In this guest piece, Josef Ohlsson Collentine elaborates on his experiences with originals, innovations, and imitations in the furniture industry. He argues that a well-made copy is functionally indistinguishable from an original, and therefore, questions the role of a so-called original.
An “original” is not as straightforward as it seems to be at first thought. In the past around the times of Shakespeare, it was normal to appreciate similarities of admired pieces rather than completely original content. This caused Shakespeare to avoid unnecessary invention in his work: “while we applaud difference, Shakespeare’s first audiences favoured likeness: a work was good not because it was original, but because it resembled an admired classical exemplar, which in the case of comedy meant a play by Terence or Plautus”.
An original is often perceived as unique, the first piece that was produced looking a certain way. Originals are often stored in museums when it comes to more famous works. The originality of ideas are often culturally bound, and became an ideal to strive for in western culture at the beginning of the 18th century.
An original is something that can serve as a model for copies or imitations. A copy tries to imitate the original in as many aspects as possible (technique, look, feel, material etc). Preferably to an extent where it is impossible to tell which is the original and which is the copy of the work. There is a large range of copies going from the ‘almost not recognizable’ to the ‘indistinguishable from the original’.
When there is only one original of a work, you either need to buy that unique piece at an auction for a large amount of money, or you can buy a copy of the work you like. When it comes to the furniture industry, there are suddenly a large amount of “originals” being sold from the retailers. These “originals” are nothing more than normal copies imitating the form and function of the original piece to become indistinguishable from it. These “originals” are promised to keep such high standards of imitation that you will not be able to make out the difference between them and the original furniture. A better term for them would be ‘certified copies’.
If a furniture “original” is just a copy with certification of very high quality, then there is no difference to a well made replica of the piece by someone else. The certified manufacturers have their reputation to risk if one of their certified copies is not a perfect imitation. The same goes for someone creating a copy of the piece and who is well-known for their high quality of their copies. Finding a high-quality replica is the same as buying an “original” if their assurance of quality holds true.