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.
It can be a delight when seemingly random items come together to form a unifying, functional object that echoes its past while reimagining the piece for a sustainable future. Not only do we preserve a piece of history by salvaging and repurposing, we lend to it new life.
Messrs, Morse, Williams & Co., known as the Morse Elevator Works, was founded in the late 19th century. Demand for their freight elevators was intense due to their use of superior safety devices and automatic hatch doors, features uncharacteristic for the period. Their reputation won them not only product orders from across the country, but from overseas as well. Stephen A. Morse, who supervised manufacturing, was also known to mechanics the world over for his invention of the twist drill.
Established in 1911, the Burke Machine Tool Co. of Ohio produced large, heavy-duty milling and drill-press machines and corresponding bases.
Shying away from heavy, oversize objects isn’t part of the Dorset Finds mind-set. In fact, if it’s too large and too cumbersome to transport back to the workshop, it generally gets snapped up faster that you can say, “lower back pain.” That said, the prospect of combining three weighty items seemed a little daunting on first consideration.
The goal: Join two, solid oak, antique Morse signs (which were originally housed within the framework of a factory’s freight elevator) along their flat edge to make a seamless tabletop and attach to this an early-20th-century, cast-iron Burke pedestal base. With some help from the woodworking mavens at Brooklyn Design + Fabrication, coupled with some reflective days spent scrubbing, repairing and refinishing the dark timber surfaces, a new, custom dining table was born.
The appeal of old factory items is easy to grasp, especially when they’re repurposed to fulfill a new duty in a modern setting. They’re durable, show their wear well and perform a function.
What then, when objects — such as this collection of wood foundry molds — are presented as purely decorative? Generally, I would instinctively shy away from this concept. My preference is to gather useful, purposeful items. That said, there’s always room for exceptions to the rule.
This collection is a tribute: an assemblage of trophies commemorating the successful engineering of… something. These wooden parts were carefully designed and then put to use creating casts for what would become steel products utilized in machinery. The molds needed to be precision-made, because any miscalculations or flaws would render the resulting part incompatible with corresponding components.
Unexpectedly soulful, these patterns are mounted on heavy-gauge, steel bases. The paint hues are muted yet still draw the eye to the elevated presentation of each mold, creating the illusion of them hovering above the table’s surface.
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.
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.
If you’re a regular reader of this blog, the stools above will not be unfamiliar. Dorset Finds has shone the spotlight on the highly coveted Draftsman stool, manufactured by the Toledo Metal Furniture Co. — or Toledo stool — many times, and we’re always pleased to bring you an unusual or rare configuration of this classic.
Ergonomics and the Machine Age are not often thought of in the same context, but this is one area where the Toledo stool shines. The curved steel arm brace holds the bent plywood back, providing support to the lower back without being too rigid. With a turn of the round knob that holds the backrest in place, the user can click the mechanism up or down for the desired position. In addition, this particular model has a 21″ in diameter footrest ring rather than the usual 16″, thereby providing greater foot and leg support. Already a powerhouse of versatility and function, this piece boasts enhanced mobility via the smooth rolling casters, which — like modern office chairs — allow one to move short distances without even having to get up.
Please though, no office hockey…
Frank Lloyd Wright at his drafting table, presumably not wanting to risk standing up for fear of losing his seat.
At the turn of the 20th Century, the drafting industry was almost non-existent. But, within a few short years the world shifted its demand for mass produced items and likewise, drawings needed to be produced and duplicated at a rate never seen before.
The Hamilton Company was founded in 1880 by skilled woodworker James Hamilton, and by 1891 the business employed over 200 staff. By 1912 Hamilton was manufacturing steel furniture for printers and expanded into drafting furniture by 1917.
This rare Hamilton stool retains its original hardwood swiveling seat while the steel base, with its aged, military green paint appears almost unbreakable. The lever arm was engineered with incredible precision and lifts/ locks tight without any play. All in all, this dark horse is a comparable drafting stool to even the highly coveted – and increasingly high priced – Toledo version…
O.C. White Advertisement, 1936
Industrial lighting enthusiasts can identify a good task light at a thousand yards. Plenty of early 20th Century lighting manufactures created what are now highly sought after desk items but in this case, there is nothing more coveted to the avid collector.
