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 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.
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.
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.
At Dorset Finds we’ve been vocal about our appreciation of the Ajusco lamp. For more that a century, the family-run company, based in Mequon, Wisconsin, has churned out quality industrial lighting solutions. Not only do these virtually indestructible pieces perform the invaluable task of directing light to a specific work area, the patented Ajusco-Loc fixture design, with it’s three-pronged reinforcement, means that even under the most harsh conditions, socket breakages do not occur.
This exceptional pair were cleaned then stripped of their original decaying finish, leaving a desirable matte patina. After being rewired, each light was mounted to solid steel repurposed factory gears. The restoration of these lamps has given them a life of their own. Intertwined, they create drama with almost limitless flexibility of movement.
If your desk is anything like mine, bills, invoices and pesky Netflix envelopes seem to conquer an unsatisfactorily large amount of real estate. Discovering storage solutions that hide quantities of clutter are a godsend.
The Art Steel Company of the Bronx, N.Y. manufactured a range of administrative-grade storage and filing solutions in the early 20th century.
Conveniently, this piece — which, aesthetically, looks like an old book made out of army green steel — is small enough occupy little surface space on a desk, yet substantial enough to accommodate approximately 150 sheets of standard-size letter paper. This is an early example with the original “Art Steel Co. N.Y.C.” label, rather than the later embossed logo.
Here at Dorset Finds we’re always excited to acquire retired factory lamps. If we can find a way to expand on their function, all the better.
The Fostoria light pictured is in remarkably good shape; clean battleship gray paint, clear manufacturer’s label and an unusual anodized switch. The three knuckles are tight and allow for easy maneuverability.
Forming a base to this piece is a construction-grade, steel bracket which doubles as both a writing station – with space for pens and pad – and, as a non-fixed support clamp that can be inserted into just about any vertical shelf or table space.
It’s said that condition is everything, and Dorset Finds has to concur. That’s not to say, however, that good condition is everything.
Yes, there is certainly value in having a collectible toy in pristine, unplayed condition, and we certainly don’t want to detract from such extraordinary finds. But, isn’t there also a heightened significance in possessing the same item that was enjoyed and destroyed for decades, all under the context of play? What value do we place on jumping a three-foot dirt pile, Dukes of Hazzard-style, with Teddy still in the dump compartment? What worth can be found in surviving the ride all the way down the driveway, across the street and into the front yard of your neighbor?
The Moline Pressed Steel Company was started in 1910 by Fred A. Lundahl and manufactured steel parts for the automotive industry, such as International Harvester Company. Recognizing the need for a durable toy truck that could take all the batterings his son could deal out, Lundahl built a prototype with 18- and 20-gauge steel that he pulled out of his business’s scrap heap. Buddy L was born in 1921 and focused on boys’ toys such as fire trucks, cars, trains, construction equipment and dump trucks.
The 22-inch model pictured is a true survivor. Despite heavy play, the axles are straight, the wheels spin and, structurally, the piece is solid.
Nicely played, Buddy L.
The predecessor to the more familiar, adjustable Draftsman stool, this early Uhl version rests at a fixed seat height of 27 inches. Rather than utilizing a spring lever to adjust the level, this example, which dates from approximately 1915 to 1920, requires the removal of four bolts from a steel grid connected to the chair’s base.
The differences don’t end there. The bent plywood seat and back are almost twice the thickness of the newer maple versions. There’s also a depth and richness to the wood grain not found in newer varieties. A butterfly screw — rather than a round, molded plastic grip — holds the adjustment bracket to the backrest (missing is a silver bead that should cap the end of the bolt). Instead of large pivoting glides, smaller, more primitive, stationary feet protrude from the leg shaft. The gray steel base has seen its fair share of factory-floor mishaps, but the integrity and durability of this piece remains.
At Dorset Finds we spend a good deal of time talking about, searching for and contemplating the best office chair solutions. Comfort, durability, design and value all come into play because let’s face it, you spend more time sitting in this chair than anywhere else so there are a lot of boxes that need to be checked before choosing the right item.
Just as significant – though often overlooked – is the selection of the right desk. This Globe-Mernicke desk has a great industrial look while also being sleeker that some of the other tank-style steel desks of the same era.
Globe-Wernicke originated in Minneapolis in 1899 when the Globe Company, who already had production plants in Europe, purchased the Wernicke Company in an effort to expand into the US market. The company was most notably an office furniture manufacturer but like many companies had its factories converted to produce military equipment during WWII.
The deep, seaweed green, heavy-gauge steel shows some age marks and the black vinyl top has scratches, imprints of the odd paper clip and and a few stains. The subtle, slimline drawer is sans hardware. Merely a small logo plate. Its width and depth prove a worthy match for all those pesky desk items that need stowing. Yes, this desk has been used, but it’s tough as nails and more sturdy an office desk, has never there been made…
Three cheers for a paperless office and all, but extra points awarded for making your desk sing with a bit of character too. Even if you have no-one to hold all your calls, your memos arrive via email and you pay your bills online, it doesn’t mean you can’t bung a few magazines, thank you notes and holiday snaps into this tall (14″!), handsome in-tray. Dorset Finds isn’t preachy but isn’t it time you be the boss of you?
I love this piece’s versatility; Perfect for the office, on a coffee table or a bureau. The stained, wooden-framed trays are labeled with original gold leaf lettering and the aged brass hardware is in great shape.
Now, get back to work.
The hunt for the perfect articulating desk lamp seems to be an unending challenge. Just as well, it’s a labor of love! So many variations exist across many manufacturers that it can be tough making a choice.
This unmarked lamp, dating to the 1930s is likely a “Localite” manufactured by Fostoria of Ohio. What makes it special is the aged, spun aluminum shade and porcelain light socket. The flat steel base allows for easy placement on a wall, ceiling or desk. Definitely a contender, wouldn’t you say?
Having the right desk top distraction is not an option these days, it’s a necessity.
With so much screen time given in an average day, you need something to distract you from work (that isn’t an iPhone). Facebook is well and good but if you simply want to zone out and be entranced, sans status updates, there’s nothing quite like a good, old top.
I like this Frank Lloyd Wright-esque version from pucci Manuli in walnut. It’s got a nice weight to it and spins…forever. A great idea for X-mas too!
One of the things I’ve tried to highlight in this blog is the intrinsic quality and design that products from previous eras possess. Certain items, though utilitarian can be beautiful and more importantly, stand up to a battering.
Case in point: The Scotch tape dispenser. Manufactured out of cast iron and weighing several pounds, these tank-like desk models stayed in their place and kept performing year after year.
The model pictured is the rarer, large version that holds either two standard rolls of tape or one large packing roll. These larger models were usually confined to packing rooms, offices and factories where they’d be put to constant use so it’s great to find one in such good shape.
All things being equal, there’s no reason why this one wont last another 70 years!