Category Archives: Desk Items

Corner Shop: Workbench By Industrial Bench and Equipment Manufacturing Co, ca. 1940s

IMG_7506IMG_7507 IMG_7520 IMG_7526 IMG_7531 IMG_7538 ib1ib2ib3While admired today for their aesthetics, vintage and antique industrial furniture was considered utilitarian in its day. It was built using durable materials and therefore fabricated to withstand considerable punishment. Though it is appealing to unearth an unusual piece like this shop bench, it is doubly worthy of attention when the item possesses its original and untouched configuration and presents in superb condition.

The Industrial Workbench and Equipment Manufacturing Company was a later incarnation of The New Britain Machine Company, headquartered in New Britain, CT. They began churning out heavy-duty industrial furniture at the beginning of the 20th century and by the 1940s were known as, I.B. (Industrial Bench). The olive hew finish of their products was even referred to as, “IB Green”.

The discussion of quality is a common thread when referencing items of this era and I.B. prided themselves on creating equipment of a higher standard than many of their peers.

The heavy-gauge tubular steel leg sections are welded together, making a single-piece, rigid leg. This results in less sway, irrespective of whether or not the table rests against a wall. The legs and expansive feet are totally closed thus ensuring that dust and other unwanted waste does not accumulate in cracks and crevasses. A variety of optional extras existed including, rear and side plates (to ensure that materials did not fall from the work surface), maple or plain steel tops, lower shelf and drawers, complete with sliding inner tray.

This clean, original example not only possesses its factory configuration, including a drawer and lower shelf, the IB Green finish is excellent and the maker’s labels are clear and visible on the trademarked positioning of the two front legs.

*Special thanks to the Smithsonian Institution Archives and the National Museum of American History Library for their generous contributions to this post.

Top Brass: Weldon Lamp, ca. 1930s

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Much is made of a handful of manufacturers’ interpretations of the task lamp. Some have been highlighted in this blog: Ajusco, O.C. White, Edon, American Fixture Co. and more. These producers adhered to a strict code of pared-back design and unadulterated utility.

Add to this group Weldon Manufacturing Co., a quiet achiever in the brass, drafting-style light arena. This New York company created ranges that included desk, clamp-based and floor lamps.

This example, with a dual-clamp base, maximizes the ease in which the fixture can be relocated. While this feature proved advantageous in drafting scenarios, it was also embraced in workshops and garages alike. Also, the wide, embossed wing nut proved an ergonomic method of tightening the joint around the lamp’s telescopic arm.

See Worthy: Good Form Navy Chairs, ca. 1939

Dorset Finds is reticent to throw around the phrase “design classic.” Sure, some pieces are built to last and serve a purpose, and others are aesthetically appealing, but it’s the combination of these factors that propels an item toward greatness and, therefore, icon status.

In 1930, the General Fireproofing Co. launched its foray into aluminum chair production and rolled out the Good Form seating line in 1932. They had just built a new factory with state-of-the-art machinery and conveyor systems designed specifically for this new direction. Prior to the move, the company had focused exclusively on steel furniture, so the $1 million investment in diversifying into aluminum before a single product had left the factory was a substantial one.

Initially, timing proved to be their enemy. Aluminum chairs were more expensive than wooden ones, and with the advancement of the Depression, the cost-conscious were dubious of the new line’s merits. Being the first company to nationally market an aluminum chair, General Fireproofing had their work cut out for them. The Aluminum Company of America (ALCOA), which held patents and designs for several institutional chairs, sold all rights to GF in 1934, giving them an even greater slice of the market.

Upon the request of the U.S. Navy in 1936, a new range of aluminum chairs was created to be stationed aboard all naval vessels. Durability was of great importance: should a destroyer be hit by a torpedo, the chairs were required to withstand the blast! Also, it was imperative that the materials not gradually degenerate through exposure to moisture — as was the case with steel or wood — and the chair’s structural integrity must remain preserved. In all, there are only 12 welds on a Navy chair, and these are filed down to give the appearance of seamless joins.

