Sunday, December 15, 2013

The "Elastic" Bookcase

Last summer I was out for a motorcycle ride when I saw a few items marked "free" in front of an old house.  I stopped and discovered a section of an old barrister's bookcase.  (There had been one of these in my grandparents' house when I was a child, and I greatly admired it.  I loved the way the glass-fronted door would slide up and over the books inside.)  The one that was being discarded was missing the glass, and the base and back had delaminated, but it was quarter-sawn oak so I strapped it on the back of the bike, brought it home and put it in my barn with all of my other furniture rescues.

Recently, we needed something to hold our VCR (yes, I still watch VHS tapes) so I decided that this would be a perfect use for the bookcase section.  So, I stripped and refinished it, repaired the damaged parts, built and installed a new oak top, and replaced the glass.  (I left the back off for now, so the cables can exit.)  Ta da!

It has a very cool rack and pinion mechanism for sliding the door up and holding it in place.  Below, with the door removed:

Below, with the door in place:

Although the back of the case was too far gone to be saved, it still bore the original maker's decal:

In 1892, Fred Macey opened a mail order business in Grand Rapids, Michigan, selling desks and filing cabinets produced by other firms. He soon opened his own factory, producing roll top desks. One year later, in 1893, Otto Wernicke started a furniture firm in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  In 1892, he had been granted a patent for a "sectional stockcase" and 4 years later a patent for a "separable" bookcase.

In 1897 he moved his firm to Grand Rapids in 1897.  In 1904 he went into partnership with the Globe Company of Cincinatti, forming Globe-Wernicke to market his bookcases, which he called "elastic" presumably because they could be stretched out by adding more sections.   (Globe had been founded by Henry C. Yeister, who was the first to come up with the idea of the modern filing cabinet where files are stored vertically, rather than stacked horizontally on a shelf.) 

Above, from the web
Unhappy with the partnership, Wernicke left Globe and purchased Fred Macey's outfit in 1905, becoming Macey-Wernicke and then simply The Macey Company in 1908.  Their main product was the elastic bookcase, and Globe-Wernicke sued Macey-Wernicke for patent infringement, ultimately unsuccessfully.  Fred Macey died of typhoid pneumonia in 1909, and Otto Wernicke became president. The company produced a variety of office furniture until 1937, when it filed for bankruptcy, officially closing down in 1940.

Furniture City History
Interestingly, Globe-Wernicke persisted longer.
National Geographic, September 1943.
Today, most of the great firms in Grand Rapids, the "Furniture City" are gone and in their place we have Ikea.  Progress?

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Very nice sigte - informative. Great door mechanism. Anyone have one to sell e-mail me at I'm missing the mechanism in my old Macey barrister bookcase. Thanks!