DETROIT – Maurice and Nancy Allen know how to spot a bargain. 

A cabinet the Michigan couple purchased as newlyweds in 1950 for $100 fetched $48,000 at auction and was purchased by a national museum.

The piece turned out to be a rare storage unit designed by midcentury modern masters Charles and Ray Eames.

Nancy Allen, now 98 and widowed, and her family hired Le Shoppe Too, a consignment shop, and Detroit Fine Art Appraisals to assess her possessions before her move to Pennsylvania to be with her children.

The cabinet was ultimately auctioned off through the Le Shoppe Auction House, and bought by a curator for the Eames House, a museum and National Historic Landmark in Los Angeles. It was once home to Charles and Ray Eames, the designers of the cabinet, before their deaths.

This sale is the most money ever paid for an original Eames storage unit, according to Terri Stearn, founder and president of Detroit Fine Art Appraisals.

“There’s only four or five of these cabinets left in the world,” Stearn said in a news release. “Knowing that we helped get this piece into a public institution to be enjoyed by everyone brought us such joy.”

Their contributions to modern architecture, furniture, and design are widely known. The Eames met in Michigan while they were studying at an arts school. The release stated that their works are characterized by high functionality and a distinctive geometric style. 

“I knew this beautiful cabinet was rare, but I didn’t realize how rare it was,” said Deborah Slobin, co-owner of Le Shoppe Too. “This wasn’t a contemporary reproduction; this was an original.”

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Slobin had estimated that the selling price would be $20,000 which is quite high for a storage unit. It was sold at $48,000 and everyone was stunned.

“We never ever thought it would go that high,” said Slobin. “The next day, Nancy’s son and daughter picked up their mother’s favorite bottle of wine and her favorite pizza to surprise her with the news.

When they gave her her final number, she smiled hugely and wept with joy. She told them, ‘Your father would be so proud.’”

Follow Emma Stein as a reporter on Twitter @_emmastein

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