece of furniture.

The other advantage to his process was that the pieces were relatively inexpensive to make, a fact which was reflected in their retail prices at the time, yet has not prevented many Michael Thonet works from reaching high prices at modern day auctions.

Notable auction sales

Thonet pieces, as with many other furniture designers work, tend to vary radically in cost. Some have sold for high prices; Phillips de Pury & Company sold a "Boppard" Thonet side chair dated from 1836 for $38000 on 8th December 2005, alongside another, undated side chair at the same auction, which was sold for $1800.

Similarly, Rago Arts and Auction Centre sold a Bentwood console table for $2100 on 25th April 2010, and a Thonet chair on 11th September 2010, for $1500.

Michael Thonet works have also sold at much lower prices, with a Secessionist Parlour Suite selling for $750 from Clars Auction Gallery on 1st May 2005, a set of four bistro chairs selling from Wright Auction House on 31st March 2011 for $500, and an adjustable beech and woven cane lounge chair, dated from 1910, selling from Rago Arts and Auction Centre for $275.

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