Elastic Storage: Multi-Section Stacking Bookcases

This stamped label started it all. This original Wernicke label shows the earliest patent date of 1892.

This stamped label started it all. This original Wernicke label shows the earliest patent date of 1892.

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 of 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 20th century, but A) they certainly were not the only one making them, B) they were not aimed primarily at the lawyer market, C) they were not made strictly around the turn of that century, and D) they are not rare.

Otto Wernicke opened a furniture factory in Minneapolis in 1893 and moved it to Grand Rapids, Mich. 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.

This is the typical oak Mission style Globe-Wernicke bookcase from the 1910s.

This is the typical oak Mission style Globe-Wernicke bookcase from the 1910s.

This two-high stacker is from the 1920s or 1930s and made of a secondary wood—gum or birch—stained to look like mahogany.

This two-high stacker is from the 1920s or 1930s and made of a secondary wood—gum or birch—stained to look like mahogany.

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 in the meantime, it 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.

This is the typical GW label found in most GW cabinets.

This is the typical GW label found in most GW cabinets.

This slightly out-of-focus label was the one used for GW production in England.

This slightly out-of-focus label was the one used for GW production in England.

Skandia Furniture Company of Rockford, Ill. patented its own line of oak stacking bookcases in 1908, calling it the “Viking” line. During the Great Depression, Skandia 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 10 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.

In the mid-teens, Globe-Wernicke made a stacking cabinet designed for record storage with individual slots of discs.

In the mid-teens, Globe-Wernicke made a stacking cabinet designed for record storage with individual slots of discs.

Not all GW cabinets with leaded glass doors were made in England but this one was.

Not all GW cabinets with leaded glass doors were made in England but this one was.

Another competitor was the F. E. Hale Mfg. Co. of Herkiner, N.Y. 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.

After Otto Wernicke acquired the Fred Macey Company in 1905, he ultimately renamed it simply “Macey” in 1907, using this label.

After Otto Wernicke acquired the Fred Macey Company in 1905, he ultimately renamed it simply “Macey” in 1907, using this label.

This is a fairly rare Macey double wide unit.

This is a fairly rare Macey double wide unit.

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.

This page from “American Manufactured Furniture” by Don Fredgant Schiffer, shows the various 1929 models of the Skandia Viking elastic bookcase. The book is a compilation of manufacturer’s promotional material to retailers for the model year 1929.

This page from “American Manufactured Furniture” by Don Fredgant Schiffer, shows the various 1929 models of the Skandia Viking elastic bookcase. The book is a compilation of manufacturer’s promotional material to retailers for the model year 1929.

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Fred Taylor is a antique furniture Worthologist who specializes in American furniture from the Late Classicism period (1830-1850).

Send your comments, questions and pictures to me at PO 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 now available for $18.95 plus $3 shipping. 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.

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