Hoosier cabinets came about as a solution to a problem; they quickly rose in popularity and ended up in many North American households, to the joy of families across the continent. However, they eventually became outdated and unnecessary.
Do you still have an antique Hoosier cabinet that you want to learn more about? Or are you a collector looking to buy one? Either way, this article might contain just what you are looking for!
History of the Hoosier Cabinets
When & Why Were Hoosier Cabinets Created?
Before the 1920s, built-in kitchen cabinets were highly uncommon in the United States. As such, it was rather difficult for people to store any of their necessities in the kitchen, which consequently made it just as difficult to cook conveniently.
However, around 1890, some kitchen furniture manufacturers came up with the idea of creating kitchen cabinets that would solve many of the issues people were struggling with. This kitchen cabinet style came to be known as a Hoosier cabinet.
Hoosier cabinets had virtually everything you could ask for back in the day. Besides having plenty of storage space for sugar, spices, flour, etc., they even came equipped with a variety of devices that would facilitate cooking.
Some of the functional parts that you would typically find in such a cabinet are spice racks, flour sifters, a grocery list wheel, and even cookbook holders. As people were used to having all of these in separate places, Hoosier cabinets were a godsend.
Truly, Hoosier cabinets were the perfect mix of function and aesthetic appeal to homeowners everywhere. They were so convenient that people continued to use them even after homes started having their own built-in kitchen cabinets.
Regardless, the popularity and prestige of Hoosier cabinets started declining eventually, as people became more familiar with modernized kitchens. By the 1930s-1940s, Hoosier cabinets were largely seen as old-fashioned.
More recently, however, Hoosier cabinets started being seen as antique items that collectors would go out of their way for. Some of them end up being sold for good sums of money to people who appreciate their craftsmanship and history.
Where & by Whom Were Hoosier Cabinets Created?
Hoosier cabinets were named after the state they were made in, Indiana (which is also known as the Hoosier state, though the origin of this nickname is rather vague). Though over 40 companies were making them, all of them were based in Indiana.
Among the companies that made and sold these cabinets are: Hoosier Manufacturing Co. (one of the biggest suppliers), G. I. Sellers, the McDougall Company, Diamond Kitchen Cabinets, Wilson, and Coppes Brothers and Zook (Napanee).
While some people might only consider cabinets made by Hoosier Manufacturing Co. to be actual Hoosier cabinets, the Hoosier cabinet name is more often used to refer to the style of cabinet mentioned above, rather than the specific manufacturer thereof.
How to identify a Hoosier cabinet?
You might have come across an old cabinet that you suspect to be a Hoosier one, and you are thinking about selling it. Or perhaps you are a collector and you want to make sure the cabinet you are going to buy is a real Hoosier, not a reproduction.
Regardless of your situation, you need to know how to identify whether the cabinet you are curious about is indeed what you expect it to be. As such, these are the questions you might want to ask yourself in the process:
What does a Hoosier cabinet look like?
Given the context of their creation, Hoosier cabinets have a rather distinct look. They were made to fit in small kitchen spaces, while simultaneously being able to store as many ingredients and extra features as possible.
In terms of size, Hoosier cabinets are six feet tall, two feet deep, and four feet wide. As for appearance, they are clearly separated into three parts: a top part for storage purposes, a bottom part for storage & accessories, and a porcelain workspace.
The top and bottom parts further included different elements such as flour bins, sugar bins, spice jars, and various shelves, among others.
What type of wood is used in a Hoosier cabinet?
At first, antique Hoosier cabinets were by and large made out of oak. In terms of painting, ivory and apple-green were the most common colors. However, both of these choices changed over time, due to various reasons.
As oak became not only more scarce, but also more expensive, manufacturers started using alternatives such as pine, enamel, white maple, or walnut. It even became common for one cabinet to be made out of three different types of wood.
Manufacturers started painting the cabinets in all kinds of different colors. This decision was largely made with the intention of taking attention away from the quality of the wood being used. Additionally, some modern cabinets even had glass doors.
Does it have any of the accessories?
As previously mentioned, genuine Hoosier cabinets were equipped with accessories such as flour/sugar sifters, spice racks, dish racks, and other movable parts, all of which you should look out for.
Of course, if the cabinet you are looking at has lost these accessories over time, that doesn’t mean it’s not genuine. However, it might have consequences for the cabinet in terms of its usability and even value.
Can you find the manufacturer’s mark?
This is perhaps the least straightforward step in identifying your Hoosier cabinet. As noted above, there were quite a few different companies creating Hoosier-type cabinets at the peak of their popularity.
Naturally, all of these manufacturers have their own unique marks and placement as well. For example, Hoosier Manufacturing Co.’s mark was an H on the door fasteners, which few would find by mere happenstance.
