Debate has been sparked over the last couple of years among insiders as to the longevity of “industrial” as a decorative genre. Like any stylistic movement, this one will make way for the next, whatever that may be. Inexpensively produced cookie-cutter furniture pieces — generally manufactured in India or China — have entered the market, sometimes giving design enthusiasts pause before they invest in an original item with historical provenance.
Artificially distressing steel and wood to give the look of decades-old, utilitarian factory items is not uncommon. Even fabricating gear-shaped patterns in steel to embellish stools and tables is not unheard of. It’s a way to loosely capture a factory look without, perhaps, going through the time, effort and expense of seeking out an original.
The idea of reproduction furniture is hardly a new concept, but does it kill a design movement when copies or non-authentic items enter the market? I say no. From what I can see, Herman Miller, Knoll, Emeco and many other furniture brands have done very nicely, thank you, simply by providing well-made originals, manufactured to a high standard. The debate over the integrity of materials used in new originals versus vintage ones we’ll leave for another day, but so long as there’s an interest in authentic design, quality and durability, industrial pieces will remain relevant. I’ve long used the example of the Toledo stool, which is now an icon of 20th century design and will hold both its aesthetic appeal and collectibility long after the movement that thrust it into the limelight has passed. The key is to focus on what you like and buy quality.
When this old cast-iron base — removed from a decommissioned wire-spinning machine — was first spotted, the pressing question was: How can this fixture be transformed into a functional dining table? Through some trial and error (and a good deal of grease removal), the custom table was completed via its pairing with a large section of refinished antique bowling alley.
While 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.
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.
Dorset Finds is frequently asked what to look for when buying a Uhl Toledo stool or chair. Generally speaking, these items were built to last; however, below are some invaluable guidelines that will ensure the piece purchased meets your needs and continues to perform for many years to come.
1. Establish the height you need. Much of Toledo’s seating is height-adjustable. That said, Draftsman stools are generally too tall for standard-height dining tables and desks, so you may require a chair instead.
2. Assess the condition of the plywood seat and backrest. Being the most fragile components of the piece, the wood sections are prone to chipping and delamination. Minor separations can be easily fixed with wood glue.
3. Assess the wishbone lever arm. Look for any separations or breaks in the steel loops that cover the ends of the lever. These loops are susceptible to metal fatigue, especially if the original spring has been lost (major red flag) or replaced by a non-original part. The lever arm’s anchors are a crucial stress area in the chair’s design. A key sign that the integrity of this piece has been breached is wobbling in the seat post. If a break is detected, the example is best avoided.
4. Look for non-original parts. As time passes, utilitarian furniture within an industrial setting is expected to be mistreated and continue to work. If damage was sustained, in some cases readily available parts were retrofitted purely out of a need for the chair to remain functional. Older models should feature a wing nut and brass spherical nut cap at the rear of the backrest. In later versions this was replaced with a black, round, hardened-plastic turning knob. Ensure that both the backrest and seat have contours. If either of these parts are flat, they’re replacements.
Aside from these structurally driven suggestions, the aesthetics are really a subjective element. Whether one likes rust and chipped paint, wood that’s faded or a glossy varnish, these tips will arm one with the necessary tools to go forth and buy well.
An occupational hazard of repairing and restoring old wares is that one becomes a magnet for a diverse collection of tools, parts and hardware. As time passes, one tool box is filled, then another and another. The resulting game of multiple choice when searching for the right item can be harrowing.
When the time came to upgrade to a larger source of storage, Dorset Finds was pretty thrilled to stumble across a heavy-duty rolling work station.
The only thing better than a tool box with 25″ deep drawers is one with a solid butcher block top and a retrofitted shelf. Other customizations include a row of hooks that line one side of the piece; perfect for organizing readily used tools and parts and keeping them off the work surface. Frequently misplaced in other examples is the original solid steel lock plate, that when dropped into a lip on the lower front of the unit, forms part of a mechanism which secures all the drawers. As we found out, large cast iron casters are also a godsend when shifting the full cabinet from one side of the workshop to the other.
With each new project that Dorset Finds undertakes, an appreciation for implementing the correct tool for the job intensifies. Overhead costs and environmental concerns are always front of mind, therefore buying older American-made tools ticks all the boxes in a practical sense. They were built to last and the carbon footprint of one of these gems is much smaller than a new, cheaply made imported version. The bonus with the Delta DP (drill press) 220 is that not only was it engineered to a high standard, aesthetically its Buck Rogers styling cues speak to the design ethos of that era.
In 1919, the Delta Specialty Company was founded by Herbert Tautz and run out of his garage in Milwaukee, WI. Started as a manufacturer of tools for the home shop, the company quickly expanded to produce light-industrial machinery. The Delta brand – which quickly became synonymous with quality and affordability – specialized in drill presses, heavy-duty saws, grinders and lathes.
Vintage tool and machinery enthusiasts are growing in number and recognize not only the collectibility of these fine artifacts of industria, but also the need to preserve them.
