A cash-strapped council has sold off bespoke vintage chairs made by a renowned British furniture designer for a fraction of their estimated worth at just £100 each.
The retro leather and rosewood armchairs were made for councillors in Darlington, County Durham, by Peter Hoyte and embossed with the town’s coat of arms.
The designer was commissioned to make 60 of the chairs in 1969 one year before the town hall was opened by Princess Anne.
The leather and rosewood armchairs were made for councillors in Darlington, County Durham
They were removed about a year ago after the council sold most of them via eBay for £100 each, ploughing the £5,000 raised into the council chamber’s refurbishment.
Having been snapped up by savvy bargain hunters and dealers, the unusual chairs are now commanding a price tag of up to £695 each on vintage furniture websites.
The chairs were also offered for sale to councillors, although it is understood just one local politician took home his or her seat of power.
The decision to sell the chairs and replace them with a ‘more multi-purpose type of chair’ is linked to plans to close the town’s library and move it to another building.
The chairs were removed about a year ago after the council sold most of them for £100 each
To allow for the changes – which are currently on hold awaiting the conclusion of legal action – Darlington’s register office service had to move from the leisure centre to the town hall, with weddings now being held in the council chamber.
Some of the chairs have been sold for up to £695 each, with one exported to Germany
A council spokesman said: ‘Although the chairs were an attractive feature, they were bespoke and not particularly suitable for use in wedding ceremonies.
‘The money raised for the sale of the chairs – about £5,000 – was offset against the cost of the council chamber refurbishment, which was necessary because of the relocation of the register office service.’
The council have since been accused of not doing enough to maximise profits by targeting the most suitable market for the chairs.
But it said the furniture had been valued by an auctioneer and that potential storage costs had to be considered when deciding how and when to market the bulky items.
Independent councillor Kevin Nicholson said the sale had been premature given the indefinite postponement of the library plans, after a legal challenge from campaigners hoping to save Crown Street Library.
The council said the furniture had been valued by an auctioneer and that potential storage costs had to be considered when deciding how and when to market the bulky items
He said: ‘The council have a responsibility to make sure all public assets are disposed of in the most optimum way. It sounds like the chairs could have been sold for a lot more than they were and there was no rush at all to move them, it was premature.
‘I understand difficult decisions have to be made, but these were sentimental items that have been at the town hall longer than most of the councillors.
‘They should be regarded as part of the town’s heritage and that heritage should be taken more seriously.’
Councillor Heather Scott, leader of Darlington’s Conservative group, said that ‘hindsight is a wonderful thing’, adding: ‘Value changes with fashion but it seems unfortunate that the council has not gone further afield to try to sell the chairs.
‘It is a lost opportunity to make money but it is extremely difficult to sell things sometimes.
‘You will see something go for next to nothing at an auction that goes for a lot more to the right person and there is also the issue of storage space to consider.’
Having been snapped up by savvy bargain hunters and dealers, the unusual chairs are now commanding a price tag of up to £695 each on vintage furniture websites
She added: ‘It was all done in good faith at the time and bringing the register office to the town hall has been a good thing for those getting married – it’s a better place for weddings.’
Cilla’s Vintage, a business in Bath, bought six of the chairs from a third party and has sold four at £695 so far, with one of them being exported to Germany.
A spokesman said: ‘An item is only ever worth as much as someone is willing to pay for it but they are made to a very high quality.
‘They’re rosewood and leather and they are beautiful chairs – if someone wanted one enough, I think they would be willing to pay up to £1,000. I didn’t pay £100 for them but I would have bought all 60 if I had seen them at that price.’
Chloe Westley, campaign manager at the TaxPayers’ Alliance said: ‘At a time when the council are making spending cuts in other areas, local taxpayers will be disappointed that they have failed to sell these items at their market rate.
‘Every penny counts and in future the council should conduct its business more openly so that items can be sold at the highest possible price.’