What Makes Mid-Century Modern Dunbar Furniture Important and Collectible? | Information on antiquities and history education


A recent query letter from a reader sparked my interest in the ever popular Dunbar furniture and accessories. After all, my columns generally focus on antiques.

She had inherited many Dunbar living room furniture from the 1950s designed by Edward Wormley. However, a strange table lamp was included. As she noted, “It looked like two Dutch figurative cookie molds glued together to make the base of the lamp.” Because her late parents were world travelers, she assumed they had bought the lamp in Holland. The lamp is pictured so you can see why I started my research looking for old Dutch cookie molds. However, I had no results. My next approach was the Edward Wormley table lamps. Bingo! I discovered that Wormley had designed many styles of table lamps, incorporating several types of materials, including Tiffany glass.






An Edward Wormley table lamp.




Historically, Dunbar Co. began in 1910 as a cart design company. It ended when Henry Ford started making automobiles. Dunbar decided to start making furniture, but not in conventional antique styles. They saw the growing interest in the “modern” look and in 1931 they hired Edward Wormley, a young designer known for his modernist designs. At the time, he was designing furniture for the Marshall Field department store in Chicago.

Clues: Wormley was a student of furniture history, which gave him an interest in contemporary world designers such as Hans Wegner and Alvar Aalto from Finland and Jens Risom from Denmark.

One of the most famous Dunbar collections was presented in 1957 and was named “Janus”. Designed by Wormley, it included 70 different pieces mixing Japanese influences with designer tiles. Over the years he has used other innovative materials. For example, he collaborated with Jack Lenor Larsen using his unusual textiles.

Dunbar labels come in a variety of shapes, such as small metal plaques (some are “D” shaped and some indicate the place of manufacture). Other times, labels are sewn onto cushions or markings are etched into the wooden frame itself. Some parts, like table lamps, have no markings. The base of the Wormley lamp belonging to my reader had no mark on the base. Nonetheless, this is a Wormley design and in a retail setting it could sell for over $ 2,000.


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