Category Archives: Metalware

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.

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.

On Base: Factory Task Lamp, ca. 1940s

Stand any closer, Mr. Capshaw, and I'll be able to count the change in your pocket.

If you’re a regular to Dorset Finds, you’ll be aware of our desire to revive tired and overlooked objects — pieces that have beauty beneath layers of factory soot and grease.

Though intact when found, this Fostoria task lamp was plagued by several coats of paint and decayed wiring. To resurrect it, the light was stripped, exposing the raw metal underneath, then rewired using twisted cloth-covered cord. Finally, an old steel gear was added to provide a weighty base. This allows the bulb to be directed to a specific area. Also, by not being affixed permanently to a work surface (as was intended by the manufacturer), the unit can be easily moved.

Heart of the Lyon: Industrial Lyon Stool, ca. 1940s

We bang on a bit about industrial seating options on this blog. Uhl Toledo stools are a fave, but they’re difficult to find, as they’re no longer in production. Ajusto and Bevco, too, make durable versions that are readily available today, while Hamilton produced very few numbers, so they’re rare as hen’s teeth. More often than not, when factories closed down, these items were scrapped rather than being redistributed to be implemented elsewhere. The perception was that, despite its functionality, a stool was just a stool.

Add to this lot Lyon Metal Products Inc.,  which began production of its industrial-grade storage, seating and lockers in 1901 and remains a mainstay in today’s factory setting.

Beverly Lyon Waters founded what was originally known as the Lyon Metallic Manufacturing Company and was quickly joined by his younger brother, Frank. By 1906 they had secured a large factory and office headquarters in Aurora, Illinois, which enabled them to mass-produce all manner of products fabricated from sheet steel. After merging with the Durand Steel Locker Company of Chicago in 1928, they changed the name to Lyon Metal Products Inc.

Taking the lead in the early stages of WWII, they created a brochure, “How One Company Tackles the War Production Problem,” in which they detailed methods of diverting production toward wartime goods. The War Production Board distributed the pamphlet to hundreds of small manufacturers, thereby securing Lyon a strong market position during this period.

This particular model is understated. The army green, steel frame is welded to become one sturdy piece that sits at a fixed height. No ornate lift mechanisms here! The pressed-steel backrest is also fixed, and rather than an ergonomic wood seat it has a perforated particle-board plate. Despite this, the footrests are conveniently situated for lengthy periods of sitting. Parking your caboose here throughout a full, 8.5-hour shift, however, is another story.

We’ve Lost The Spark: Auto-Lite Service Parts Toolbox, ca. 1950s

Utilitarian items like vintage toolboxes are always a joy to unearth. Sure, in the case of this example, the box’s purpose was to also act as an advertising piece, but fundamentally, this steel cabinet sat in a workshop to hold — and keep separated — spark plugs and related parts.

Auto-Lite (Toledo, Ohio) originated in 1911 when a couple of small parts companies began producing buggy lamps. By the 1930s it had become a prosperous automotive-components business, and in 1935 Auto-Lite undertook an endeavor to create its own ceramic spark plug. In no time, leading carmakers such as Chrysler, Willys, Packard and Studebaker were adopting the brand’s spark plugs. (Interestingly, Auto-Lite carries on today, outlasting all of these once-promising automotive manufacturing heavyweights, with the exception of Chrysler.) Aside from spark plugs, the company also made radiator grills, door handles and hubcaps.

The blue toolbox pictured is in very good shape structurally, and the graphics, though distressed in points, are still clear and clean. Inside the drawers are several metal dividers used to partition sections for various small components. Also present are two boxed, dead-stock,  ball-bearing gears.

The L Word: Buddy “L” Dump Truck, ca. 1940s

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.

Enjoy the Silence: Drive-In-Movie Speaker Lamp, ca. 1940s

There are certain iconic designs that, in some form, helped to define a period. These seminal objects shadow our daily lives,  performing their distinct functions in a way that elicits a response from us and, in turn, shapes our perceptions of a given era.

There were a number of major drive-in movie-theater speaker producers during the mid-20th century: RCA, Simplex and DITMCO models lined the aisles at hundreds of drive-in locations around the country. Perhaps the biggest — and arguably, most desirable — was the Eprad. These cast-aluminum speaker casings embody a mastery of the understatement. Their solid curves form a front grill, mirroring automotive styling of the same period.

