Back in the 1950s and 1960s, no self-respecting middle-class house would have been seen without at least one or two items from Ercol, the King of British mid-century design.
Whilst the majority of the greats of the period’s furniture design were based in Scandinavia, with the likes of Peder Moos, Hans Wegner, Arne Vodder or Finn Juhl all encompassing the mid-century zeitgeist, in Britain, we had our own version, Ercol. Ercol was formed in 1920 in High Wycombe by Luca Ercolani and saw its real heyday in 1951 where its designs were exhibited at the Festival of Britain, representing the latest style and fashion in furniture design and manufacture. From this point onwards, Ercol became the must-have brand for households up and down the country, with dining chairs, coffee tables, sideboards and even large dressing table suites and sofas seeing fast manufacture to keep up with demand.
Ercol elm 'Windsor' extendable dining table and chairs, available in the Art & Design sale on 28th October, estimate £400 - £600.
However, having held the top spot for a good twenty years, Ercol fell hugely out of favour in the 1980s and 1990s, with vast swathes of items ending up destined for the skip or the recycling centre. And in fact, one of my first jobs as a work experience student around 25 years ago was the breaking up of ‘unsaleable’ Ercol and other, similarly designed furniture. How times have changed. The best examples of these post-war pieces are now incredibly popular at auction, and as so much was destroyed over the past twenty years, there is now a scarcity of the best and original examples available, which has helped to push up prices.
An Ercol elm side board, available in the Art & Design sale on 28th October, estimate £200 - £400.
Buyers of this type of furniture, from either Ercol or the other great British designer of the time, G-Plan, are usually young professionals looking to decorate homes inspired by TV shows such as The Queens Gambit or Mad Men, looking for that 1960s chic which can be mixed and matched with other periods. Perhaps the best example of this type of style is at White City House, where the Soho House Group has fully embraced mid-century design and created custom-built furniture with more than a nod to Ercol’s post-war halcyon days. Interior designers looking on behalf of clients are often big buyers of Ercol and there is also a swathe of nostalgic buyers, who reminisce about having bought these types of pieces back in the 1950’s and 1960’s, or who remember a much-loved Ercol piece from their childhood. Prices for the best in class can now reach into the late hundreds or even the thousands for the very best examples. By way of illustration, earlier this year Cheffins sold a set of four Butterfly chairs designed by Lucian Ercolani for Ercol, which doubled their estimate selling for £900, whilst an Ercol elm dining table and four chairs made £440, against an estimate of £150 - £250 in the same sale.
An Ercol drop-flap coffee table, available in the Art & Design sale on 28th October, estimate £100 - £150.
As these styles are omnipresent in interiors trends, much of the original design has been diluted by high street brands creating their own versions, following the clean and distinctive linear forms of the mid-century greats. However, the craftsmanship and quality of materials used with the original pieces is really what makes them a game changer and is what is drawing savvy buyers to the auction room. Anyone looking to invest in these types of pieces would do well to scour regional auction houses for high quality original examples which represent better value than their modern equivalents. The most popular of these tend to be the lighter, blonde coloured furniture from the early 1950s which is very much back en vogue.
At the Art & Design Sale here at Cheffins on 28th October, we will be offering eight different Ercol lots from one deceased estate, including an iconic ‘Windsor’ style extending dining table and eight chairs, which has an estimate of £400 - £600. There is also an elm sideboard, a corner cupboard, a drinks trolley, nest of tables, two coffee tables and a drinks cabinet all with varying estimates.
To view the Ercol lots in the sale click here.