With prices now clocking four figures, the desk light that sees more prospective buyers leaping flea market trestle tables to make a purchase is that of O.C. White.
Be sure, these articulating lamps were not meant to be pretty ornaments but rather, heavy-duty lighting tools that no factory work bench in the U.S. was complete without during the 1920s to 1950s.
O.C. White was established in 1883 when Massachusetts dental surgeon, Dr. Otis C. White patented his first adjustable joint. By the end of the 19th Century the company had become the pioneer in the area of task lighting. In 1939, with the advent of luminescent light technology, the company turned its hand to developing lighting for the stitching trade, hospital floor lamps and physicians examination units. Today, the company continues to manufacture a wide range of lighting out of their facility in Thorndike, Mass.
This example comes with an aged, green shade and original 8-Ball knuckle; the company’s trademark. Though darkened and worn down, the fittings are brass and stamped with the maker’s mark.
I’m a sucker for a stool. No surprises there. But the Toledo Metal Furniture Company made some of the coolest and most durable factory seating of the Twentieth Century. Various models of varying heights were produced using steel, and in some cases, plywood or hardwood seats.
Compared to pneumatic lift systems commonly found in similar contemporary stools, the Toledo spring-lever lift mechanism may seem a bit archaic but there’s something to be said for hearing that sound of steel teeth locking securely into a steel support bar to secure a desired seat height.
This example of the Draftsman stool is labelled and retains its solid footrest ring near the base. The solid round maple seat has been given a light polish and then sealed for many more years of use. It’s an ample 15″ in diameter and swivels freely. It’s also great to see that all the feet are original on this piece and perform perfectly.
Battered and bruised. Just the way we like it…
This WWII era stool stands tall at 30″ and though it’s been put through its paces over the decades, it’s still rock solid. The green painted steel shows great wear – and admittedly is hanging on by a thread in spots – but this, and the red wounds add something to this piece you’d be hard pressed to recreate. The original glides are all there too. Climb aboard!
The state of the decor solutions you choose is subjective. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ll know that for my money, I prefer pieces that proudly display their wounds; aged, blemished wood, broken-in leather – and in this case – tarnished, stained steel with a marbled patination of chipped mustard, gray, rust, silver, black and green paint.
While cosmetically, this lamp, manufactured by Ajusco, shows its history, structurally and electrically it performs perfectly. The jointed knuckles move easily, the paddle switch works and the original steel shade is dent-free and cradles the light socket like a helmet.
Storage is always a challenge, especially in cities where square footage comes at a premium. Finding pieces that hold a good deal of items while making sense visually is a tall order, which is why I love this modular shelving system.
These mistreated-to-perfection, 1920s shelves began their lives as factory carts with iron casters before being converted into shelving. They can be lined up, stacked or placed long-ways under a window with a few throw-pillows for seating.
Which ever way you slice it, these shelves are beaten to hell and there isn’t anything you’re going to do to them that hasn’t been done, with more severity, in the past. Some furniture wants to be mistreated and these pieces look all the better for having obliged.
Each of the 4 sections is 48″ x 18″ x 18″.
Nobody likes to be made to feel like a number, especially in the workplace.
The Industrial Age ushered in a new era of mass produced items and consequently, shift workers arrived at factories all over the country in the hundreds, ready to learn a skill.
Simplex Time Recorder Co. of Gardner, MA. was founded in the late 19th Century and made it its mission to manufacture instruments that could accurately keep track of and calculate an employee’s work day.
This example, while showing some age, still keeps great time and clicks over in 2.5 minute increments. The clock face and outer casing show some light rust spots that helps give this piece some warmth. The stainless steel punch tab functions perfectly and will print the day and time on an ordinary piece of card when inserted into the slot.
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.
I've had a gut full of your trash talk.
They say that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. In this case, a steel trash can produced by the Bennett Manufacturing Company of Alden, NY., takes the saying to its most literal limit.
Established in 1906, the Bennett Manufacturing Co. got its start as a producer of early dashboards for horse-drawn carriages. It later diversified into other areas and today the company makes a commercial trash can not too dissimilar from the one you see in this post.
This long drink of water stands at 42″ tall and the flip-top lid is hinged so the bag can slide into the original steel liner more easily. The green paint is in good condition considering the treatment this item would have received and all of the stainless steel glides are intact.
Now, if only I could muster up the courage to throw something away…