Wow. Been away from this for far too long. Three months now, I think? Not much of an excuse, but in this time I have studied for the LSAT, taken the LSAT, survived a cross-country camping trip with Cam, helped settle Cam in her new home with me in the San Francisco Bay Area, and bought two more Herman Miller Eames lounge chairs and ottomans.
Series IV Eames lounge chair and ottoman, c. 1991
Yep. Two more, in addition to the one Cam and I picked up earlier this year. Seems a little silly, right? (Yeah, we agree, which is why we’ve succumbed to posting two in our new Etsy store). It was another one of those “right place, right time” sorts of things, and I am never one to give up on a chair like this. In my mind, there is frankly little better than an authentic Herman Miller 670/671 set…
Series II Eames lounge chair and ottoman, c. 1962
…that is, unless you are comparing between two authentic Herman Miller 670/671 sets of different vintages. And that’s exactly what we’re about to do.
Highly-figured series IV rosewood shells
But before we get into the details of these chairs, how about some background: the first lounge chairs of this type, designed by Charles and Ray Eames, hit the assembly line in 1956. The duck feather, aniline-died leather, molded rosewood shells, and cast aluminum bases became iconic almost over night. The first production run, called the series I, lasted into 1959, at which time Herman Miller made some minor changes, including introducing the “Domes of Steel” feet/glides and offering a combination of latex foam, grey duck feathers, and down cushion stuffing. These are designated series II production. In 1971, a transition to series III occurred, and, beyond some manufacturing and material changes to the chair, Herman Miller dropped the round “H” medallion in favor of a simpler rectangular back “Herman Miller sticker. 1990 saw the introduction of the series IV, which continues today. You can read more about it in this very informative article from WorthPoint.
Sun-bleached series IV rosewood shells
Now we’re off to the races. The examples in question include a series II, which is tan on rosewood and was made around 1962, and a series IV, which is blue on rosewood and was made around 1991.
Series IV ottoman with rosewood shell
First, the shells of the series II are noticeably thicker than those of the series IV: 10mm (.393”) vs. 9.25mm (.365”). Both chairs feature 5-ply molded shells, and it appears that the source of the 0.75mm (.0228”) difference is in the rosewood veneers. This does make some sense, however, considering the increasing scarcity of rosewood into the 1990s when the series IV example was manufactured, and I expect Herman Miller would have opted for thinner veneers to make their ever-diminishing supply “last longer.” Of note, rosewood is no longer an available option in these chairs, the nearest equivalent now being Santos. Though Santos is often called “Santos rosewood” and is similar in appearance to true “Rio” rosewood, it is not an authentic rosewood of the Dalbergia genus. Also, the shells of the series II appear to be cut and prepared by hand. In particular, the seat bottom shell of the series II chair is not wholly symmetric from side to side, and without any indication of previous damage or repair, we’re assuming this is a consequence of its original manufacture. On the other hand, I am sure the series IV shells were cut on an NC machine and without much manual input.
Series II rosewood ottoman and tan aniline leather cushion
Moving on, the leather of the series II is aniline-dyed and feels slightly thicker than that of the series IV. To be honest, I have yet to call Herman Miller to request that they look up the details of the series IV, but I believe these used pigmented leather, which is more durable than aniline but doesn’t have quite the same feel as the aniline. Think I’ll also need to ask how the series IV was finished. I believe it was a satin lacquer finish, whereas the series II had several coats of buffed gunstock oil.
Inside the series IV ottoman rosewood shell (note the stamped ink numbers); note the steel clip (top-left corner) used to retain the cushion
Customers could order their series II Eames lounge chairs with 100% duck feathers or with a combination of latex foam (50%), grey duck feathers (30%) and down (20%), as in this example. This series IV, however, was supplied from Herman Miller with polyfill. The differences in filler materials renders the series IV more supportive and more comfortable than the series II, and it will likely remain this way far into the future, whereas the series II has taken on a wonderful “lived in” sort of patina due in part to this selection of materials.
Inside the series II ottoman with original 671 tag; note the steel clip (top-right corner) used to retain the cushion
Finally, the combination of thicker shells, thicker leather, latex foam, and natural feathers adds up to nearly 10lbs. of additional weight in the series II chair over the series IV chair. These 10lbs. really add up when it comes time to move the series II about the house.
Series IV ottoman cushion with polyfill stuffing; note the slots in the cushion backing that accept the steel clips on the shells
So, which one is better? I know this is a cop-out, but it’s really hard to say. When it comes to a decision between a series II and a series IV Herman Miller Eames 670/671, we see it as a draw (though this is certainly not the case the series I and series III examples). Basically, we appreciate the plush cushions, satin finish, and highly-figured grain of the series IV. However, we also die for patina and things that exude “I was made with human hands,” characteristics that the series II holds in spades. Looks and comfort aside, the series II might be a better long-term investment, but it will also require more maintenance over time, from conditioning the leather to oiling the shells. Boiled down, we’re just not sure you can go wrong with either a series II or a series IV.
Series II cushion stuffed with foam, duck feather, and down; note brass rings in the cushion backing that accept the steel clips on the shells
Despite this predicament of having too many Eames loungers, we’re just ecstatic to have had the opportunity to appreciate and experience each of these pieces for both their uniqueness and idiosyncrasies. We simply cannot imagine a future without at least one of these in our home.
At home in its place of honor