C Change: Primitive Repurposed Furniture Clamp, ca. 1930s

We can be misled in thinking that the shift toward thriftiness due to the economy or environmental concerns is a recent phenomenon. In an age of massive consumption, we commonly purchase products with nothing in mind but their short-term benefits. Frequently, items make a brief pit stop in our homes before reaching their final destination at the ever-expanding landfill.

During the Great Depression of the late 1920s and ’30s, even educated, skilled workers who had adopted a frugal lifestyle prior to the Depression were forced to cut back even further.

The furniture clamp pictured is a fine example of the ingenuity borne out of necessity during this era. The size-15, cast-iron C-clamp, manufactured by Sargent & Co. (New Haven, CT), broke at some stage. Most likely, a stress crack formed after the piece was dropped, and quickly gave way. Rather than disposing of the item, the owner, clearly a master craftsman, chose to fashion something new and equally useful: a large furniture clamp.

The wood framework was handmade out of birch, complete with a notched shaft and steel-bound, bracketed wedge. The wedge slides freely until locking into place in one of the notches that line the shaft. Forged rivets hold the repurposed parts of the clamp, enabling a firm bond to be achieved once the butterfly screw is tightened. As if this tool was not unique enough to be identified, the owner, F. S. Taylor, stamped his name at the head of the one-of-a-kind instrument.

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