This unit has been modified to become a lamp, rewired with cloth cord and an adapted volume control that now commands the on/off switch. Its surface has been buffed to bring out the unmistakable aluminum finish. The original bracket is present at the rear, allowing for easy wall-mounting.

Horse Play: All-Nu Lead Figure, ca. 1940s

Before there was any notion of 3-D PlayStation games, children played with 3-D lead toys. You know something is really three-dimensional when it’s weighty like lead. Call of Duty: Black Ops, eat your heart out.

Companies like Britains, Manoil and Barclay developed figurines ranging from farm animals to military soldiers to simple, everyday street characters.

C. Frank Krupp was  a former sculptor and mold-maker for Barclay. His desire was to create his own line of lead figurines, and with the help of David Reader — the brother of Barclay owner Irving Reader — he incorporated All-NU in 1938. They started out in Yonkers, New York and in 1941 moved to their larger digs in Manhattan. That same year, Woolworth’s carried their full line of products, but with WWII came a cease in the production of lead toys. Shortly after the war, a partnership with Faben Products was formed and they resumed manufacturing the pre-war items that made All-NU so popular, such as horses, mounted hunters, cowboys and cowgirls on broncos.

This elegant example is of a jockey atop a racehorse. There is some paint loss, but the original wire rein continues to be grasped by the rider. The number 2 is clearly marked on either side of the animal, and perhaps the greatest feat of all, there are no chips to the lead. The snout, ears, tail and hoofs are prime areas where play could have led to chips and breaks, but this piece appears complete and intact.

Yes We Can: Gulf Grease Tin, ca. 1940s

I make no apologies for my love of things that proudly show their age. Wear and tear give an object warmth while also helping to creating a narrative. Who used this item? How was it used? Did it stand up to the treatment it received? All of this adds up over time and makes the piece more than it was when it was fresh and unused.

While in Toronto recently I happened across this Gulf grease can and was immediately struck by its exterior patina. At first glance it may not seem worthy of investigation but on closer look, seeing past the dents and chips, there really is something special about the faded paint. The orange and dark blue graphics are shadowed and scratched yet still clear enough to make out. The rim, particularly on one side shows old damage where it was repeatedly hit with a grease stick, presumably when it was a fixture in a workshop or garage.

This one I’ve decided is staying with me and has been repurposed as a pen holder.

A Spanner In the Works: Railroad Wrench, ca. 1890s

Every household should have a toolbox for those little emergencies. In the case of this railroad wrench, you’d need a somewhat larger place to store it as it’s 27″ long!

This piece of railway history was manufactured by the Roebling Machine Shop of Trenton, New Jersey; the same Roebling family who designed the Brooklyn Bridge. It spent its days tightening heavy duty iron nuts on locomotives and shifting rails to allow trains to branch off to other locations.

The wrench shows some rusting and pitting but the teeth are in good shape and it’s clearly marked with a patent date of 1898. Now, if only I could find someone to help left it…

UPDATE: This is a short note sent to me by the purchaser of this wrench, Mike from Georgia:

Some 21 years ago, I began my wrench collection with a like new Roebling No.3 baby brother to the one you have. Now 11 different Roeblings and close to 900 other wrenches later, I can complete my first collection! The Number 5 is scarce, probably because they were pretty useless as a tool and a lot of them probably went into WWII scrap metal drives. I have only seen 2 others up for auction over the years. Looking forward to its addition to the “Tool Room”.


Write On: Brass Fob Watch Chain and Retractable Pencil, ca. 1930s

I shouldn't have eaten Pop-tarts for breakfast again...

Fob chains have made their way back into the fold after many years, most likely due to a strong showing of waistcoats within menswear circles.

While pairing chains with a pocket watch is an option, I like mixing it up a bit with an old key, pocket knife or – as pictured – a pencil. This one is brass and nickel and features a cool little slide mechanism which shields the lead tip when it’s not in use.

Just when you thought there was no use for those pesky IKEA pencils…

Bottle Rocket: Machine Age Wine Cooler, ca. 1950s

There’s something about aged aluminum; Pre-WWII shaving mirrors, Emeco Navy chairs and in this case, an unusual and difficult to find “Fizz Master” wine or Champagne cooler.

Dent free and in good working order, this cooler is a welcome edition to any picnic or dinner party. Just bung it in the fridge for an hour before you head out and Bob’s your aunt’s live-in-lover.