Last year I started looking for library card catalog file drawers to buy. Yes, they’re incredibly useful for storing your twine and bags of rubber bands and spare whoopee cushions, but I wanted them for the aesthetics. To me they’re pretty awesome. Maybe it’s the uniformity of the wooden drawers and the little brass pulls. It might be the bookish nature of the card catalog. Either way, I desired one. “The Big Bang Theory” even has a cabinet of card file drawers on its set (but I still wanted one).
So I started checking online and at antique shops. I would see them sporadically, but they seemed either inferior or cost more than I was ready to spend. I even asked 2 of my librarian friends if their libraries had any card file drawers to get rid of now that the card file info was all online. Nope. Their card catalogs had already been poached. The library I worked in briefly during college had already given up its drawers to a former librarian, so I was out of luck there. It seemed I needed to adapt what I was willing to spend.
Fast forward to May– I dropped by an antique mall I’d been to before and there, at the back of the store, stood a 6 and a half foot tall wooden ‘filing cabinet’. But it was more than just a filing cabinet, it was a Globe Wernicke golden oak paneled ‘filing cabinet’ with several layers of drawers.
There were 2 large file drawers at the base with a layer of 3 medium card catalog drawers above that. The next level had 4 smaller card catalog drawers followed by 3 long map drawers, one atop the other. Then at the top was a 2 ft tall cabinet with 3 shelves inside & a cool knob that had a button you had to press before you could pull open the door (and when you opened those doors, a sweet smell of something wafted out. Aged wood? Rat poison? Who knows.).
This really had me drooling. It has map drawers! The drawers all had slightly different shades of oak. Since I’d been to this shop before, it was likely I’d seen this piece before. I seem to have a vague recollection of it, but usually my antique prey are smaller items that don’t cost more than a weeks pay, so it wasn’t previously on my radar. This was much larger and cost far more than I’d planned for, but it was awesome and I had to have it. Since it caught me by surprise, though, I took a photo of it with my phone and left without buying it. I spent the next few weeks talking myself into it and rationalizing costs and reading up on the company, Globe Wernicke.
Globe Wernicke made furniture in the 1st half of the 20th century and was well known for its modular furniture that could be added to section by section. Bookcases with glass fronts that shifted up into the top of the bookcase were among the most popular items (I’d seen them in antique shops before). Because of the section-adding component, they were easier to move and add to over time. The pieces, now lovely antiques, were much desired.
I went back to the shop again and had another lusty look at the thing. I caressed the wooden sides and inhaled the sweet scent of the cabinet like an insane pervert prior to being picked up by the paddy wagon. I still didn’t buy it. More rationalizing, this time followed by practice at negotiation, where I might have been seen talking to myself as I drove around town (another institutional moment). I had a notion I could talk the seller down a few hundred dollars (I’d done it before), especially since the piece had likely been sitting in the store a few years. Because it was a co-op mall, the sellers each shared time manning the store, so the likelihood was that I would catch this seller off guard and negotiate over the phone, giving myself a bit of an advantage.
Finally, one Sunday in June I screwed up my courage and went back to the store with the full intention (85% intention) of making an offer. I went straight to the cabinet and resumed my caresses and inspections. After a few minutes the store help came to see if I had any questions & I quickly discovered, to my surprise and dismay, that this guy, the one on duty, was the owner of the cabinet. I’d have to deal with him face to face. Yikes! He’d seen me walk straight to it and look it over. He could see how much I wanted it. My strategies took a huge hit.
The seller talked it up to me for a minute. The price showed (claimed) a 30% ‘discount’, but when I offered another 30% discount he rejected it straightaway. Well, actually he did come down $50, which helped some, but from there he wouldn’t budge, even when I told him I could move it myself and wouldn’t need the free delivery offered on the tag. I also told him I wouldn’t need the payment plan if he’d just come down a bit. He still didn’t move the price. I probably shouldn’t have mentioned the payment plan. I tried to play coy. I wandered aimlessly about the store for the next 90 minutes like an anxious tweaker until closing at which point I caved and agreed to his price, bought it & stuffed it into the back of my SUV (it separates into 7 main parts).
One of the “US Department of Agriculture” labels.
Considering the size of the cabinet, it’s a wonder that 1 person can move it like that, but the fact that it comes apart in sections makes it a dream. And now it’s in my house in my living room. I moved around some furniture, rearranged some wall art and moved the cylinder phonograph into another room. This cabinet is a huge monolith in my living room that doesn’t really match my other dark wood, but it’s nifty. I’ve noticed there’s a Globe Wernicke discussion site and sometime I plan to put up glamour shots of my piece on it. I’d like to find out from the experts what style it is (Is it Mission?), the year (Is it from the 20s or 30s?), how rare it is (there was only 1 photo online of a similar piece, but it had only 75% of the sections), and an approximate value (they don’t really give values on the site for some reason).
One other interesting fact about this cabinet is that there are a few labels on it that say US Department of Agriculture. I don’t know if this had been in DC or a regional USDA office, but this gives it a little extra interesting provenance. And what do I keep in those drawers? Maps & prints in the map drawers, of course. Wires and envelopes in the file drawers. But is it practical? Sure. If necessary, I can even keep my shirts folded in the map drawers. Socks in the card drawers. Drawers in the other drawers. Whatever it takes. db