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A Chair Designed for Speed

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The famous Paul Frankl chair and ottoman The famous Paul Frankl chair and ottoman
Ric Emmett, a famous dealer in Art Deco and mid-century Modernist art, gave an overview of the seven leading American designers of Deco furniture at a talk in Miami Beach.

One of the highlights of his presentation, and one that drew gasps from the audience, was the story of a chair and matching ottoman designed by Paul Frankl, described by Emmett as "the first really innovative American furniture designer" of the genre. It was dubbed the "speed chair" because it looked like it was racing even while standing still. The speed chair was introduced to the world in the December 1933 issue of the magazine Arts & Decoration with the following writing:  "The chair designed by Paul Frankl is expressive of the ideal of the present day and age; speed.  Its structure is stream-line, low, smooth.  Sturdy. Lines similar to those on a speed boat give the chair the aestethic rythm of present-day thinking.  It also, says Mr. Frankl, meets the most fundamenttal requirements of any chair, which is comfort."
 
Emmett relates that "in late 1998 a friend of mine who is a print dealer in Arizona gave me a call and asked me if I would be interested in a Paul Frankl speed chair.  I said fine.  He said there was also an ottoman with it.  I said fine.  He said that as he was coming to do the Miami Modernism Show in 1999, he would bring it to me for free.  I said fine.  He said he wanted $ 2,500 for the chair & ottoman.  I said fine.
 
He arrived, the chair and ottoman arrived and he dropped them off at my booth and I paid him.  As I sat there, my friend Mark McDonald of Gansevort Gallery in New York, who was set up across from me came over and said to me:  "I would like to buy that!"  I told him I had just paid $2500 for it and if he wanted it he would have to pay me $4500.  He made a phone call and sold it sight unseen to a client for $6500. 
 
What we weren't aware of at the time was that this is the same chair that Paul Frankl pictured on page 41 of his 1938 book, Space for Living and that this chair had a tag on the bottom indicating that is was not for sale and property of Paul Frankl. Imagine our surprise when the chair sold at Christies, New York, on December 7, 2001 for $76,375 (including buyers' premium)."
 
Ric EmmettRic EmmettAnother famous designer whose works now command high prices is Donald Deskey from Minnesota, "who made screens for Paul Frankl. In 1927 Deskey was paid $65 to make one. Today they sell for $100,000," said Emmett. Designers featured in his talk at the Art Deco Welcome Center in Miami's South Beach included Gilbert Rohde ("the most successful of the designers for himself"), Russel Wright ("who designed everything under the sun"), and Warren McArthur ("who introduced Americans to aluminum furniture").  Other materials new to furniture design of the period was lucite, often used by Rohde, and metal and black laquer, which Emmett characterised as the "dynamic duo of the 30s." Emmett is writing a book about Deco furniture, likely due for publication in 2013.
 
 
For more about Emmett's gallery and his items for sale, visit his website: www.modernism.com
Clifford Cunningham

Dr. Clifford Cunningham is a planetary scientist. He earned his PhD in the history of astronomy at the University of Southern Queensland, and has undergraduate degrees in science and ancient history from the University of Waterloo. In 2014 he was named a contributor to Encyclopedia Britannica. He is the author of 14 books on asteroids and the history of science. In 1999 he appeared on the TV show Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Asteroid 4276 was named in his honor in 1990 by the International Astronomical Union based on the recommendation of its bureau located at Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

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