Though well-used, this drill press retains much of its original battleship gray finish. The motor purrs from behind the cast iron front pulley guard while the original Delta aluminum light provides illumination to the work space below the chuck. This unrestored example also possesses a particularly fine example of the maker’s badge.
*Special thanks to Nick and the other members of the Old Woodworking Machines forum.
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.
It’s always a pleasure to unearth a Uhl Toledo piece, but it’s all the better finding one that’s rare or unusual. Regardless of whatever poor state the item arrives in, its restoration can lead to further discovery. With dozens if not hundreds of variations that existed within the product lines, the desire exists to seek out something that you’ve not had before.
Early Toledo products received a copper oxidization treatment to the steel, known as japanning. This effect of marbling matte black with the sheen of copper was popular during the turn of the twentieth century.
Aside from the japanned steel, there are other characteristics this stool possesses that set it apart from its descendents. Rather than using a sprung lever arm, one adjusts the height by swiveling the seat up and down. The footrest ring is a strap of steel, rather than a thick wire, as it appeared in subsequent designs, and the wood is more substantial due to the lack of a metal support framework.
With each passing month, the depth of tools that Dorset Finds accumulates increases. Some are acquired out of necessity, and others because they just look so damn cool: worn-down wooden handles, stained from the hands of previous craftsmen; steel, flattened and grooved, and possessing a patina that comes from decades of age.
If every task has its corresponding perfect tool, then where do these tools go when they’re not being used for their intended task? Our suggestion is that they be placed in a rolling tool cart like the one pictured, a piece manufactured in the 1940s by Lyon Metal Products Inc. The convenience of having a plethora of tools at your fingertips can’t be underestimated.
These heavy-gauge steel carts have rolled themselves into the home environment for some time due to their durability, versatility and functionality. Commonly, this item is repurposed as a media stand, kitchen island or bedside table. A single rolling tool cabinet can bear more than a few hundred pounds, which may be irrelevant to most applications, but having that level of strength is never a drawback. Neither is the ability to padlock the front to keep others out of your drawers.
There’s a certain deliberation process that unfolds before undertaking a laborious project that has the potential for minimal payoff. The resurrection of an object due to the mismanagement of others is a commitment financially, physically and, more specifically, psychologically.
This Uhl Toledo Draftsman stool is a rarity, and not just for the clown makeup it was dressed in when acquired. While drafting stools with standard seats can be found without too much sweat, an example with a round seat and backrest is far more scarce.
When confronted with such a butchered piece of iconic 2oth century design — masquerading as some sort of oversize children’s candy — the biggest question that goes through one’s mind is whether it’s worth the effort in unwrapping its outer layer. Once the restoration commences, there’s no turning back.
After all, is it the clown that we dislike or is it the clown’s brightly colored exterior? Next time you see one, throw some paint stripper on him and perhaps you will be given a pleasant surprise, as I was with this stool.
At Dorset Finds, we have one philosophy: The only thing better than an extra-large vintage clock is an extra-large vintage clock that lights up! (Come to think of it, we also subscribe to the philosophies that he who hesitates is lost, and there is never an occasion where three-quarter-length pants are appropriate.)
This timepiece, which dates from the late 1940s–early 1950s was likely manufactured by Neon Products, Inc. of Lima, Ohio.
In the 1930s, the Ohio-based advertising sign maker ArtKraft adopted a technique (innovated by the Claude Neon Company, in France) of bending colored tubes of glass and filling them with light. ArtKraft grew rapidly, and with increased demand, a couple of its tube-benders started their own operation, Neon Products, Inc. Neon Products went on to produce pieces for clients such as RCA, Dr. Pepper and Zenith. In addition to creating signs, the company also introduced lines of neon clocks.
This find, measuring 22 inches across, originally hung in John Howard’s Car Store in Somerset, Penn., and was given an update in 1980 when it received a hand-painted addition to the center of the clock face. Other than that, its features remain original and unadulterated. Best of all, the neon is unbroken and the clock keeps good time.
Special thanks to Jeff at Let There Be Neon in New York for his neon clock expertise.
Regular visitors to this blog are well aware of the tributes Uhl Toledo products garner here.
Possessing the strength and durability of an American-made tool of the mid-20th century and enjoying a classic design status on par with the Eames lounge chair, the Toledo stool is a timeless piece of furniture crafted from steel and bent plywood.
Through our travels, Dorset Finds has unearthed dozens of Uhl product variations: round, all-steel versions, short, medium, tall, fixed-height, double-width backrests, wooden casters, plastic casters, standard and extra-large footrest rings… When it came to ordering your stool from the manufacturer, the number of options appears to have been almost endless.
Though research provides images of the near-mythical “A-frame” Toledo stool, we had not seen one in the flesh until recently. Similar in silhouette to the traditional model, the A-frame’s vertical steel supports lean in toward the top creating a pyramid. A wider center of gravity and larger, 18.5-inch footrest ring (rather than the standard 16-inch) give this piece a stockier stance while retaining all the elegance of its sister models.
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.
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.