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Antique File Cabinets

Liz ODonnell
antique file cabinet

Antique file cabinets are an excellent way to dress up an office. Modern day file cabinets can be ugly and industrial looking. An antique file cabinet can add both style and functionality to a business or home office.

The History of File Cabinets

The first file cabinets similar to the cabinets of today date back to the 1830s. They were made from wood, usually oak. Cabinet makers added a layer of insulation, often sawdust, inside the cabinets to make them fireproof. They were advertised as a way to protect important documents in a fire.

Prior to these cabinets, documents were stored in cabinets with openings known as pigeon holes. Tyler Office Fixture Company of St. Louis was one of the better known manufacturers of the original pigeon hole cabinets.

Cameron Amberg Company

Towards the end of the 19th century, the Cameron Amberg Company made cabinets specifically designed to hold letter files. These cabinets can still be found in antique stores. Many of them have a stamp and patent date inside the drawers. File cabinets from this company became the most common cabinets used in businesses at the time.

Globe Wernicke Company

Before 1900 vertical filing cabinets were invented. They were based on the design of vertical files used by librarians. Prior to vertical systems, files were stored in envelopes and it was very inefficient to have to open envelopes when accessing documents. In different accounts, both Edwin Grenville Seibels, who owned an insurance company, and a Dr. Rosenenau are credited with the invention. Regardless of who conceived the idea, The Globe Wernicke Company, known for its stackable office bookcases, made the vertical cabinets and began selling them. One of the original cabinets is part of the Smithsonian Institute's collection. Eventually these cabinets were mass produced and became the standard in most U.S. businesses.

The Globe Wernicke Company went through many name changes. If you're looking for filing cabinets from this company, also look for:

  • The Globe Company
  • The Globe Files Company
  • The Wernicke Company
  • The Weis Furniture Company
  • Globe-Weis Systems Company.

Where to Buy Antique File Cabinets

You can find old file cabinets at antique stores, auctions, fairs and, of course, online. Bargain John's Antiques based in Lexington, Nebraska, sells antique office furniture online. The company specializes in pieces from the 1840s to the 1920s. Bargain John's carries beautiful oak cabinets from The Weis Furniture Company. You can find stacking cabinets, two drawer and four drawer cabinets in like-new condition. The site also has cabinets from the Shaw-Walker Company, a well respected office furniture company based in Chicago in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Expect to pay anywhere from $195.00 for a Globe two-drawer cabinet up to $3250.00 for a Weiss stacking cabinet.

Another good online source for Shaw-Walker cabinets is Past Present Future. This company sells American furniture made between the late 1800's and the mid 1970's. They specialize in restored antique office furniture. The site has a good collection of wood cabinets as well as some of the early steel cabinets which became available to consumers in the early 1900s. Metal cabinets were promoted as smart fire protection tools. Prices at Past Present Future run from $200.00 for an as-is two drawer cabinet to $950.00 for a fully restored five drawer cabinet.

Ebay is a good source for antique file cabinets. Just be careful when buying from auction sites that you purchase from a seller with a high approval rating. Always check feedback and make sure that you understand the seller's return policy completely.

If you find that your vintage cabinet needs repair you may be able to get the parts at VanDykes Restorers. They have numerous, hard to find parts and hardware for all kinds of antique furniture, including file cabinets.

Using these beautiful old file cabinets in your home or office can add a warm ambiance that modern cabinets don't have.

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Antique File Cabinets