Everyday here at Scott Howard we are asked to explain the difference between a Herman Miller "True" original Eames chair and the Vitra "Authorised" original Eames chair ....... designed by Charles and Ray Eames from 1946 to 1979.
The easiest way for us to help on this confusing subject is to give a bit of historic background.
When Charles and Ray Eames first designed the award winning Plywood Group chair range in 1946 these chairs were manufactured for them by the Evans Plywood Company in the United States, and a short time later the Evans Plywood Company was sold to Herman Miller Inc. based in Michigan USA and it was through this aquisition that Herman Miller and the Eames family started working closely together on designs for many of the iconic products we know and love so well today.
Working with Herman Miller Inc. the Eames family then went on to design the Lounge Chair, the Lobby Chair, the Aluminium Group chair and the Soft Pad chair.
In the beginning all the Eames chair ranges were made solely by Herman Miller in Michigan and were exported by it world wide, however in the 1970's Herman Miller Inc. issued four licences to agents in order to manufacture in Europe. The Licencee's at that time were Vitra in Swizterland, ICF in Italy, Hille International in the UK, and Mobilier International in France.
Later in January 1986 ICF, Hille and Mobilier were dropped and Vitra were awarded the sole manufacturing rights for Europe and the Middle East ......... hence the term used today of "Authorised" Originals.
Still to this day Herman Miller continue to manufacture these chairs in MIchigan, but they now focus their activities outside Europe (predominantly Staeside) and leave Europe & the Middle East to Vitra.
So True Originals are made by Herman Miller in the States and Authorised Originals are made by Vitra in Switzerland.
Collectors of both versions need to be aware that the Herman Miller and Vitra versions of each design actually differ slightly in construction so care is needed to establish exactly which version you are buying. For example the base on the Herman Miller Lounge chair is a different shape and style from the base on the Vitra Lounge chair just to name one example, similar changes can also be found on the other Charles and Ray Eames chair products.
Even more confusing is that you can have an early Vitra or ICF chair which has Herman Miller logo's underneath, this because in the early years Herman Miller used to supply the components to the licencees and some of these components came with Herman Miller logo's stamped on them and then these parts were then assembled by the licencees in their own factories. (so you can have a chair made in Switzerland or Italy but logo's suggesting the chair was made in the USA)
Where this difference becomes the most important is when people are buying either the Herman Miller or Vitra chairs at auctions because it is the old Herman Miller chairs from 1946 to the mid 1970's which bring the high auction prices because they are the older true Originals and it is not uncommon to hear of old Herman Miller versions of the Lounge Chairs going for anything up to £6-10,000 at auction.
The Authorised Original chairs made by Vitra from 1986 onwards are highly prized and also bring high prices at auction, usually about 50% of current list price, and are avidly sought after by collectors but they do not command the high prices seen for old Herman Miller originals.
In both cases Herman Miller and Vitra have identifying marks under the chairs to prove originality whereas these are missing on copies or reproductions.