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They were a hit in 1963. They're a hit now.

The auctions turn up all the time- "LANE DANISH MODERN DOVETAIL TABLE", or "LANE COFFEE TABLE WITH GIANT DOVETAILS". These distinctive pieces of American-made Scandinavian Modernism are soaring in popularity, but no one seems to know much about them.

Every collectible has a story, and the one behind these tables is better than most. It's all about how a mass-market American manufacturer came up with exactly the right furniture at the right time, and created a classic you can still afford- if you move now. The line of tables is called Acclaim, and it was part of a larger line of pieces that encompassed dining and bedroom furniture. Acclaim was acclaimed indeed- it was the largest-selling line of furniture in America in 1963. Early 60's buyers appreciated its warm modernism and solid quality; today's buyers love it for exactly the same reasons.

ACCLAIM ALL OVER- (1) The swivel two-part coffee table that is the most sought-after and expensive Acclaim table. (2) Acclaim's legs and stretchers soldiered on after the dovetailed top was discontinued, in this version with a Formica ® top. (3) This Hans Wegner design may have been a direct inspiration for Acclaim, but Middle America would never be offered the caned shelf.

Acclaim began as a design patent filed by Lane in 1959; the original design was by Andre Bus, overseen by the company's head designer, Warren C. Church. The line was a follow-up to a 1957 offering known as Copenhagen, which had done neither poorly nor well in the marketplace. Copenhagen was attractive, but it was expensive to produce, with its brass-ferruled legs, and it wasn't distinctive enough to stand out among all the other Danish Modern out there.

Bus's creation was built the way Lane had been building tables since it began offering them in 1951. The company's products used a veneered top with a sturdy solid wood edge, and solid wood legs. This technique made valuable wood go a long way, especially in the case of Acclaim. Table tops in the line were given a walnut veneer over a substrate of less expensive wood. The edges of the tables were a heavy, solid bullnose of oak, giving an appearance that paid not a little homage to Hans Wegner's work. Legs and stretchers were oak- carried over in modified form from Copenhagen- but the brass ferrules were dropped in favor of simple black-painted ones. The different colors of the oak and walnut contrasted, even when stained. This gave an eye-catching appearance to the line, but Bus wanted to do something more. He had seen Copenhagen come and go- this time, he wanted a winner.

THE SECRET OF SUCCESS- This diagram shows how Lane's typical construction was adapted for Acclaim. The oak bullnose (1) surrounded a substrate of inexpensive wood. The die-cut walnut veneer (2) was laid inside the bullnose. The die-cut, inlaid parallelograms of oak veneer (3) matched the oak bullnose, creating the illusion of a dovetail.

The answer was the dovetails. Bus die-cut the walnut veneer of the top to accept parallelograms of oak veneer, simulating dovetailing, but in a much larger scale than the real thing. It was a confidence trick that worked; the cost-effective detail gave Acclaim a quietly glamorous quality that made it draw customers from across the most crowded furniture department. Acclaim was part of an overall bid by Lane to upgrade its image and quality. Other Lane products introduced in this time frame were remarkable for their luxurious appearance. Warren Church's Perception was notable for its woven-wood fronts on case pieces. Lane also hired Paul McCobb to come up with Delineator, which was in rosewood, an amazing achievement at Lane's price point.

Showroom appeal was all very well, but Acclaim also benefited from Lane's high quality standards. Although Lane never pretended it was doing anything but making mass-produced furniture at an affordable price, Acclaim customers got those genuine walnut tops, an oven-baked lacquer finish, and top-notch gluing and doweling that guaranteed sturdiness. The finish was so good it happily stood up to kids, pets, toys, and spilled drinks. A full-grown man could stand on a piece of the stuff with no danger whatever.

What was astonishing about Acclaim was the price. In 1963, the rectangular coffee table went for only $29.95- equivalent to only about $160 today. Only Lane, with its skillful design team that made wood go as far as possible without sacrificing quality, could have pulled off such a coup. With its appealing looks, built-to-last quality, and that kind of pricing, it was inevitable that Acclaim would be successful.

BEAUTY ON A BUDGET- A 1963 Lane ad touts the sturdy finish of the rectangular coffee table, and makes it clear that this handsome piece is affordable- only $29.95.

