Tuesday, August 21, 2012

A Reason to Collect Spools

Charles Eames  |  House of Cards

My favorite end table started its life in 1881 as a spool cabinet.


Originally, it would have lived without legs on a counter top. At a later date, someone added legs of turned wood, and I think the match is quite appropriate.


Each drawer had rows of prongs for spools, but these were removed to make flat files. I use the cabinet drawers for magazine clippings and miscellaneous paperwork.


The spool prongs of the top drawer were wisely retained, and throughout the years ...


,,, I've collected Coats & Clark's O.N.T. wooden spools with threads of every color to make this display. My spectrum of spools would not have been possible without generous contributions from many women — now of a past generation — who did their own sewing and mending.

Say, what does "O.N.T." mean, anyway?
Find out here.
.

18 comments:

  1. Hello Mark:
    Your rainbow of threads look absolutely wonderful arranged in the cabinet drawer. Far too good to use!

    And, what a marvellously versatile piece of furniture this cabinet has made, providing storage for all manner of your precious treasures and collectables.

    'Our New Thread' seems rather dated by now!!!!

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    1. Hello Jane and Lance:

      Who know how old those spools of thread are, but I actually do still use them when I need to resew a button on one of my shirts.

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  2. Hello Mark, What stunning, radiant colors are in those spools of thread--a real feast for the eye. There is something about the wooden spools that has great old-fashioned appeal. They are not quite obsolete, but today it is mostly polyester thread on plastic spools.

    I have been trying to buy some thread in Taiwan, and the new trend seems to be to simply wind the thread on a cylindrical core, or just to have a flange at one end, instead of widening at both ends as in your wooden examples. The inevitable result would be unwinding and snarling.

    It goes without saying that your spool cabinet is grade-A cool.

    --Road to Parnassus

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    1. Hello Parnassus - I haven't bought thread in years, but I'm sure I'd be both surprised and disappointed by what you describe. The cylindrical cores you mention sound more suited to industrial sergers.

      I love your description of "grade-A cool" — thanks. Certainly it wouldn't be the same if that anonymous intermediary hadn't left the top drawer in its original state, something for which I'm grateful, and which has provided a lot of fun!

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  3. Dear Mark, So like you to arrange your spools so artfully. Do I see the arrangement of a rainbow? You are right, the legs are perfectly suited for the cabinet. You have a mighty fine treasure.

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    1. Dear Gina - You might know by now that a major Ruffnerian impulse is to arrange things in rows, columns and spectrums! The spools on the left might look empty, but that's a grouping of gray threads. I guess there were a lot of buttons to sew on suits . . .

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  4. Dear Mark - delightful post - I would not have had a clue what O.N.T meant.
    The cabinet is a lovely remnant from the 19th century. I remember when the haberdashers and drapers shops had walls of similar cabinets. They were so exciting to peer into, and see all of the lovely skeins and spools of silk and cotton threads in rich colours as you have so beautifully displayed. Yours almost resemble an art installation.

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    1. Dear Rosemary - All those old store display cabinets were a source of wonder for me, too. Back in the 1970s, I got on an airplane and treated myself with a trip to an antique advertising convention several states away. At that time, I was already collecting trade cards, which was my major focus, but when I got to the show, they were selling things I'd expect to see in the Smithsonian today. There were spool cabinets, barrel tops with round lithographs in mint condition, 19th-century soda fountains, gorgeous broadsides, and for one day I felt as though I'd been admitted to Advertisier's Valhalla. (But that's not where I got my spool cabinet.)

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  5. Love the collection of thread.

    My mom has a spool cabinet that came out of my great grandparents attic, one of only few things of any value that was passed down. I don't believe it has any markings but I'll have to give it a more thorough inspection the next time I'm home.

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    1. Hi, Steve - Markings or not, I'm sure it's a unique piece, and growing in value. In any event, those cabinets are great decorative pieces. Related to them, and just as cool, are the 19th-century dentists' cabinets. Are you familiar with them? They tend to be narrower than the spool cabinets, but are about five or six feet high.

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  6. What a neat piece, Mark! The turned legs were added nicely and sympathetically---I like them. Though it originally housed spools of thread, I quite like it as an end table. Perfect for keeping all your paper collectibles and ephemera.
    Cheers,
    Loi

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    1. Hi, Loi - The legs are not only a sympathetic style, but they are also a perfect match of wood, so I am indebted to someone of taste. This cabinet is a great conversation piece, with its top-drawer surprise, and fits into my belief that a great house should offer pleasing surprises around every corner.

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  7. Oh how cool! Love how pretty that drawer looks pulled out. Too bad the top isn't glass for a view in!
    I was at an estate sale recently and purchased a very pretty old tin filled with tons of old spools -it was just so nifty and for $3 why not -if you still need any ONT spools I can see if I have any and send to you? Let me know!

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    1. Hi, Stefan - Thanks so much for your offer - I am still interested in finding ONT spools for the cabinet if the label is the blue and red version shown in this posting. I think the colorful effect of that drawer works so well because of the uniformity of all those tops.

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  8. I love the things you collect. I will be more diligent when attending estate sales for sewing ephemera. The wooden spools are so much nicer than the plastic ones.

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    1. Hi Theresa - I seem to collect in every direction, don't I? I probably should have been a museum curator. I think we all have an affinity for wooden spools because they were a part of so many childhood crafts. As a child, did you ever knit a cord through the hole of a spool? All it took was some yarn, a spool and four nails.

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  9. Love, love, love it. Wonderful piece Mark.
    Anyes

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    1. Hi, Anyes,

      Since this was posted, my friend Stefan of Architect Design™ sent several extra ONT spools. He got them at an estate sale, which is an indication that the supply in dwindling!

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