Other companies had a specific manufacturer’s stamp or metal tags to mark their cabinets instead. For example, if you have/are looking for a Napanee cabinet, you should check out the full list of tags, that will tell you the date of manufacture.
How to figure out the exact model?
One last thing you can do to identify a specific Hoosier cabinet model is to check it against a list of references. You might find such references in specific books, such as ‘The Hoosier Cabinet in Kitchen History’.
Alternatively, you could try your luck online. If you have a good guess of your cabinet’s model, you might find photos of it and ensure you are right. Otherwise, you might find photos of Hoosier cabinets being sold along with model information.
What is the value of a Hoosier cabinet?
Whether you are looking to buy or sell a Hoosier cabinet, it is important to be able to assess its value. Therefore, I will explain in depth what distinct features you need to look out for below.
As with most collector items, the most important feature of a Hoosier cabinet is its condition. The better the condition, the higher the price!
As you are well aware by now, Hoosier cabinets came with all kinds of additional accessories. The value of a cabinet that still has all of its original accessories is going to be significantly higher, compared to one that’s missing its accessories.
Moreover, there are even some rare accessories, such as meat grinders, that not many Hoosier cabinets had. If you happen to have such accessories in your cabinet, consider yourself lucky!
I previously described the different types of wood that cabinets were made from. Naturally, cabinets made from higher-quality wood are likely to be more valuable. In particular, oak and walnut ones tend to be the most expensive ones.
Given the age of Hoosier cabinets, some are likely to have been modified over time. For example, some parts might have been replaced due to aesthetic or functional reasons. Unfortunately, such changes drive down a Hoosier cabinet’s value significantly.
It is especially noteworthy that an antique Hoosier whose condition is great, but only as a result of having had its parts changed, is likely to be less valuable than an antique whose condition is not quite as good, if the latter is still entirely original.
The price of a Hoosier cabinet can vary quite a bit. The cheaper ones (e.g. in need of repairs) can be valued at only $200-$300, while the most expensive ones (i.e. perfect-condition original antiques) can go for as much as $2000.
How to restore an antique Hoosier cabinet?
Are you trying to repair a Hoosier so you can sell it for a better price? Or have you found an affordable one that needs a bit of love? Or do you simply want to restore an old piece of furniture that your family has had for generations?
Firstly, you need to completely disassemble your cabinet: remove the drawers, unscrew any hinges, and remove the knobs and doors. Any sections or doors that can’t be removed should be covered with painter’s tape.
Next, you should paint over the wood, using a liquid paint stripper, which is more appropriate for delicate surfaces. Peel it away using a putty knife, and don’t forget to be safe while you do this!
You should then use medium-grade steel wool to remove any remaining finish, and proceed to hand-sand the unfinished wood using 120-grit sandpaper, followed by 220-grit sandpaper.
Using a paintbrush or rag, you should now apply a water/oil-based stain to the wood, which will give your cabinet a deep color. Afterward, apply up to four thin topcoats, until you achieve the color you are looking for.
Lastly, reassemble your cabinet, remove all the painter’s tape after the finish dries fully, and enjoy your like-new Hoosier cabinet.
Where to sell and buy antique Hoosier cabinets?
The process of buying/selling a Hoosier cabinet is rather similar to that of any other antique. Firstly, you should probably decide whether you’d rather do this locally or online, as the methods differ significantly between the two.
The clear advantage of buying and selling online is convenience. It is easier to reach a wider audience as a seller, or browse through a variety of options and choose the one that fits your needs and wants as a buyer.
Having said that, you need to remember to take shipping costs into consideration. Because of just how heavy Hoosier cabinets are, many sellers only allow local pickups; even when you get it shipped, the costs are not going to be insignificant.
Your main options for buying and selling online are websites such as eBay, Etsy, and Ruby Lane, all of which are commonly used by dealers and collectors alike. Alternatively, you could try marketplaces such as Facebook Marketplace.
Another possibility would be to contact online dealers, who will gladly take valuable antiques off your hands, or sell them to you. Lastly, you can always use social media to publicly announce your desire to buy/sell a Hoosier; they might help!
If you would rather take the offline approach, and buy/sell your Hoosier cabinet locally, you have quite a few options as well. As a buyer, this might be preferable for you if you want to check the condition of your desired Hoosier yourself.
Locally, your options range from consignment shops to dealers (i.e. contacting an antique shop directly), newspaper listings, and even garage sales or estate sales.
Additionally, you can try your luck at an auction, antique show, or antique mall, which might be more appropriate if you are trying to buy/sell a particularly high-quality Hoosier cabinet (excellent condition, oak, rare accessories, etc.).
From American staples to obscure collector’s items, Hoosier cabinets are simply fascinating. I hope you enjoyed learning more about them. If you have any other questions, do not hesitate to ask in the comments below! If you are going to buy or sell one yourself, good luck!