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  • in reply to: Medal curating/display #37796


    For Sale:  An 80- to 90-year-old (approximately), all-wood, printer’s type-setting cabinet, which, in the 1970s, was hand restored and entirely repurposed into a beautiful piece of furniture serving as a (one-of-a-kind) collector’s storage and display cabinet (see photos).


    I began collecting U.S. military decorations and medals in the mid 1970s.  It was not too long until the matter of categorizing, holding and displaying them became an issue.  I did not like the idea of multiple boxes, “Riker” mounts or similar solutions.  And then it occurred to me: How about an old typesetter’s cabinet —- with its many shallow drawers providing easy access, categorization by drawer, and a handsome display surface?  And thus began a two-year hunt.

    At the time, the drawers, but drawers only, from such cabinets were commonly found at flea markets and antique shops —- apparently, people hung such drawers on a wall and filled the cubby holes with small collectible/displayables.  But I wanted the entire thing: drawers and cabinet.  Of course I expected any such cabinet that I might find to be beat-up, needing repairs, restoration and refinishing.  That would not present too great a problem as I was an experienced wood-working hobbyist.  I hunted for quite a while; however, the best I could find were the models from around the 1940s where the cabinet and drawer fronts were faced with dark-green metal.  Not what I was after.

    One day I read in the newspaper that a hundred-year-old print shop located on  Pittsburgh’s Mount Washington was going out of business; the owner was selling the presses and other equipment.  I drove there on a weekday afternoon and asked the owner if he might have an old typeset cabinet.  In fact, tucked away in the back of the print shop he had two: a metal-faced version and an older wood cabinet of the “California Style”, meaning the drawers were about 22″ wide rather than the more common variety having much-wider drawers.  He showed me the cabinets; in terms of size, the all-wood specimen was perfect.  But it was beat.  One drawer was missing.  The cabinet and the rest of the draws were well worn, marred, dented and ink stained.  And the top, which had been a working surface for decades and decades, was entirely shot.  The drawers contained the metal printer’s type.  I offered to purchase the cabinet and drawers, but not the type.  He stated that that would be ok because there was a ready market for the type.  (Worn lead type was as a matter of course sold to suppliers who melt it and recast new type.)  After a bit of price dickering, I purchased the cabinet and drawers.

    After hauling the cabinet to my house, I spent several days disassembling it, including removing all the type dividers, thereby yielding one large storage space per drawer.  I then spent eight months of evenings and weekends restoring the cabinet and drawers, including the following:

    – As purchased, one drawer was missing, one other was broken but repairable.  I fabricated an entire new drawer and repaired the other.

    – The top of the cabinet, which had been used as a work surface for the life of the unit, was damaged beyond repair; I fabricated a new top.  Around the edge of the new top I routed a groove and installed a decorative-wood inlay (see photo).

    – The cabinet had many dings and dents from its lifetime in a working print shop.  I sanded or repaired many such areas; however, I left some small dents or dings visible (in an attractive manner) so as not to mask the age or origin of the cabinet.

    – As purchased, the bottom of the cabinet sat on the floor.  I installed brass castors so that the cabinet would roll on carpet or hard-surface floor.

    – I fabricated a locking mechanism.  Turning the key to the lock installed at the front top cross member (see photo) turns a steel rod that I braised to the lock armature.  This, in turn, winds a nylon string secured to the distal end (toward the back of the cabinet) of the steel rod.  As the steel rod turns and winds the nylon string, it pulls and lifts up a wood bar installed along the inside back center of the cabinet.  Running vertically along the wood bar are installed twenty “L” hooks (one for each drawer).  Each engages (or releases from) an “eye” hook screwed into the center of the back horizontal rail of each drawer.  This locking mechanism works very well; be aware, however, that it was not designed to foil a determined thief; rather, it keeps children and grandchildren from opening the drawers.

    – As purchased, the metal drawer pulls were painted black.  These were cleaned and brass plated (matching the lock face and the castors).

    – For each drawer, I cut to size a thick piece of cardboard to which I glued a foam pad.  On top and wrapping the pad is a length of tan-colored velvet material (see photos).

    Woods, Structure, Style, Size

    The exterior size of the cabinet at its greatest measurements (floor to tallest point; width and depth of wood top overhang) is: H=45″, W=27-1/4″, D=20–3/4″. The drawer width is 22″.  The primary furniture wood is oak; the inside of the drawers and inner cabinet structure are of a white wood, perhaps pine or birch.  The oak is stained a light tan/brown, finished with tung oil varnish (see photos).

    Inside Drawer Dimensions

    The inside drawer width (side to side) is 20-3/8″.
    The inside drawer length (front to back) is 15-1/4″.

    The inside depth of the drawer depends on whether one measures to the true bottom of the drawer (touching wood), or to the top of the felt pad lining the bottom each drawer (which is fairly thick as it is made of felt over a cardboard backing).  Note: the felt-pad liner is removable; it simply lifts out.

    The inside depth of the drawer to the true bottom is 1″.
    The inside depth of the drawer to the top of the felt pad lining is 5/8″.

    Being Sold

    I recently sold my collection of military medals and decorations.  Now I’m ready to sell this storage/display cabinet, which is a beautiful piece of furniture; it would fit in any den or livingroom having a traditional or antique style.  But how does one place a price on an item that I spent hundreds and hundreds of hours restoring?  Valuing my time at merely $50/hr. would suggest a selling price of at least $25,000!  But I instead have chosen a “plucked-from-air” price of $3900.  The buyer must pick up the cabinet from my house in Pittsburgh.

    Opportunity to View the Cabinet

    Please feel free to e-mail ( or telephone (412-371-5589) me about the cabinet, though the provided description and photographs should answer many questions.  I live in Pittsburgh, PA; you are welcome to stop by and examine the cabinet.

    See attached photos.  I have many more photographs, which I can send via e-mail.

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