Before mass media as we know it today, manufacturers realized the importance of reaching the rural customer by what we call “point of sale” merchandising. Today most of us call this post Civil War, late 1800s merchandising “Country Store Advertising”, and spool cabinets are among the most sought-after objects from this vast field of collecting.
Fibers to make sewing thread no longer needed to be harvested and spun at home! The sewing machine was invented in 1844 and thread could now be “store bought” on a wooden spool! During the mid-to-late Victorian period and well into the 20th Century, the average rural and city homemaker depended on her nearby dry goods or general store for her household necessities and sewing notions were undoubtedly high on her list since she was responsible for creating her family’s clothing.
J.&P. Coats' cabinet dating to 1910. This cabinet rotates on its own platform and has tambours on two sides, rounded doors on two sides, and lift-top loading panels on the top:
J.&P. Coats' cabinet. 2nd view:
Thread manufacturers such as Geo. A. Clark, Potter, Heminway (NOT Hemingway!), Leonard, J.&P. Coats, Eureka, Belding, Corticelli, Brainerd & Armstrong, Willimantic, Merrick & Chadwick are among the most widely-known American manufacturers who realized the importance of capturing their customers’ attention at the neighborhood level. To accomplish this, they designed and distributed attractive cases in which the merchant could display their latest wares. Each company tried to out do the other, leaving us with a magnificent array of spool cabinets to collect!
This is a round Merrick's spool cabinet with an 1897 patent. The spools spin within an encased cylinder, protected by curved glass sides:
As with any antique or collectible, some have survived better than others. The value of a spool cabinet is based on its overall condition in addition to the following criteria:
*Original lettering is desirable. However, if this is not possible because the case had to be refinished, then the lettering should exactly replicate the original. The brand name should match the case. For example, you would not want Corticelli lettering on a J. & P. Coats cabinet! Ask the dealer if the graphics are original to the case. If you decide to buy the case, get his reply to this question on your receipt. You are entitled to know what you are buying.
*Pressed composition panels on drawer fronts are desirable. Sometimes cabinets can be found with intricate and decorative advertising panels on the sides and back as well. Some of these components have been reproduced. Check closely with an eye loupe if you are suspicious and ask the dealer. If you decide to buy the case, get his reply to this question on your receipt. Again, this is worth repeating! You are entitled to know EXACTLY what you are buying.
*Hardware should be original. Reference books have been published showing correct hardware for each kind of spool cabinet. Some examples are available on our website.
*If the drawers have ruby- or cobalt-colored glass inserts in the drawers, they should be original and should be etched with the name of the company that corresponds to the design of the cabinet. Computer technology & sandblasting techniques have made it possible for virtually any name to be etched on new glass panels. It would be unwise to invest in a “fantasy” piece. (We will soon be publishing an article telling how to detect new glass panels.)
*Six- or seven-drawer spool cabinets that can be used as end tables or side tables are especially popular. They are the perfect height! Check the underside of the cabinet to make certain that a taller piece has not been cut down to six- or seven-drawer height.
*It is not essential that the thin wood dividers be present in each of the drawers. These dividers kept the spools of thread in straight rows. Today most people use these cabinets to store items other than thread, so the missing dividers generally do not detract from the cabinet’s value.
*Original surface is always desirable so long as the cabinet is still attractive. Usually this is not the case. Most collectors prefer to own a cabinet that is carefully restored to its original beauty. Even a crack in an original ruby-glass panel is preferable to a newly-replaced ruby-glass panel.
*The more “bells and whistles” the more expensive the cabinet! If it has a mirror, a clock, many doors and drawers, or even spins on a pedestal or twirls within a cylinder, the more valuable the piece can be! Obviously, pieces with curved or round glass can be more desirable than those with flat glass. Check to be certain that any glass has not been replaced with plexiglass.
Be aware that there are many fantasy cabinets in the marketplace! We have seen many passed off as “original condition” at top live and internet auctions, and at higher-than-retail prices! If you are unaware of what an authentic spool cabinet should look like, buy from a specialist who will give you a written statement of authenticity.
The items pictured are typical of our inventory. If you see an item of interest, or have an item to sell, please inquire.
J & P Coats Spool Cabinet, shaped like a giant spool of thread!
Six-door ribbon cabinet:
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