Factory, office furniture of past popular for living rooms

Terry Kovel
This 48-drawer filing cabinet was used to store folded business mail in the late 19th century. But mail is now filed in page size folders in a file with much larger drawers. It was repurposed into a storage cabinet for jewelry or some other small items. The price at auction was $1,331.

Decorating has once again become informal, like the "country furniture" era in the 1980s that led to rooms with "non-furniture furniture." An old cobbler's bench became a coffee table, a cranberry scoop was a magazine rack, stacked orange crates were shelving and tin Grape Nuts signs were hung as art.

A new "technology" style began about five years ago. A refinished workbench with a polished vice or gears is a dining table, and a church bench replaces three or four chairs. Refinished oak filing cabinets from an office or library provide storage for jewelry or folded shirts, and wall-to-wall carpeting is "out," replaced by polished wood floors.

The result is unique and child-proof since the pieces have survived bumps and spills already. And the clever buyer can find solid wooden pieces for bargain prices.

An Ohmer's Sons office filing cabinet with 48 drawers and the original brass hardware was auctioned recently in Maine for $1,331. It was made in Ohio before 1898, when Edwin Seibels tried to patent a way to file a flat letter in a lateral file folder instead of stacking mail inside its envelope in a drawer.

Reworked factory and office furniture of the past has become more popular for the living room, and it is going up in price. There are even reproductions available.
       * * *

Q: I heard a story that the first "Star Wars" toys were offered for sale before they were made, so the company sold an IOU letter for the first toy characters and more. Is that true? How long was it after the movie was shown before the toys were for sale? 
A: The first "Star Wars" movie was released May 25, 1977. Kenner Products, a Cincinnati toy company, had bought the rights to make toys based on the film. But there was not enough time to make small plastic figures, just board games. The popularity of the movie signaled that the toys would be bestsellers, so they sold an IOU for $11.99 that could be redeemed at Christmas for an early-bird box of puzzles, stickers, membership in the Star Wars Club, Luke Skywalker's autograph and future delivery of the four figures. The toys were delivered in March 1978. Of course the early-bird box, the contents, and the first toys are the Star Wars collectors "holy grails." It is said that a package in great condition would sell for $7,500 or more. There have been eight movies and more, and another movie due in 2019. Their popularity adds to the fame and price of the memorabilia.
       * * *
Q: I have a pair of vases that are about 6 inches tall. The mark on the bottom looks like overlapping letters "UCG" and "Ucagco China Occupied Japan." They have been in the family for more than 65 years. Should I keep them?"
A: This mark was used by the United China & Glass Co., an American importer, beginning in the 1930s. The company was founded in 1850 and had offices in New York and New Orleans. It was the first company allowed to import goods from Japan after the end of World War II. Items marked "Made in Occupied Japan" were made between February 1947 and April 1952. United China & Glass was later sold to Sammons Enterprises. There are collectors of Occupied Japan items. Most Ucagco pieces sell for $20 or less. Since the vases have been in your family for many years, they may be valuable for sentimental reasons.
       * * *
Q: I found an old stencil machine that has a metal plaque listing 10 patent dates from 1893 to 1899. The plaque reads "Manufactured by Bradley Stencil Machine Co., St. Louis, Mo., U.S.A." What can you tell me about the company?
A: Andrew Jackson Bradley was looking for an efficient way to make shipping and mailing labels when he invented a stencil cutting machine in 1893. He founded the Bradley Stencil Machine Co. that same year. Bradley's stencil machine had a fixed frame and a movable carriage with dies to stamp or punch out letters and numbers. The company merged with the Diagraph Company in 1936 and became Diagraph-Bradley. The company still is in business, now as Diagraph Marking and Stenciling Products (Diagraph MSP).
       * * *
Q: I'd like to know the history and value of this Royal Bonn vase. It's marked with a crown over a shield with initials and the date "1775." What do the initials and date represent?
A: Royal Bonn is a trade name used by Steingutfabrik Franz Anton Mehlem (Franz Anton Mehlem Earthenware Factory). The company was in business in Bonn, Germany, from 1836 to 1920. The letters "FAM" in the mark are Mehlem's initials. The date, "1755," is the date the earliest predecessor started a factory on that site. This mark was used by Franz Anton Mehlem's factory from about 1890 to 1920.
       * * *
Tip: To see if a worm hole is real or a fake made by a drill, use this test. Put a needle in the hole. If it goes in for more than 1/8 inch, the hole was made by a drill.
       * * *
Terry Kovel and Kim Kovel answer questions sent to the column. By sending a letter with a question and a picture, you give full permission for use in the column or any other Kovel forum. Names, addresses or email addresses will not be published. We cannot guarantee the return of photographs, but if a stamped envelope is included, we will try. The amount of mail makes personal answers or appraisals impossible. Write to Kovels, (Name of this newspaper), King Features Syndicate, 628 Virginia Dr., Orlando, FL 32803.
       * * *


Current prices are recorded from antiques shows, flea markets, sales and auctions throughout the United States. Prices vary in different locations because of local economic conditions.
Moriage, vase, stick neck, pink rose, orange, purple, flowers, pale green, handles on shoulders, 9 x 5 inches, $60.
Paperweight, red crimp rose, faceted, footed, attributed to Goat Valla, Millville, 2 3/4 x 2 1/4 inches, $190.
Cupboard, bonnetiere, Henri II, stepped crown, spindled frieze, leaves, flowers, panels, 78 x 34 inches, $300.
Jervis pottery dish, landscape, incised trees, green matte, beige sky, blue, Jervis pottery, 5 1/4 x 2 1/2 inches, $810.
Pairpoint, lamp, tivoli linen fold, frosted shade, pink and yellow flowers, 24 x 15 inches, $1,060.
Leather purse, tote, beige, ivory, black, gold tone zipper, optional shoulder strap, Givenchy, 10 x 9 inches, $1,320.
Tiffany-silver, teapot, chased, repousse, birds, flowers, branches, ebonized wood handle, 7 x 10 1/4 inches, $1,500.
Silver  tea set, teapot, coffee pot, sugar and creamer, waste, chased flower repousse, W. Durgin, 5 pieces, $1,935.
Phonograph, Burns-Pollock Electrical, phonolamp, flip up pink gathered shade, fringe, nickeled base, 20 1/2 inches, $2,720.
Marble carving, boy, holding a fish, kneeling on rocks, frog, flowers, 41 inches, $10,625.
       * * *
PROMO: Kovels' A Diary: How to Sell, Settle and Profit from a Collector's Estate. Our new week-by-week record of the settlement of an estate, from your first days gathering legal papers to the last days when you're dividing antiques among heirs and selling everything else - even the house. How to identify pottery, jewelry and other popular collectibles. Tips on where and how to sell furniture, jewelry, dishes, figurines, record albums, bikes and even clothes.

We include lots of pictures and prices and explain the advantages of a house sale, auction, selling to a dealer or donating to a charity. Learn about how to handle the special problems of security and theft. Plus, you'll receive a free current supplement with useful websites, auctions lists and other current information.

Available only from Kovels for $19.95 plus $4.95 postage and handling. Order by phone at 800-303-1996; online at; or write to Kovels, P.O. Box 22900, Beachwood, OH 44122.