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home : columnists : white glove March 29, 2017

1/24/2017 1:09:00 PM
The Indiana cabinet that's quite collectible
by Tonya Michalec
Staff writer

The White Glove stumbled upon a Hoosier cabinet last week in Wilmington at MC Maniacs, located at 118 N. Water St. It is priced at $1,195 and is in good condition for its age.

Constructed from solid oak and white enamel, the cabinet system is said by store owner Eric Connery to basically be everything one needs in a kitchen.

"Hoosier cabinets were designed to be the one storage amenity in the kitchen that can really do it all," Connery explained.

"Just imagine, back then, these were the focal point of your kitchen - they had it all. It was your pantry, your dish and silverware storage and your prep area all in one. I mean just look at how everything has its own place: Those three steel drawers on the bottom are for storing dry goods like flour and such, the upper cabinets have spice racks on the insides of the doors that also conceal packaged or canned goods and the one all the way to the top left is built to hold a working flour sifter.

"In addition to doing all that, they also provide a decent amount of extra counter space, contain hideaway cutting boards and have additional drawers and cabinet areas to keep pots and pans, dishes and silverware. They were really something of a modern marvel at the time when it came to creating a well functioning kitchen, and because so, they have become quite sought after by today's antique lovers."

Trinity Knot

Connery noted that Hoosier cabinets were named for the people they were originally built for.

The original tin label affixed to the upper portion of the piece reveals the cupboard was produced in New Castle, IN by Hoosier Manufacturing Company. The label also states: "Hoosier - the kitchen cabinet that serves miles of steps."

While neither a manufacturing date nor product number appears on the label, Connery believes it was most likely built closer to the beginning of the 1900s since it has few features compared to later models.

More than 30 Indiana cabinet companies followed suit and began carving out their own interpretations of Hoosiers. The original cabinet was designed by John M. Maring, president of Hoosier Manufacturing Company.

According to a Hoosier cabinet feature titled: "A Pictorial History of the Hoosier Cabinet", his cupboard was inspired by women.

Maring noticed the many ways women's lives and their roles at home were changing as result of the Women's Rights Movement.

The movement encompassed a 72-year fight for gender equality that began in 1848 and ended in 1920.

American women took a civic stand in order to reach the common goal of obtaining equal rights between men and women.

By way of organizing themselves into peaceful, solid associations, mass numbers of female volunteers and activists ultimately made a difference at the highest level of the U.S. government.

Their marching, demonstrations and heartfelt speeches led way to their voices finally being heard. On June 4, 1919, Congress passed, and later ratified on Aug. 18, 1920, the 19th amendment granting all American women the right to vote.

It was through this passage of time that Maring found purpose and direction for starting his company in 1899.

By then, the movement was in full-swing and women weren't spending the majority of their time in the kitchen, like they had before. He saw that women were stepping out into the world in hopes of making a difference for themselves and their daughters.

Maring was keen to the lack of built in cabinetry in turn of the century kitchens. Beside the edge of the stove or sink, the only real work space available in kitchens back then was the table. And when it came to storage space, it was lacking.

Kitchen storage was basically non-existent. In most cases, if you were not lucky enough to have a grand home that included a butler's hall or pantry room, the only kitchen storage available, was possibly a wall shelf above the stove and maybe a baker's rack or pie safe, none of which would come close to holding half the things used in a kitchen.

So Maring designed a single cabinet that could hide it all. His invention was marketed as the new standard in "kitchen efficiency."

Since it had a place for everything, it made working and cleanup in the kitchen a breeze. It was also considered to be eye appealing.

The company bought magazine and newspaper advertisements which claimed that Hoosiers made kitchen work "a pleasure" and that it is the "sanitary" cabinet that "saves a thousand steps."

Over the years, Hoosiers received many upgraded features and extra gadgets. In addition to flour bins and sifters, silver drawers became lined with rust proof coatings and cake drawers were built to keep out mice. Mesh vegetable bins, pan racks, cookbook holders, glass spice jars and sugar bins all followed and became new standards.

By the roaring 20s, much more attention was being paid to the design and function of household kitchens. New homes were built to include wall-hanging cabinetry. Towel closets were enclosed within bathrooms and hallways, bookshelves were built around fireplaces and under staircases and kitchens started featuring more cabinet space.

Demand for the Hoosier declined so the company incorporated new features in the 30s, hoping they would be bought for commercial use.

This attempt brought on the addition of late model special features, such as a pencil holder by flour bin, clock-face, file for grocery list and money tray.

But these innovations were not enough to rekindle what built-ins ultimately destroyed in the eyes of Maring. In the end, he sold the company in 1942, and subsequently, it was liquidated by purchasers.

According to the city of New Castle, Hoosier Manufacturing did more than help women. It became the first manufacturer in the nation to offer a time-payment plan.

If you couldn't afford to pay for one all at once, for $1 per week, a homemaker could have their $49.50 Hoosier paid off in a year. This payment plan was another reason they became so popular.

Hoosier Manufacturing became known as the largest manufacturer of kitchen cabinets in the U.S., with nearly 700 cabinets a day being produced. At its peak, Hoosier Manufacturing employed roughly 700 men and women workers, up to 50 traveling salesman and an office staff of 70.

With so many made per day by Hoosier and competing manufacturers, one might assume that they could readily be found on today's antique market.

Surprisingly, they aren't because they quite often took a beating. And Hoosiers had lost their place in the kitchen to countertops and overhead cabinets. With no room left for out-of-style furniture, Hoosiers have become nearly obsolete.

Only two Hoosier cabinets were up for auction on a popular auction site. They are a rare find, especially those in excellent condition, so their value is high. A vintage Hoosier cabinet can sell for $500 to $2,500.

Contact writer Tonya Michalec at tmichalec@fpnusa.com.





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