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Sotheby’s Sued for Frank Lloyd Wright Desk

MANHATTAN (CN) - The company that makes Windex sued Sotheby's auction house to stop it from selling a desk and chair designed by Frank Lloyd Wright for its corporate headquarters, which the famous architect also designed.

S.C. Johnson & Son sued Sotheby's on Tuesday in Federal Court.

It seeks title and possession of a desk Sotheby's valued at $400,000 to $600,000 and an armchair the auction house estimates at $80,000 to $120,000.

The auction is scheduled for Dec. 18.

The pieces are recognizably Wright: rounded, minimal, proto-Space Age designs.

S.C. Johnson, a family owned company based in Racine, Wisc., and founded in 1886, makes Glade, Pledge, Windex and other consumer products. It claims in the lawsuit that it had a long-term relationship with Frank Lloyd Wright, who designed its administration building and furniture for the building in 1938.

"As Sotheby's catalog accurately describes, the Johnson commission is widely recognized as one of Wright's greatest architectural achievements, and the furniture design are true icons of American Modern design," the lawsuit states.

"Despite SC Johnson's demand for the furniture's return, Sotheby's has refused to cancel the auction."

Johnson also sued John Doe, "a California resident and the consignor of a desk and armchair," scheduled to be sold on Dec. 18.

Johnson claims that it has documents of all the gifts and loans of its furniture designed by Wright.

Sotheby's catalog claims the pieces at issue were acquired by Elerslie E. Luther in or about 1950, and transferred to his heirs until about 1990, after which, "at some unstated time," they were acquired by defendant Doe.

Johnson claims that "diligent search" failed to turn up any evidence of a relationship between it and Elerslie Luther. It claims that Luther's grandson, Jeff Luther, who sold the desk in 2006, could provide it with no "documentary evidence" that his grandfather had any relationship with SC Johnson.

Sotheby's claims in its catalog that Samuel C. Johnson gave the chair to a private collector in 1972, who sold it to defendant Doe in September 2002. But Johnson claims this "purported 1972 gift is inconsistent with SC Johnson's records."

Johnson demands that Sotheby's show good title to the furniture: "New York does not recognize a good-faith purchaser defense with respect to a stolen chattel: once there is a thief in the chain of title, no one can take good title," the complaint states.

SC Johnson seeks replevin, title, damages for conversion and costs.

It is represented by Raymond Dowd with Dunning, Bartholow & Miller.

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