This is a popular question on the various community sites, forums and blogs that we follow.
Unfortunately, though, it is very difficult one to answer.
Rather than just leave it at that, we thought we'd at least try to put together a top-level guide of what to look for when you are perusing through flea markets, mid century shows and furniture fairs so you don’t get put over a barrel.
Know What Defines Mid Century Furniture
This is day one, week one stuff. Don't go shopping for it without even knowing what it is because you are setting yourself up to fail. If you need a crash course, take yourself to our mid century modern guide.
Mid century furniture is characterised by clean lines, open sides and classic shapes. If a piece looks ornate or has what feels like extraneous details then treat it with caution.
Designers did not, however, turn their back on veneer furniture so don’t discredit a piece as fake because it feels too light.
Plastics, metals and fibreglass were also used so don’t dismiss pieces made from these materials either.
Pay Attention to the Finish
A close look at how an item of furniture has been built should give you a fair idea of what's really going on.
The good news here is that mid century designers and manufacturers placed a heavy emphasis on quality.
Inspect the joints and find out how it's being held together. For example, webbing, when fitted correctly, is held in with dowel joints. These joints require time and skill. A knock-off item is more likely to be held together with staples or glue.
If you can see any nails, screws or glue sticking out anywhere, it’s probably safe to assume something is amiss.
As a rule, anything with mismatched details such as handles should be avoided.
Markings and Stamps
Sounds like an obvious one but it’s worth mentioning all the same.
It should be noted from the outset that items that don't have stickers or stamps can be every bit as authentic as those that do.
Some customers will remove this at the first available opportunity without a second’s thought.
If you can't see any sticker or branding, but have a good feeling for a piece, give it a thorough inspection to try and find the spot where the manufacturer's mark would have sat.
You might come across a sticker-shaped patch of different coloured wood. This would be a good sign.
Obviously, if you can see a sticker, label or marking, it’s worth investigating the piece further because you might be looking at the real deal.
Designers and Manufacturers
It’s a good idea to familiarise yourself with the names of the key designers and manufacturers from the period before you enter into any negotiations.
We’ll be putting something together about this in the not too distant future. In the meantime, a little bit of web based research should see you right.
If the vendor tries to tell you that the piece was a collaboration between two designers, back away slowly.
It was perfectly common for a designer and a manufacturer to be listed in the piece titles (Eames by Vitra, for example) but mash-up pieces by designers is pretty much unheard of.
Number of Legs
This trick relates specifically to desk chairs and loungers.
It’s not a foolproof way to check authenticity, but if a chair has a fifth leg it would be unwise to walk away from it because you're unsure if it's real.
If the piece was a knock-off, it’s likely that whoever created would want to do it as quickly and as cheaply as possible.
Losing a leg is just one of the many ways they could achieve this end.
If something is made in solid wood, and you can tell as much by inspecting it, then there is a good chance you might be looking at something worth having.
Even if it isn’t a genuine piece of mid century furniture, it might be a good piece in its own right.
It can be difficult to identify the kind of wood used on sight but certain woods can be heavy. For example, we currently have a set of solid teak nesting tables that weigh A LOT.
If you find yourself looking at something with a decent amount of heft, you might be on to a winner.
Think of it this way: if you were going to rip off someone else’s design, would you go to the effort of sourcing expensive materials like teak that are notoriously hard to work with?
As we said at the beginning, it's almost impossible to put together hard and fast rules to follow when shopping for mid century furniture.
However, if you shop with these pointers in mind, we reckon you'll have a much better chance of unearthing a rare piece or paying the right price for an item you love.