Collectors Love Hoosier Cabinets

An original Hoosier cabinet can be valued 10 times that of a similar cabinet from the same time period. This one, with its tambour roll door still in working condition, sold for $5,000 in 2011.

A recent WorthPoint article discussed examples of unwanted antique furniture—those pieces that once served a specific purpose but are no longer desired because they don’t fit in today’s lifestyle.

However, some vintage furnishings, while no less obsolete in functionality, are actually highly coveted by today’s collectors and designers. Why the difference? Usually, it is because they can be repurposed in many modern ways. But often it is also because a particular manufacturer became famous (and even eponymous) with the piece itself. Hoosier cabinets appeal in both of those categories. Collectors adore them because they provide a perfect venue for displaying vintage kitchen memorabilia. And, it’s a fun challenge to find (and then claim you own) a valuable original Hoosier.  There are actually more than 10,000 listings for Hoosier cabinets and accessories in the WorthPoint Worthopedia

Hoosier cabinets shot to popularity in the early 1900s. Kitchens then were not equipped with built-in storage space or work areas. Filling a need, the young Hoosier Manufacturing Company (based in New Castle, Ind.) designed a movable cabinet with compact cupboards, pullout enamel counters, flour bins (featuring hand-cranked sifters), utensil drawers, breadboxes and spice racks. These highly organized kitchen aids were such best sellers that dozens of other companies quickly copied the idea (although buyers still referred to them all as “Hoosier” cabinets). Hoosier cashed in on the success by also manufacturing (or consigning) matching accessories, such as glass canisters, carousels and dispensers. By the 1930s, modern kitchens began to include extensive built-in cabinetry and the Hoosiers fell out of favor.

When classic country kitchens became an in-vogue look in the 1980s and ’90s, Hoosier cabinets (and their many copies) experienced a resurge in popularity, along with pie safes, dough bowls and farm tables. Hoosiers and their contemporary counterparts are still in demand today, and although the cabinets are all commonly called “Hoosiers,” the real ones are by far the most valuable.

An original Hoosier label adds tremendous value to a cabinet’s worth.

But paper labels were fragile and therefore are often missing. If you can find one, you’ve got some great luck.

Authentication can be very difficult, so collectors look for certain identifying points. Original labels are the best, but they are often missing, especially if they were made of paper. Hoosier cabinets also included household tips that were fixed to the inside of the cabinet doors or inserted as leaflets in the drawers. These guides included measuring conversions, canning instructions, shopping lists and even sample menus. A lucky collector might find them still intact.

Authenticators also utilize vintage Hoosier catalogs, promotional materials and magazine advertisements to research features, hardware, decorative accents and fixtures. In fact, entire books have been published with copies of old catalogs. And luckily, many model descriptions can be found online. Advertising is also how original accessories are identified, as most ads showed a fully stocked cabinet.

Vintage Hoosier advertising helps collectors recognize identifying features and accessories. Note the cooking tips affixed to the inside of the cabinet doors and the spring-loaded wire holders. These help authenticate and date specific Hoosier models.

Once that prized Hoosier is found, the new owners want to stock it with period displays, which just adds to the fun. The Sneath Glass Company was one of the main suppliers of Hoosier accessories, which were designed to fit perfectly into hidden recesses, shallow shelving and racks. Stacking canisters of various shapes, sizes, colors and patterns were embossed with labels for coffee, tea, sugar, molasses, spices, cereal, crackers and even grease drippings. Sometimes rare glassware can be found that is embossed with the Hoosier name itself, as well as the hallmark for Sneath.

Sneath canisters are desired by Hoosier collectors because they were designed expressly for the cabinets. This 1920s set for sugar, tea and spices is in the common zipper pattern and sold for $180 in 2010.

Collectors also display depression glass by Hazel Atlas, Hocking, Jeannette, Federal and others. Reamers, shakers, measuring cups and mixing bowls are favorites. So are colorful metal accessories like egg beaters, cookie cutters, coffee grinders and storage tins. The possibilities are endless: crocks of wooden spoons, mortars and pestles, cutting boards, cake stands or canning jars full of pickles. The many hooks are perfect for a teacup or coffee mug collection. The shelves can display anything from cookbooks to pottery.

No room in the kitchen? Collectors don’t mind. They put their Hoosier-style cabinets in dens, entryways or guest rooms and stock them with holiday decorations, linens and soaps, dried floral arrangements, family photographs and candles. They can also be used to store craft supplies or even as rolling liquor cabinets. Their appeal is in their versatility.

Hoosier-style cabinets are great for displaying all kinds of decorative memorabilia.

No wonder Hoosier cabinets are beloved and still valuable today, even if they are no longer needed in modern kitchens. They provide an alternative to straight shelving with a creative way to display heirlooms and collectibles. They evoke memories of an endearing early 20th century style. And they are historically important and hard to find, so there’s always that prestige of ownership. One early, top-of-the-line cabinet was discovered in a barn, filled with roosting chickens. Almost ruined, it had to be completely refurbished. But it had a model number on the back. The owners used an old catalog to restore the original paint color, metal fittings and stenciling. Now, they own a genuine treasure.

 


Liz Holderman is a Worthologist who appraises books and collectibles.

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