This is an exciting pair, as they come from a very early production run. There is minimal age to the surface of the aluminum, and what patina is evident only serves to share some of the chairs’ history.

A Bank Statement: Book-Shaped Money Bank, ca. 1920s

In the first half of the 20th century it was common for independent banks to encourage the opening of new accounts by giving away promotional book-shaped money banks. The thinking was that inspiring clients, particularly children, to fill these small units would result in similar behavior in terms of depositing one’s savings at the local bank branch.

Constructed of a steel box with a lockable door panel and bound in embossed vinyl to create a book-like cover, this piece would go virtually unnoticed on a bookshelf… in an era when people could manage a whole shelf of books.

Though relatively easy to come by, money-bank books generally have considerable wear to the corners and outer casing. The key is usually missing, making it more of a display piece than anything functional. Remarkably, this example is in exceptional condition, with its key and original packaging intact.

Rite of Way: Pair of Sit-Rite Chairs, ca. 1940s

The scarcity and masterful design of the Sit-Rite chair, manufactured by the Edward L. Koenig Co. of Chicago, have been long respected by Dorset Finds. This pair, found in exceptional original condition, may let the images speak for themselves.

Never Fully Dressed Without a File: Modular Industrial File Cabinets, ca. 1910s

The mortality rate among vintage office furniture is high to say the least. It’s a steady stream of out with the old, in with the new. In most cases, the need for physical files has been superseded altogether by their digital descendents. Streamlining the way we utilize office storage has meant that only in rare circumstances have filing units survived the test of time (and punishment). Our interiors are made all the better for their presence.

John and Wilson Berger started the Berger Manufacturing Co. in Canton, Ohio in 1886, producing lengths of metal conductor pipe in their basement workshop. The United Furnace Company merged with Berger in 1921 and Berloy was born. It quickly developed a strong presence in the market with its lines of shelving, storage, lockers and steel furniture.

The set of eight modular file units pictured possesses its original, dark military- green finish. A patent date of 1918  is embossed, making this a very early production run. Each 26-inch-deep section locks to the one below via a steel rail system and further secures its connection with the closure of a latch located below a rear carry handle. A brass metal card frame adorns the face of each file.

* While a hard drive may be a damn sight smaller and lighter to transport, you’d be hard-pressed to find one as good-looking as this set.

Even the Dazor Brighter: Early Dazor Drafting Light, ca. 1930s

The transition of the drafting stool, from a staple of the office environment to a prominent home decor fixture, has been swift. Its functionality and versatility is unquestionable.

Likewise, the drafting lamp, which historically held its place mounted to drafting and illustration tables, has repositioned itself as a useful tool in the domestic arena.

Perhaps the most ubiquitous of the drafting light manufacturers is Dazor of St. Louis, founded in 1938 by Harry Dazey and Washington University professor Albert Perbal.

During World War II, the company became widely known when the U.S. government selected Dazor’s products to replace much of the costly overhead lighting that had previously illuminated its offices. Not only did Dazor pieces fulfill the much-needed directional light application — thanks to its patented Floating Lamp system — they were also considered the more energy-efficient option in the market. (What? There was a time when the U.S. government was genuinely interested in energy efficiency?)

At the 1938 World’s Fair in New York, General Electric highlighted the uses of the Dazor lamp in its display.

B.K. Elliott (Pittsburgh), the drafting and surveying equipment retailer, touted the patented Dazor Floating Lamp in its 1948 sales catalog as working “like the human arm.” It says: “A strong spring force, acting through a shifting fulcrum and parallelogram on both sections of the double-arm, equalizes the varying forces exerted by the arm, thereby balancing the arm in any position.”

Pictured is the earliest, patent-pending version, which provides fascinating insight into the lamp’s inner mechanism. Later, this section was completely encased to avoid dust intake. It reveals heavy-duty bolts and a large, sprung steel coil, which is the muscle that powers the arm’s reach.