The internet has made finding and fighting furniture knockoffs easier than ever before. Its seamless searchability and connecting of like minds is now also being used to fact-check attributions that have long been believed to be true. The latest one is the Clam chair, one of design’s most sought-after seats. According to a new report from 1stDibs’s Introspective magazine, recent research conducted by design historians and collectors from around the world has uncovered the popular piece’s official creator: one Arnold Madsen, a Copenhagen-based upholsterer who fashioned the chair in 1944.
As the article reports, the iconic Clam chair was first attributed to Norwegian retailer Martin Olsen and then later to Danish architect Philip Arctander. AD credited the latter in a 2017 Object Lesson on the chair, and also named Danish architect Viggo Boesen, as well as IKEA, on the list of misattributions in the design’s past.
Indeed, the latest revelation adds layers of character to an already richly storied chair. Unlike the previously attributed architects and designers, Madsen lacked any technical or formal training. He was an upholsterer by profession, and yet he formed this enduring piece without any technical drawings for reference.
“The Clam doesn’t look like anything else from the period,” Aaron FitzGerald, founder of London’s Dagmar gallery and one of the design historians and collectors in the renewed search for the chair’s genesis, told Introspective. “It’s a very complex thing, as it’s curving in about eight different places, and it has these stress points all over the joints. Madsen took a plaster cast of the design all around Copenhagen, and numerous cabinetmakers told him it was too hard to make.” Eventually, he convinced foreman Henry Schubell that it was worth trying, and the two went on to found Danish furniture company Madsen & Schubell.
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Fast-forward some six decades, and FitzGerald has acquired sole rights from the estate of Arnold Madsen to reproduce the design. Great news for fans of the chair, considering “we’re no longer selling vintage ones in high numbers because the supply has more or less dried up, and the ones that are left are incredibly expensive,” FitzGerald shared with 1stDibs.
A restorer first and a dealer second, FitzGerald specializes in Nordic furniture from the mid-20th century on display throughout Dagmar, where he has also assembled an in-house workshop of four restorers and three upholsterers. The Clam chair is one of 16 licenses Dagmar currently has in production. After decades of the identifiable silhouette being shamefully copied and brazenly reimagined in an effort to capture its distinct je ne sais quoi, FitzGerald now hopes for its integrity to be kept intact through careful craftsmanship carried out by skilled artisans.