Authentically vintage MCM items went out of production decades ago: So what’s an MCM fan to do but scour the Internet? Curated vintage and antiques-only sites like Ruby Lane help make it easier for you to find the vintage MCM gems you’re hunting for. Ruby Lane’s tagline is “Vintage begins here,” and it couldn’t be more apt: Founded in 1998, the site is one of the first to bring antique and vintage home goods and accessories to the online market – and it’s been reaching décor and design enthusiasts with its gorgeous antique and vintage wares ever since.
Ruby Lane started out as a passion project for founder Tom Johnson who, in 1998, was looking for a way to build a search engine that could help him, and others, find and collect more pieces of his beloved Franciscan pottery.
Happily, Johnson’s search engine evolved into a full marketplace right away, and it has been successful in building its community of vintage lovers, designers, collectors and retailers while continuing to bring rare and novel objects of desire to new generations.
Vintage MCM Gems and More at Ruby Lane
Head to Ruby Lane today, and you’ll find more than a half-million gorgeous, original pieces of furniture, lighting, rugs, porcelain, pottery and jewelry. Each item is displayed with detailed, verified historic information including the designer or manufacturer’s name (if applicable and available) and the era / year the piece was produced. At the time of this article’s production, the Mid 20th Century section featured more than 30,000 items alone. Our current favorite is a Witco Highboy Dresser by Pulaski in the style of Don Draper’s office furniture as seen in Mad Men.
What sets Ruby Lane apart, however, is that they focus on vintage and antiques only. Aside from a few handpicked exceptions, everything sold on Ruby Lane must be at least 20 years old (vintage) or 100 years or more in age (the qualifying definition of an antique). This fact makes Ruby Lane a treasure trove for Mid Century Modern enthusiasts looking for original items produced in the 1950s and 1960s.
Keeping the customer top-of-mind, Ruby Lane’s retailers keep pricing fair. Items are listed at market value and with expert historic analysis and / or formal provenance taken into account by Ruby Lane’s staff of specialist curators.
Yet even so, many original pieces can be purchased at reasonable and surprisingly low prices considering their history. Original art, for example, can be bought for three figures – a price range comparable to that found at many art-reproduction websites. On the furniture side, a vintage Knoll womb chair manufactured in the 1950s goes for a slightly lower price than a new Knoll Womb Chair.
Good for Your Wallet, Good for the Planet
According to Chief Marketing Officer Gisele Barrau-Freeman, this type of transparent pricing model and sense of history appeals especially to Ruby Lane’s new influx of Millennial customers. “The Antiques and Vintage business is currently enjoying a resurgence in popularity, as new generations give priority to the carbon footprint they generate, as well as to precautions needed to save valuable planet resources, giving this business a higher purpose and more meaning,” she says.
For example, savvy, sustainability-minded customers can buy a pair of Mid Century Modern Vintage Table Lamps for $324 on Ruby Lane; a comparable price to newly manufactured lamps available online through various retailers. Customers can also purchase a Mid Century Modern Brass and Mosaic Tile Sofa Table with an incredible organic shape and conversation-starting boat motif for $895; a similar, if not less expensive, price as compared to traditional retail.
New Solutions for a Changing Market
Ruby Lane doesn’t just serve collectors, decorators and designers via its website: Its business model is also the result of a loyal, reputable network of dealers who continually list their new wares on the site for purchase. “We are still very much dealer-driven, as we have been from the start,” says Barrau-Freeman.
Ruby Lane’s digital support goes beyond listings and e-commerce, however. Last year, when COVID-19 hit and antique and vintage dealers were forced to shutter their brick-and-mortar locations and cancel in-person shows, the marketing team at Ruby Lane, including Marketing and Business Development Coordinator Alex Gardner, stepped in to spearhead a new online show program.
The Washington, D.C. Modernism Show
The most recent example of this is the 2021 Washington D.C. Modernism Show. Put on since 1984 by the Art Deco Society of Washington, D.C., the Modernism Show features dealers and booths displaying and selling jewelry, furniture, glassware, pottery, gifts and more from 20th Century design movements including Mid Century Modern.
The Modernism show has historically been held in-person in the D.C. area. However, due to the onset of COVID-19, the Fall 2020 show was forced to pivot away from an in-person event. “I reached out to Ruby Lane to pursue an online show after learning of Ruby Lane’s prior partnerships with [vintage and antique dealers] Barnstar and Brimfield,” says Modernism Show Chair Jim Linz.
Ruby Lane responded by offering up their platform for a 100% online show, where visitors from across the country could log on during specific days and times virtually and peruse and purchase wares from participating sellers.
The fall show was a success. Linz estimates that between 800 and 1,000 Modernist enthusiasts have attended recent in-person shows. Comparatively, according to Linz, thousands of individuals attended the Fall virtual show. “I don’t know how many just dipped their toes in the water versus those who searched through the more than 5000 product listings, but Ruby Lane’s statistics showed strong attendance from New York, California, and Illinois in addition to the Washington DC area which had the highest number of attendees,” he says, pointing out that in-person shows historically draw a largely regional audience, with the vast majority of dealers and participants hailing from the Mid-Atlantic states. Linz believes the expansion of both dealer and customer participation via the online platform mean the virtual component of in-person shows are “here to stay.”
A Modern Approach to Vintage and Antiques
From its early days as a digital e-commerce innovator to its current reimagining of brick and mortar shows for an online audience, Ruby Lane has always provided forward-thinking solutions for its partners and customers. This commitment and practice have led Ruby Lane to garner accolades from the digital community, including a top rating for Seller’s Choice two years in a row on digital-ratings platform E-Commerce Bytes. By applying contemporary techniques, tools and thinking, Ruby Lane is poised to delight a new influx of Mid Mod vintage shoppers gorgeous, verified and value-laden treasures.
Don’t Miss the Spring Show!
With COVID-19 in-person restrictions still a part of everyday life, the Art Deco Society has partnered once again with Ruby Lane to bring its spring Modernism Show to a digital audience. On April 23-25, registered customers can visit an exclusive online portal hosted by Ruby Lane to shop for home décor, jewelry and gifts from 20th Century design movements, including Mid Century Modern. Admission is just $20! Register at https://www.washingtonmodernism2020.com/.
See more finds from vintage MCM gems from Ruby Lane in our roundup of Vintage MCM Wares from Black-owned Businesses.