Jonathan Hoppe

Home » Restorations » Grand Rapids Chair Co. Icebox

Grand Rapids Chair Co. Icebox

There are times when one must move beyond rational thought to seize upon a unique opportunity; times like these do not come often, nor do they come again.

Such was the case when I first laid eyes upon the ice box.

Friends were there when I first saw it. They knew then, as I did, that I would be purchasing it.

Friends were there when I first saw it. They knew then, as I did, that I would be purchasing it.

Now I have found some absolutely terrific items at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore in Edgewood — antique pots, a ladle used by the US Navy during the Spanish American War, and other such treats, little did I suspect I would find an ice box. As soon as I laid eyes on it, I knew I had to have it. It was such a unique piece of furniture of such terrific American crafstmanship of a type once common, but now only seen in the highest end of objects. I knew I had found an absolute gem. Though expensive, it was worth every penny — especially since all of the items at the ReStore are donations, and the money goes to help the less fortunate.

Kaufmann's Tag

A metal tag tacked onto the back of the icebox shows it was sold locally at the famed Kaufmann’s Department Store downtown.

A couple of helpfully-placed labels in the drawer and little archival research revealed that the Icebox was made by the Grand Rapids Chair Co. of (of all places) Grand Rapids, Michigan. Once the furniture capital of the United States (owing to, among other factors, an abundant supply of lumber), Grand rapids played host to a great number of manufacturers. The Grand Rapids Chair Co. was founded in 1872, and made furniture under that name through the 1970s. Throughout the early 20th century, it produced products in a very wide range of period styles, with many varied and elegant wood veneers.

4a18670v

1923line

This icebox likely dates to about 1922 or 1923, .and is done in the Sheraton style, veneered with satinwood and inlaid with bands of contrasting wood and painted, and would have been welcome in any Georgian period home. A paper tag on the bottom of the icebox, badly discolored, labels the style “Satinwood,” and gives this piece the number 75 1/2.

Cabinet-Cedar-Veneered-With-Satin-Wood-And-Inlaid-Sheraton

I picked it up one afternoon, and the clerks said it was one of the best pieces that had ever come through there—and that they knew it was going to a good home. After I got it home, I gave it a good cleaning—which showed that while it was somewhat battered, it was still a wonderful piece of furniture. I polished the knobs (no not that kinda knob you pervert) and took apart the lock.

751-2satinwood

At some point in its past, the icebox had been subjected to a rather brutal locksmith, who broke apart the lock when the key was lost. But rather than install a new lock, I thought I would repair the old one. I love a challenge. Of course, the difficult part was getting a new key—not easy when you have to make it from the lock. Thankfully, Squirrel Hill has a locksmith who still can make skeleton keys (Thanks, Naum!). He did his work, and after some careful filing and grinding on the part of yours truly the key was perfect.

Of course, the slight problem of the faceplate being separated from the lock was an inconvenience. Thankfully, that’s why we have metal epoxy.

Old Naum the locksmith made a very wonderful new key for this old Eagle Lock Co. lock. And with a little metal epoxy it's good as new!

Old Naum the locksmith made a very wonderful new key for this old Eagle Lock Co. lock. And with a little metal epoxy it’s good as new!

Progress continues on the piece. Investigation revealed a broken hinge on the door, a ball-tipped cabinet hinge made Stanley over a century ago. As luck would have it, Stanley still produces hinges to the same pattern, and a suitable replacement part was actually remarkable easy to find!

Ball & Ball was founded in Chester County in 1932, specializing in antique metal hardware reproductions. Many Ball ancestors were prominent metalworkers, including renown Philadelphia silversmith William Ball.

Ball & Ball was founded in Chester County in 1932, specializing in antique metal hardware reproductions. Many Ball ancestors were prominent metalworkers, including renown Philadelphia silversmith William Ball. Note the old knob at left.

A visit to the renown firm of Ball & Ball, conveniently located in Whitford, solved my little knob and escutcheon problem. The firm could not make a knob to match, but they had a conveniently sized Sheraton knob that worked. They also had an escutcheon that fit with a little deft work with a slot file.

The front of the icebox, after the addition of a new knob, escutcheon, and trim.

The front of the icebox, after the addition of a new knob, escutcheon, and trim.

The trim was finally obtained, sanded, shaped, stained (after much trial and error), and fitted (thanks, Pop-Pop for the old C-clamps). The next steps is inpainting to match, and a little more work to fill some gaps, and a little more cleaning, she’ll be a great looker.

Ice box--front view.

This wonderful icebox will serve well for years to come.


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