I think that the first thing to say is that there isn’t a market in fake Ercol. There are no devious manufacturers in China (or anywhere else) turning out fake Ercol furniture as they would a Gucci handbag or a Rolex watch. What we do see, however, are a lot of sellers (on all the main online sites) describing furniture as Ercol, or Ercol style, when it is nothing of the sort. In many cases these are genuine mistakes, but I suspect that some are deliberate attempts to mislead.
The Ercol range is huge, so to keep things reasonably concise I have limited this blog discussion to the Ercol Windsor range, which covers all the most popular mid-century pieces (c1955 to c1980) including armchairs, sofas, dining chairs, tables and sideboards.
So, how do you know that what you are buying really is Ercol? There are a number of things you can do to make sure that you end up with the genuine article:-
- Is there a label? Ercol labels have changed over the years but the ones that you are most likely to find are either small, square blue labels, printed on metallic paper or circular gold labels.The blue labels in particular tend to come off (and are not easy to replace) so, whilst a label is a clear indication that the piece is Ercol, don’t let anyone tell you that this increases the value. It doesn’t. And don’t be fooled by descriptions saying “Ercol Blue Label range” or anything similar. The blue label is not specific to a particular Ercol range, it is simply an indication of the date of manufacture. Very roughly, blue labels were used from 1954 to 1976 and the gold labels from 1977 to 1995.
- What is it made of? There are only two woods used by Ercol in the Windsor range during the mid-century period; beech and elm. Elm is used for solid seats (rocking chairs and dining chairs for example) and for the tops of tables. It is also used for the sideboards made during this period. Beech is used for table and sideboard legs and for all of the chairs, with the exception of the solid seats. Beech is a light wood which has a very noticeable fleck in the grain. Elm is somewhat darker, with an attractive swirly grain pattern.
- Chairs from the Ercol Windsor range have stick backs. The sticks are always round. Many “Ercol style” chairs have oval or squared off sticks.
- With the exceptions of chairs with a solid seat, virtually every Ercol chair from this period that you come across will be webbed (some very early chairs (1953 – 1955) used tension springs). The webbing patterns changed a number of times over the years. The traditional webbing is “Pirelli” webbing which has a canvas interior and rubber exterior.
- This causes much confusion. To be absolutely accurate, all Ercol Windsor chairs of this period, up to c1981 were finished in natural “light wood”; that is to say they were finished with a clear lacquer. Chairs from this period which are dark, and identical in shape, come from the Old Colonial range. From around 1982 Golden Dawn was introduced as an option and the Old Colonial dark finish became Traditional. Be careful when buying furniture. Golden Dawn is often wrongly used to describe natural “light” finishes; it is, in fact quite dark, albeit not as dark as Old Colonial/Traditional. Don’t be tempted to buy a piece with a dark finish in the hope that it can be made lighter. I have never seen this done successfully.
If you want to know more, there is an excellent book, Ercol Furniture in the Making by Lesley Jackson (ISBN 978-0-9553741-9-7), which can help with identifying Ercol pieces. There is also an archive with some old brochures at http://www.ercol.com/about/archive/. Or you can contact me (firstname.lastname@example.org) – I am always happy to help. This blog was first published by the excellent online marketplace Layer Home.