In addition to its physical virtues, the Acclaim line was uncommonly broad and deep. There were dozens of table designs for the living room alone. Customers could have rectangular tables, round, triangular and stepped ones, with drawers, without drawers, high ones, low ones- anything anyone could want to solve any space or decorating problem. The dining line encompassed tables, chairs, buffets, carts, and hutches. There were desks, and the bedroom line was just as extensive as the rest. An entire house- with the exception of upholstered pieces- could be done in Acclaim.

CLOSE, BUT NO CIGAR- In 1957, Lane introduced Copenhagen, a quietly handsome grouping that wasn't quite distinctive enough to be a hit. Copenhagen's leg and stretcher system were later adapted for Acclaim.

After 1964, Danish Modern began to lose a little of its sales luster; the style was beginning to become debased by low-price manufacturers who didn't care about quality. Over the next few years, Lane began to ease Acclaim out of the line. Even then, the line had enough life in it that Lane used the Acclaim legs and stretchers on a line of lower-priced tables that had a chamfered-edge Formica ® top.

Today, Acclaim is sought-after by collectors who want Scandinavian Modernism's virtues without spending a fortune. With a few exceptions, that's still an achievable goal. Most living room tables are still around $100 each, as long as they are rectangular ones. The small round "bunching" tables and the triangular end table go for about $150-200 each. The most sought-after and expensive piece is the two-part swivel coffee table; this can go for $400-500. Dining and bedroom furniture prices vary a lot depending on whether just one piece is offered or an entire group, but complete bedroom and dining groups can bid quite high at better auctions like David Rago and LAMA.

If you're looking for Acclaim, here are some buying and restoration tips:

- If you're on a budget, concentrate on rectangular living room tables, rather than the specialty shapes. The stepped end tables are a particularly good buy.

- Buy examples with the finish intact if at all possible. Stripping and refinishing a veneered table top is tricky; if you insist on tackling one, you should avoid the use of an electric sander. Veneer is much thinner than most people realize, and it takes only a moment's inattention to sand right through it, ruining the piece. Only a few pieces of Acclaim are currently worth the expense of re-veneering.

- After you strip a piece of Acclaim, be sure to rub it down thoroughly with No. 0000 steel wool and plenty of mineral spirits. This step will rid the surface of the silicones found in 1960's furniture polishes like Pledge ®; omitting this step will result in "fisheyeing" of the new finish.

- You will find a lot of variation in the color and graining of Acclaim pieces. This is due partly to natural variations in wood, and partly due to the fading that walnut can undergo with years of sun exposure.

- Why are the bottoms of the legs painted black? This detail is called a ferrule, and it's there to help prevent signs of wear and tear where your shoes bump against the legs. Some Mid-Century furniture has brass ferrules. On Acclaim, the ferrule can be touched up easily with black spray paint and careful masking, making the leg area look new again.

- If you refinish, lacquer is the correct finish for Acclaim. Deft ® and Dutch Boy® make aerosol spray furniture lacquers that come very close to replicating the original look of the Lane finish. The "satin" formulations do an acceptable job; if you really want to get it right, rub the new finish with powdered pumice after a week's drying time. Your paint store can provide the pumice and instructions.

- If you're looking for upholstered Lane pieces from the Acclaim line, forget it. Lane didn't begin making upholstered furniture until 1967.

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Questions? Comments? E-Mail the author:
Sandy McLendon: DANEMOD@aol.com

Lane ® is a registered trademark of The Lane Company, Inc., Altavista, VA, USA. This article has not been authorized by The Lane Company. The author is solely responsible for the information and conclusions contained herein.

All other trademarks denoted by ® in this article are the property of their respective trademark owners.

Sources used in this article include:
- "A History of The Lane Company: The First Fifty Years", by Helen Hughes Lane, © 1963 The Lane Company, Inc. Privately printed.
- The Website of The Lane Company, www.lanefurniture.com.
- Design Patent 185,371, United States Patent Office, June 2, 1959.
- Various Lane advertisements from the period 1957-1963.

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This article is © Copyright 2001 by Jetset - Designs for Modern Living and D.A. "Sandy" McLendon and Joe Kunkel. The information contained in it may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed without the prior written authority of both Joe Kunkel and the author. This article was first published to the Web on October 1st, 2001.