Helen Thonet

An original is just that: an original. But how do you recognise one?

Helen Thonet on the value of the original and how they are verified

In one sentence: how do you define the word “original”?

For me, an original is authentic, high-quality – something that was there when it all started and is timelessly beautiful.

What is the value of an original piece of furniture compared to a replica?

An original hardly ever loses value. Original pieces can even become more valuable over time. The tubular steel classics from the 1930s, for example, are real treasures. When authentication requests come in for Bauhaus-era models from the 1970s, for example, I am often amazed at what good condition they are in. Or the bentwood chairs from the 19th century that are now being used by great-grandchildren. I think this type of value is a wonderful thing and it fits perfectly with today’s sustainability requirements. A replica, on the other hand, is worthless as soon as it is sold.

Thonet OriginalBrandstempel von 1986
Thonet OriginalDie heutige Schutzmarke
Thonet OriginalDie erste Schutzmarke

Thonet is regarded as the oldest furniture manufacturer in the world. The bentwood designs and the iconic tubular steel models are still extremely popular today, particularly due to their timeless shapes. Does this type of popularity inevitably attract copycats?

Of course, but this phenomenon is not limited to the furniture industry. If something works, it will inevitably be copied. Thonet was dealing with replicas as early as the end of the 19th century. But, in the end, Thonet’s quality speaks for itself.

Do you see the numerous replicas as a compliment or as an annoying side effect of Thonet’s success?

The compliment is really the fact that our products have been in great demand for such a long time. Personally, I find the replicas extremely annoying, especially when they are sold as originals. This is quite clearly wilful deception.

Your work in the company involves determining authenticity. Is this a service that is used by a lot of people? 

I can receive up to 15 requests a day. Normally, these are about pieces that have been inherited, but sometimes it’s also people looking to buy old Thonet furniture.

Thonet Original
Signets since 1862 - From the book "Die Thonet Brand - A Look at Its Graphic Design History"

How hard is it to identify a Thonet original?

Usually, I recognize an original instantly. I was very well trained to handle the authentication requests by my mother-in-law, Anke-Marie Thonet, who introduced the authentication service.

How do you determine whether it is a real piece of Thonet furniture?

Thonet started marking its chairs with paper labels or engraved stamps/signets at a very early stage. This is a great help when determining what time period a piece belongs to. If none of the markings are left, then it comes down to details such as screws, frames, dimensions, etc. In tubular steel models, for example, the diameter of the tubular steel is a deciding factor. Many models, though, were never copied, which makes the question of authentication easy.

Which Thonet model is your personal “favourite original”?

I find it hard to narrow it down to just one. And so that’s exactly how my dining room looks: many models from different times. But, of course, I do have favourites. These include the classics 214 and 209, the S 32, which looks great everywhere, as well as some models by Eddie Harlis from the 1950s and the contemporary 404 model by Stefan Diez.


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