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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Puzzle Of The Mystery Chest

It's a beautiful day here in northern New Jersey, sunny and not too cold.
Beautiful -- if you don't mind wind that whips the shingles off the roof of That Old House,
and flings the neighbors' Christmas tree from the curb in front of their house,
across the cul-de-sac, and halfway down our driveway to the hedges.
See the tree?  It held up remarkably well for rolling so far; the tinsel is still on it!
On this gorgeous day, I took in some gorgeous scenery.
I drove north, into upstate New York near West Point, to pick up a couple of tables from a Craigslist
listing.  Yes, again . . . risking ending up in the chest-freezer-in-the-basement for the sake of, well, junk.

Came home with two scarred and well worn Pembroke-style tables,
in good physical shape except for their complexions.  These gals have been around the block a few times.
Here they are, reclining in the back of my minivan, along with my other junking finds from today,
and two baskets of things needing dry cleaning.  Just keeping it real.  :-)
 These tables will be lovely when I'm done with them.  Trust me.
They've got good bones, good wood, good brasses, and intact hardware for the leaves.

The seller tossed in a very cute little washstand, or telephone table; not sure which it is.
It, too, is in need of a visit behind the Red Door at Elizabeth Arden but heck, it was free.
We like free.
Maybe I will paint it.  The jury is out on this one.
It's nice and sturdy, and that is a big bonus.

Now, for the Mystery Chest!
The seller said he had a few other pieces to show me
(yeah, we've all heard that one before ....)
and what caught my eye and my imagination was this:

It's a little chest, with three very shallow drawers, a locking mechanism for a lift-up top,
what looks to me like Eastlake hardware, and a sadly over-aggressive refinishing job.
 Whatever patina it once had has been stripped and sanded off, and a poly top coat applied.
Hey, we all did it back in the 70s and 80s -- lots of antique and vintage furniture lost most of its value that way.

This chest has two square thingies on top. . . .
 . . . that have corresponding square "holes" on the underside of the lift-up lid.
Yes, replacement shiny hinges.  Oh what were they thinking?

Front of the chest, showing the lock (no key), and the three drawers.  You can see how shallow they are.

Nice ogee molding around the top.  That's the middle drawer pulled out.

 So what is it?
A spool cabinet?
An artist's cabinet, or architect's?  So papers can be stored flat?
The seller speculated a tea chest, where leaves would be spread out to dry.
He's wrong on that, I think.  No ventilation.
And . . . what kind of wood is it made of?
It is not oak.  Nor pine.  It's a heavy wood.
The wood has some grain, but it's not pronounced.
There are lots of little "dots" in parts of the wood.

Maple, maybe?

C'mon, people!  Put your thinking caps on and figure out
what this really cute cabinet once did for a living!  -- Cass

Visit Susan at A Southern Daydreamer for Outdoor Wednesday.  Click here!


  1. Love your CL finds!! Don't know the chest...mystery! I'll be back to see if someone can identify! I'm one of your new friends! Drop by for a visit sometime!!

  2. It looks to me like a cabinet that was used in the printing business or an office that will hold papers totally flat. Maybe maps in a surveyors office??
    Cold here in NE Pa. windy too!!
    Making sure the hatches are all battened down.....

  3. I'm not so knowledgeable about such things to even guess, but I'm disappointed that those two square things on top don't lift up to reveal something unique or exciting, at least I couldn't see that they did.

    And when I read "telephone table" a clang rang inside ... well that's something we won't need much longer. Maybe, rather a table for the charging center for your phone, ipad, camera and other such chargie things. Can you imagine (BTW we have an "antique" push button wall phone still functioning and used regularly) in future museums such a table being shown ... "people used to communicate with this apparatus attached by cord to a line running outside the house" ... ETC!

  4. What are the dimensions of the chest and depth of drawers?

  5. good finds girl the tables

    your little chest has been altered I do believe

    maybe ? it was just a small chest to keep valueables, tools, or really it looks like somebody was just tinkering with building something out of odd pieces? who knows?

