Antique Detective: Collectors Loving 60s, 70s Designs Sense of Humor

60s rolltop desk By Anne Gilbert  
     Little did I know when I wrote my book “60’s, 70s Design and Memorabilia, in 1994, that the objects would still be collected these days and at high prices. One of my disbelief-favorites is a molded plastic dog house with a step stool. Though it was designed in 2001 the look was a tad of 50s and 70s. It sold at a John Toomey auction this year for $531.25.


      Here’s a bit of history for you Millennials and in touch with these times of protest. The items designed in the 60s and 70s were a form of protest of the Post war generation. Plastic was no longer a dirty word. Traditionally shaped furniture and decorative objects had new looks, materials and funny names. Who can forget the “womb” chair or the red, plastic “lip” sofa. Many were made and still come to auctions, at high prices. Then, there is the “roll top desk” that is barrel shaped and made of walnut and leather. Looks like a beer keg on legs. It fetched $585 at a recent John Toomey auction.


      New name designers in America, Italy and Denmark who embraced the changes included Wendell Castle, Vernor Panton and Joe Columbo. One of Wendell Castle’s most famous pieces, “molar love-seat,” c.1967, was made of white polyester reinforced plastic. At the time he told me, “it was initially done in white. I wanted the look of a perfect glass automobile finish. I think of my work as sculpture.” It did indeed look like teeth.


60s 70s cocktail set      While acrylics were used in furniture manufacture from the 30s, through the 50s, it was in the late 60s that the look changed. Furniture designer Vladimir Kagan, for example, used sculpture acrylics and combined them with rare woods and expensive upholstery.
     Glass took on a sculptural form. Whether it was lighting, decorative accessories or pottery, a variety of materials were combined, including plastic, metal, wood and stone.


      Fulvio Bianconi, one of the most important names in Italian glass during this period created a series of heads and glass cubes with figures drawn in glass that are encased within.


   Important American glass artisans include Michael and Frances Higgins who created new concepts using fused, enameled and sheet glass.


      Art pottery took on strange shapes and color combinations. It made its way into even utilitarian designs. Important names include Eva Zeisel, Edwin and Mary Scheier, in America.


     CLUES: Many of these designs have been reissued. Some of Wendell Castle’s small pieces such as boxes and mirrors have been forged. Upholstered pieces by other designers come to auction with new fabrics. This lowers the value. Avoid damaged plastic pieces. Unlike wood they are difficult to repair.


60s 70s dog house      While there are now many books on the subject, one of the best ways to keep up with what is happening , are the catalogues of John Toomey Auction Galleries in Oak Park, Illinois, and other auctions featuring 60s, 70s items.


PHOTO CAPTIONS (1) 60s, 70s roll top desk (2) 1970s Gucci cocktail Set, silver plate, white metal and leather. (3) 2001. Dog house. Molded plastic with step stool. Sold for $531.25 PHOTO CREDIT: John Toomey Auctions, Oak Park, IL

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