I Saw A Monster Last Weekend

By Dave

December 11th, 2009

Recently I read an interesting obit in the New York Times about a guy who spent his whole life tracking the Loch Ness Monster. I think we all have a little of this guy in us – the idea that there’s something out there you’d just like to see once in your lifetime, but doubt you ever will.

Well, I saw a monster last weekend. And it took my breath away.

polhemus-triple-wideOne of the companies I’ve gotten very interested in over the years is the Hamilton Manufacturing Company of Two Rivers, Wisconsin. For decades they were the leading maker of printing equipment for newspapers, magazines, and small printing shops – the whole publishing industry. They started out making wood type but branched out into cabinets to hold the type, composing room furniture, you name it. Their stuff was so high quality, with such great craftsmanship, it makes you wish you had a print shop.

I bought my first (and only) Hamilton printers cabinet (see picture here) several years ago at the Alameda Antiques Fair in Alamaeda, CA, which I attend regularly. Then I bought an early Hamilton Manufacturing Co. Catalog on eBay, and it really opened up my eyes to the variety of heavy-duty furniture the company made. I scanned the catalog and put it on the web so everyone could see it – just click the link at the bottom of this page. Look through these pages – this was America at work. Working hard to make high quality products to be used by other people who were working hard, with both their bodies and their brains.

I couldn’t believe the sheer size and scale of some of the stuff in this catalog. And I seriously doubted that any of this larger stuff could have survived 100 years intact, much less that I’d ever see one of these pieces with my own eyes.

Until last weekend.

I was 2/3rds of the way through my rounds at Alameda. Hadn’t seen too much interesting, except an old library (or school) card catalog in great condition with nice dovetail joints (which I ended up buying). Garden variety stuff.

And then I looked up and there it was. My heart skipped a beat. You’ve got to be kidding me.

polhemus at alamedaLaid out before my eyes was a 20-foot long triple-wide Hamilton Manufacturing Co. printer’s cabinet, in amazing condition. I couldn’t stop staring. I was afraid to even go up to it. It had all the original cast iron handles, not a single one missing, and they were even the very oldest, most ornate variety Hamilton made. It had every type drawer intact, with original labels from what must have been 80 years ago. It had fabulous extra drawers and nooks and crannies, details, wow, wow, wow. The wood was in great condition. A monster.

Before it disappeared, I grabbed a shot with my cell phone. Of course it was already sold, according to the dealer the minute it came off the truck (no doubted lifted by 7 or 8 guys). Which is a good thing, because I would have wanted it, but have absolutely no place to put it.

I got home and started looking through the catalog to see which one it was. Didn’t make it all the way through.

When you see a monster like this, you don’t really even want to know which exact monster it is.

You just want it to go back in the ocean and swim away, stay alive, so someone else can see it someday.

Wow.

5 comments so far

  1. Holly Says:

    i think its amazing that not only did you find the catalog for this cabinet but that you scanned it in and posted it! i also have a cabinet from the american cabinet company but mine is a dental cabinet circa 1920. ive been searching everywhere for a catalog from that time so i can identify exactly when it was made but your catalog is the only one ive been able to find. do you still by chance have the contact information for the party you purchased this catalog from? if you do id greatly appreciate having it. thanks!!!
    holly

  2. Shelly Scott Says:

    I wish I could find a printers cabinet. Everyone I come across on line is already sold and there just aren’t many here in OK. Just the drawers everyone has pulled out to sale as shadow boxes. If you know of one, the bigger the better let me know. Love this one too. Shelly

  3. Jim Bane Says:

    Dave
    Just bought a steel Hamilton printers cabinet / table. Built like a tank, eight foot long, with a cast iron top! It came out of a Machine Shop and is as dirty as can be – once the weather breaks this guy gets a full cleaning and metal restoration.

    Based on what I have found so far it is post 1912, do you have any info on the metal furniture Hamilton made?
    Thanks
    Jim

  4. Diane Buchtel Says:

    I have a Hamiltton Mfg. Co. 5 section wood cabinet #32123. It has 16 total drawers. It’s not a printer’s type cabinet; as the alphabet goes from A thru U only. It measures 34 1/2″ wide X 21 1/2″ deep X 44″ high. We think it was used for small parts, because that’s what was in the drawers when we purchased it. Any information you might have, I would greatly apprecaiate it.

  5. Alexandra Says:

    Dave,
    Great article! I was wondering if you might be able to help me. Here is my posting in Unsolved. http://www.collectorsweekly.com/stories/29534-polhemus-hamilton-mfg-co-typeset-desk?in=466
    Any info you might be able to give me would be greatly appreciated.
    Thanks for your time, Alex


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