Questions and Common Sense Answers: Elastic storage – stacking bookcases

Almost every antiques auction sooner or later has one. And almost every mall has at least one filled with “dustables” and breakables. If you ask about them you probably will be told it is a “barrister” bookcase made by Globe-Wernicke in Cincinnati around the turn of the century and that they are fairly rare. That’s at least partly right. Globe-Wernicke did make stacking bookcases in Cincinnati around the turn of the century but they certainly were not the only one making them and they were not aimed primarily at the lawyer market and they were not made strictly around the turn of the century and they are not rare.

Otto Wernicke opened a furniture factory in Minneapolis in 1893 and moved it to Grand Rapids in 1897, around the time when Wernicke patented his idea of the multi-section stacking “elastic” bookcase. It could be expanded by adding separate additional units to a crown and base. In 1882 a Cincinnati businessman named Henry C. Yeiser started a new “office products” company he called Globe Files Co., eventually coming up with the idea of a cabinet that could store files vertically instead of flat on a shelf. Yeiser took an interest in the stacking bookcase concept, feeling it would fit well in his company and purchased the Wernicke factory, renaming the company Globe-Wernicke. The original marketing thrust by G-W was to libraries and businesses, natural targets for the office supply industry. The “barrister” moniker followed years later. After that the race was on. An English manufacturer named Thomas Turner started marketing the design in England, forming The Globe-Wernicke Company, LTD to market throughout Europe.

Otto Wernicke returned to Grand Rapids and bought the Fred Macey Furniture Company in 1905, renaming it Macey-Wernicke. The principal product of  Macey-Wernicke, later renamed simply Macey, was – surprise – a stacking bookcase that looked identical to Globe’s. Of course Globe-Wernicke sued Macey-Wernicke for patent infringement on Wernicke’s original patent. Macey eventually won but meanwhile that left the door open for others to join the fray and they walked, or ran, right in.

One of the early competitors was the Gunn Furniture Co. right there in Grand Rapids. Gunn started out in 1890 making folding beds and by the turn of the century had expanded its product line to over 80 designs for desks, as well as sectional bookcases. It patented a stacker in 1899. By 1910 it was a major player in the “elastic” market making sectionals with fold down desk compartments and pigeon hole interiors.

Skandia Furniture Company of Rockford, IL patented its own line of oak stacking bookcases in 1908, calling it the “Viking” line. During the Depression they marketed three different styles of Viking, Mission, Standard and Colonial using numerous woods including plain and quarter cut oak, birch, walnut and mahogany in a variety of finishes.

Everybody’s favorite purveyor of oak furniture, The Larkin Soap Company, even got into the act. In its 1908 catalog it introduced the No. 310 Sectional Bookcase. It could have been yours for a mere ten Larkin gift certificates. It consisted of a base, a crown and one each 9, 11 and 13 inch units. You could buy additional units of any size for three certificates or get a “starter” kit of base, crown and one 11 inch unit for five certificates. Of course it came in quarter cut oak with the standard polished Golden Oak finish. By 1917 the number had changed to the No. A10140 Sectional and the price of the basic three unit set had risen to a $28 purchase or $28 worth of coupons. It also now came in birch with a polished mahogany finish and in fumed oak finish. By 1922 the new unit was available for a cash price of $25 or $50 worth of coupons.

Another competitor was the F. E. Hale Mfg. Co. of Herkiner, NY. They offered a model called the “Herkiner” with leaded glass in two sections, one above and one below a drop front oak desk unit and Udell Works of Indianapolis had a stacking model.

Most of the manufacturers stopped making stacking bookcases by the mid 1930s during the Depression era.

The most commonly seen brands will be Globe-Wernicke and Macey in today’s market. But of course there were many other makers of the so-called “barrister” bookcases other than just the seven listed here. They all used the same basic design and wood so many times it may be hard to tell a Larkin cabinet from a Gunn from a Globe, especially if the bookcase has been refinished and the labels are conveniently missing. The devil is in the details for distinguishing makes from one another, primarily in the type of hardware and suspension method used to hang and operate the doors.

Missing hardware and suspension parts used to be the kiss of death for the sale of a Globe-Wernicke or Macey cabinet but in today’s market there are several companies that can provide exact duplicates for the missing pieces. One of the best among them is Rufkahr’s, P.O. Box 241384, Memphis TN 38124-1384,  (800) 545-7947, http://rufkahrs.com/hardw8/bkcase.html

Send your comments, questions and pictures to P.O. Box 215, Crystal River, FL 34423 or info@furnituredetective.com

Visit Fred’s website at www.furnituredetective.com.  His book How to be a Furniture Detective is available for $18.95 plus $3 S&H. Send check or money order for $21.95 to Fred Taylor, PO Box 215, Crystal River, FL 34423.

Fred and Gail Taylor’s dvd, Identification of Older & Antique Furniture, ($17 + $3 S&H) and a bound compilation of the first 60 columns of “Common Sense Antiques” by Fred Taylor” ($25 + $3 S&H) are also available at the same address. For more information call 800-387-6377, fax 352-563-2916, or e-mail info@furnituredetective.com.

More Images:

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This certainly looks like a Globe-Wernicke bookcase but it is missing the interior labels. That means it must be identified by the style of the cabinet, the exterior hardware and the door suspension. (Flomaton Auction, Flomaton, Ala., photo)

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