  6. It will be interesting to see what that chest was used for-I hope someone can identify it. Your other pieces are going to look great all redone. I love the lines on those two tables. Soooo glad you lived to tell about it and did not end up as a skin lamp on someone's side table...just sayin....xo Diana

  7. I am LOVING that chest!!!

    Some new old things came home with me today too!

  8. I love all your finds! And that is an interesting chest -- I would assume something to store papers flat -- papers the size of the drawer!


  9. I think the chest is a carpenters chest, for tools. Richard from My Old Historic House.

  10. What would you say to Irish pine as the wood? Unique piece- wonder just what it was used for?

  11. What ever it is I like it? Can't wait to see the rest reborn! Great pieces.

  12. It is wormy maple. The function of the piece remains unknown to me.

  13. Ooooooh!!! I love those tables! And I can't wait to see what that chest is used for - someone will figure it out!

  14. Great finds - especially the freebie! I have a similar shallow drawer chest (mine is much more rustic and it's painted blue). I always assumed it was an architect chest but not sure. Love it!

  15. Hmmmm I loves me a good mystery! Looked like maple to me too. And it almost had a JP Coates spool chest look to it? You should ask Gloria at Happy To Be....This is right up her alley of expertise. It breaks my heart that someone refinished it!! It makes me feel sad to have so many beautiful old original pieces painted or stripped. But it did make me happy to see your wonderful scores! Great finds all! I can't wait to see what you do with them. Gotta love CL huh? *winks* Vanna

  16. Love your Blog and I read it on most days. It's a bright spot in my day. My husband who is also in antiques business thinks that the cabinet was made by a joiner or cabinet maker to hold specific tools like chisels and saws. It was made to be portable because of the handles. It was lockable. It was refinished as you noted. He thinks that it is maple.

  17. My husband looked at all the pictures and this is what he thinks: He thinks it a machinist or woodworkers chest. It appears there had been dividers in the drawers at one time because of you can see the nail holes in the sides of the drawers in one of your pictures. It's possible that it was made out of old flooring planks, because of the some of the marks in the wood. How's this for a guess? We'll check back, keep us posted! Carol Ann and Craig

  18. No ideas - a music chest for sheet music. My mum has one, but it is a little fancier.
    Cass you are having way too much fun traipsing about gathering great finds!

  19. The pembroke tables are classic. They will be lovely with a little work. The free stand might be better painted. Don't know what the chest is but I wonder why it has those two raised squares on top.

  20. Cass my dear friend..I think it a surgical tool chest and the top panels should open up to put the dirty tools in..just me thinking out loud once again as I have seen a few of these..Hope you have the BEST weekend ever my dear friend..Hugs and smiles..Oh did your daughter like the tea cup lite I made you never did say..Gloria

  21. What beautiful finds you have there! I have never shopped on Craig's List...never think about it but maybe I should, huh? All of the responses are very interesting. I have very little knowledge about things like this but I thought it was something like the JP Coates spool chest as I've seen and coveted a few of these. But whatever it is, it is definitely a beautiful little piece.
    Lucky you on the freebie and I can't wait to see what you will do with all these new finds!

  22. Your little piece is stripped all to hell, but it still has tons of character. I vote for tool chest of some sort ... the kind where tools would be laid out carefully in a single layer, instead of heaped into a bottomless box with a handle. I have one with a similar top, with a tray underneath and the heaping space below that. Very nice find! (I hope you're feeling better.)

  23. I have a very similar tool chest. It was for a draftsman's tools....calipers, squares, compass...etc.
    It is maple, and yours has been stripped too cleanly :^(
    The square insets in the top hold mirrors in my case, so that you can see what is in the top without opening it too far.
    I use mine for jewelry making tools, and in the bottom drawers, I have left the draftsman's tools......he was my Dad :^)

    1. I know! Too much stripping, for sure. Oh well -- it's still good looking, despite its lack of patina now.

      I am SO glad you commented -- I did lots of reading about old tool chests, and both machinist and draftsman's chests were mentioned as having mirrors in the inside lids. SO glad to have that confirmation from you. I love that it was your Dad's ... how special.

      Have a lovely February!
      Best wishes, Cass


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