Eames Design Archives go to Auction. Maybe.

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Eames design collection for saleEames collectors: Start your bidding. If a proposed auction of one of the largest private collections of Eames material takes place as planned on April 8, that is.

The Eames name is synonymous with mid-century modern furniture. More than 100 binders of photographs, clippings, negatives, copies, and other records related to iconic designers Ray and Charles Eames are up for auction. Richard Wright auction house of Chicago is hosting the sale. The archives are result of more than 30 years of documentation by former Eames Office official archivists, John and Marilyn Neuhart.

The amount of materials is dwarfed only by collections held by the Eames family and Eames Office and Foundation, the Library of Congress and a few select museum collections in the U.S. Wright estimates the value of the archives at $150,000 to $200,000. There are other private collections of Eames material but are unlike the scope of what the Neuharts' amassed.

But the Eames family says not so fast.

They contend the archive includes items that belong to the Eames Office, never intended to become part of the Neuhardt's personal property. The Neuharts worked with Ray Eames on the book, "Eames Design: The Work of the Office of Charles and Ray Eames" (Harry N. Abrams, 1989). Eames Demetrios, a family representative (and grandson of Charles and Ray), says the items up for auction "have been missing for some time. We are confident that when the Neuharts and Wright Auctions allow themselves to be reminded of the documentation and the actual nature of the Neuhart's professional relationship to Charles and Ray Eames, the situation will be resolved civilly and fairly." The family is concerned about copyright control and that some images in the Neuhart collection may be used by others to produce furniture that may more closely resemble the originals.

Eames design collection for sale

The protest surprises Richard Wright, who has sold Eames-designed furniture for decades. "As an auction house, we're just a conduit to the market. So I'm not a judge or jury on this. It's a legal matter and there's no legal basis for this." Wright says the collection – prints, photos, copies, some original ephemera – are the result of working with the Eames on the book, an exhibition and other projects. As such, Wright says, the material has been available to the public for years.

Lawyers are frantically working behind the scenes as the auction date approaches. If the family prevails, Eames buffs may not be entirely out of luck. Wright is also selling a sizable number of Eames furniture, including the popular Herman Miller rosewood plywood and leather lounge chair and ottoman.
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