Category Archives: Mercantile

Sink or Schwinn: Steel Parts Cabinet, ca. 1940s

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Iconic Americana brands share a number of similar characteristics: innovation, good design, value and quality. Aside from these factors, truly enduring brands become synonymous with the items they sell. Coca-Cola, Levi’s, Chevrolet, Harley-Davidson and Mobil Oil are easily identifiable, partly due to the narrative that comes rolled into the fabric of each brand; Levi’s represents comfortable work wear, Coke is a joyful experience, and Harley-Davidson equals freedom.

In 1895 the Schwinn Bicycle Company opened its doors in Chicago, a city quickly becoming the hub of cycling production in the U.S. Its founders were German-American immigrants Ignaz Schwinn, an engineer who had built bicycles in Europe, and Adolph Arnold, a meat-packer who bankrolled the business’s start. Though a bicycle boom was underway, the following years presented challenges such as the rise of the automobile in the early 1900s, the Depression of the late 1920s and the growing influx of lighter-weight British-made bicycles in the 1940s.

Nevertheless, Schwinn remained competitive, striking a balance between innovative design and low-cost production. In 1934 it released the AeroCycle, which soon became known as the Paperboy or Cruiser. It featured wide balloon tires, a push-button bell and an imitation gas tank. Competitors quickly followed suit and rushed similar models to market. Before long, this design became the standard of bicycle styling.

Marketing and merchandising were also key to the company’s success. In the 1950s, in particular, Schwinn began scaling back its agreements with department stores that were re-branding its bikes to sell in-house; instead, it encouraged bike shops to stock Schwinn products exclusively. Such retail partners also carried a selection of genuine Schwinn-made parts and accessories to complement and ensure the long life of the bicycles.

Extra-large parts cabinets like the one pictured were uncommon and generally found in larger, flagship-level stores. This item would have sat pride-of-place on a bike shop’s counter as a utilitarian piece housing various Schwinn parts according to their serial numbers. The door can be raised to allow access to the inner, flat work surface, and the divided drawers below are easy to reach. Free of dents, this chest boasts its original handles and clear, sharp graphics on both the outside and inside.

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.

Clocking Out: Automotive Dealership Neon Clock, ca. 1940s

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.

Charge of the Light Brigade: Eveready Flashlight Battery Display, ca. 1940s

National Carbon Co., which released the first commercial dry-cell battery in 1896, purchased the American Eveready Co. in 1914. Eveready’s founder, Conrad Hubert, invented the first flashlight in 1898, and the accompanying D-size battery, released the same year, became an instant necessity. Easy, convenient and safe, this new handheld product was relatively inexpensive, reliable and allowed for directed light without the production of heat or flame.

At Dorset Finds, we’re rather partial to 20th century advertising pieces. This item, a tin lithograph display stand, lacks some of its original luster. The red panels that once burned bright have dulled to a mustardy hue. There are areas of heavy pitting and scratches, but this is somewhat expected given its utilitarian function. More importantly, one can make out all the text, including the Eveready slogan of the day, “They Last Longer.” All the components are straight, and the wonderful, hinged sections maneuver correctly: The sprung header-sign moves forward and back into place; the bottom drawer slides in and out using the original curved handle; the inner tray can be raised and lowered (presumably to restock the battery supplies); and the pressed front, made to look like rows of batteries, clicks perfectly into place to shield the inventory that remains behind.

High Voltage!: General Electric Custom Display Cabinet, ca. 1920s

There are times when an item is so far gone, condition-wise, that rather than restore it to its former glory, the only route forward is to transform the piece into something altogether different from its intended purpose.

Such was the case with the recent acquisition of a brass, General Electric Company “Curve Drawing Voltmeter” cabinet. When found, the brass frame suffered from a sloppy layer of black paint and one of the side glass panes was missing. Importantly, the hinged door still possessed its original glass with frosted General Electric emblem.

The brass box had its paint stripped away, and a new piece of glass was cut to replace the absent one. A mahogany base was created (thanks to the good folks at Brooklyn Design + Fabrication), and a full grain leather pad was fabricated, then fastened to the floor of the unit. It now operates as an elegant display case that drips with character.

The Coke Trade: Coca-Cola Ice-Cooler Chest, ca. 1930s

The global ubiquity of Coca-Cola is undeniable. Whether or not you approve of the carbonated drink and its domination within the beverage market, Coke has forged a significant place in the consumer’s consciousness in a way never seen before. (Apple Inc., stay tuned…)

Coca-Cola’s genesis and history have been widely documented and discussed, but its consistent immersion deep into the pop-culture fabric is what’s most fascinating. Across every decade and medium — whether via film, music, art or television — this brand has evolved and grown while managing to stay in step with its consumers.

If you believe the marketing, Coke is an experience rather than just a drink. It’s an accompaniment to your favorite meal, the reward you give yourself for mowing the lawn. It’s the pick-me-up you depend on during your mid-afternoon slump, the drink you share with family members during celebrations and a fixture in your hand while at the movies on a Saturday night.

Prior to electric refrigerators, Coca-Cola coolers like the one above were common fixtures in corner stores and gas stations. (Glass) bottles were placed within the zinc interior and cooled with ice. The consumer would help themselves to a cold one, remove the cap using the affixed opener and, when finished, deposit the empty container into wood crates held by the steel shelf below.

This cooler was manufactured by Westinghouse in the late 1930s, while the the Starr “X” bottle opener has a patent date of 1925. Though thousands of these ice chests were manufactured, many were scrapped over the years, and it’s become common to restore these pieces to within an inch of their life. Fortunately, this example is in excellent unrestored condition, and what flaws it has it wears with pride.

A Stitch In Time: Telechron Shop Display, ca. 1950′s

Finding this Telechron clock display, “Gold Jerry!” was the first thing that came to mind.

You can see why. This display unit or “Time Table” really has everything you look for in a collectible.

Condition: So often you find something great but the side is bashed in or the advertising text has worn away or it’s just missing one of its components that make it what it is. This example is correct right down to the original donut-shaped glass shelf. Both the shelf and double-sided header sign rotate. It’s missing the additional wall clock holder but that doesn’t affect the overall appearance. The only thing better than finding something like this in mint condition is finding it with age appropriate wear. This one’s seen some battles and come out looking all the better for it. Sweet rust…

It’s a quality brand: Telechron sold millions of clocks by the middle of last century and produced too many iconic designs to go into here. They consistently defined their era’s design aesthetic.

It’s practical: Who’s got space for stuff that only looks pretty. This stand is 29″ x 21″ and very usable in a home, bar, store etc.