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.
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.
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.
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.
Much fuss has been made on this blog extolling the virtues of the industrial stool. Their hardened steel frames fared well in unforgiving factory conditions. Not so common, however, were their wooden counterparts.
The über-rare Sit-Rite stool was manufactured in solid birch wood by the Edward L. Koenig Co. in Chicago during the steel-rationed WWII era. It’s credited as being the first American-made ergonomic stool. The seat height is shifted by loosening two, 10-inch bolts that run through the base’s platform, while the backrest can be shifted several inches forward, backward, up and down.
This example retains its original finish with the added beauty of many layers of muck, which have, over time, darkened the wood and given it a patina to die for. You can almost smell the worker who once sat on her…