Spool cabinets are versatile pieces of furniture. Not only are they some of the finest made pieces of furniture on the market, but their multiple drawers, storage units, and shelving make for some exciting restoration and repurposing projects.
Not to mention, spool cabinets have a rich history in the textile industry, and were used in a variety of locations including general stores, textile factories, tailoring workshops, and home settings.
But spool cabinets are becoming increasingly rare to find – and if you own one no doubt you’re wondering if now’s the right time to sell it.
Let’s explore everything you need to know about these stately pieces of furniture.
History of the spool cabinet
Spool cabinets formed an integral part of the textile industry. It all started in 1844 when the sewing machine revolutionized tailoring. It heralded several huge changes in the industry, as more things were mechanized.
The most important change was around the thread. Everyone from professional tailors and clothing manufacturers to the average housewife required one thing to keep up with this new work speed – ready-made thread.
Spool cabinets made keeping spools of thread easy to manage, efficient, and an effective way to advertise to potential customers.
They came in a variety of different shapes and sizes. Some cabinets had a series of drawers, with clear labels that noted the type and color of thread inside. The most common were black and white, as well as types of thread-like silk or cotton. Other cabinets stacked their threads in columns for easy viewing.
Furniture makers often used locally sourced wood for their projects, and the most common wood used for spool cabinets was walnut, maple, and oak.
Throughout their history, cabinets were made for two places. Commerical cabinets were usually made of higher quality wood to be longer-lasting. They also had a brand or logo to advertise themselves.
Several manufacturers began to build spool cabinets for domestic use, tapping into the growing trend of upholstery and clothing repair at home.
These cabinets were often much smaller (only 2 or 3 drawers), and were made of lower quality wood. They also rarely had labels printed on them.
Common manufacturers of antique spool cabinets
As the textile industry grew and grew from the late 19th century until the 20th century, thread manufacturers were keen to start advertising their brands as the superior thread choice.
Cabinets often had clear, distinct logos on the drawers, knobs, and panels. This makes identifying them easy. The most common manufacturers were:
Established in the 1750s, Clarks Thread Company is one of the most recognizable brands of antique spool cabinets. They had bold lettering ‘ONT’ on drawers and embossed on the draw knobs. The company specialized in cotton threads and created specialized cabinets to store their products. Examples of the brand include:
- This Six-Drawer ON.T. Spool cabinet is worth $708.
- This Clark’s O.N.T. column Spool Cabinet is worth $2,450.
Founded by James and Patrick Clark in the 1750s, J.&P. Coats is one of the most admired manufacturers in the textile industry. They developed several techniques that helped twist threads together.
By the 1890s, J&P Coats was one of the biggest textile companies in the world. Examples of spool cabinets include:
- This wide-set 5-drawer J&P Coats branded spool cabinet is worth $800
- This 6-drawer J&P Coats branded spool cabinet is worth $6,276.
Heminway & Bartlett Silk Company
Heminway & Barlett were an early adopter of rayon and synthetic fibers, making their threads incredibly popular and always in demand. They developed strong connections with retailers and chain department stores, which featured their branded spool cabinets and helped develop their distinguished brand. Examples include:
- This Heminway & Bartlett 3-glass spool cabinet is worth $504.
- This Heminway & Bartlett 3-drawer spool cabinet is worth $275.
The Merrick Thread Company
It makes sense to expect several different kinds of spool cabinets featuring their brands. Examples include:
- This 1890s wide set Merrick spool cabinet is worth $1,800
- This smaller Merrick Thread Company spool cabinet has an estimated worth of $400
Types of antique spool cabinet
Spool cabinets had a very practical use, and makers never truly experimented much with their design. It’s only now with modern restorations are they experimented with.
Antique spool cabinets came in two distinct types, including:
Drawer cabinets are the most common type on the market. People needed a practical way to keep threads securely at home.
Drawers often had clear names to define the type of thread stored. Smaller cabinets had anywhere from 2 to 5 drawers. Sometimes drawers can be short and thin, or wide and deep. Examples include:
These 4 Clark American Spool Cabinets are worth $350. They range from 4 drawers to 6.
These were often displayed cases in retail stores, usually with 6 or 7 columns. Smaller, end table cabinets could be placed in general purpose stores.
For dedicated textile stores, however, these column cabinets could be massive in size, with several long columns. Rather than have glass sides, these cabinets held thread openly, making it easy for customers to grab what they need quickly.
How do I know if my spool cabinet is antique?
Spool cabinets are very popular nowadays with modern interior designs that want that rustic, country look. But because they are often in short supply, there are quite a few forgeries, reproductions, and repurposed sool cabinets.
Common to other antique furniture, many people purposefully ‘age’ and distress the wood to make it seem older than it is. So how can you protect yourself from this?
If your cabinet has them, examine its labels closely. Compare the font size and lettering of the words, and compare this to what the manufacturers of the time used.
Many companies used branding throughout the cabinet, not just in the labels. Sometimes, knobs and glass panels had logos painted or embossed on them. These can be very hard to replicate nowadays.
Also worth noting – throughout the history of the textile industry, many companies merged. In 1952, for example, J.&P. Coats and the Clarks Thread company amalgamated into Coasts and Clark’s. Don’t expect any Clarks O.N.T. models past this date.
What affects an antique spool cabinet’s value?
As with any antique furniture, spool cabinets vary in value depending on different factors. Take these into account before you post a listing:
Simply put, the better condition the spool cabinet, the more valuable it is. Most cabinets are sold in ‘excellent’ condition, showing only minor signs of damage.
Good condition applies to all aspects of the spool cabinet. Examine your spool cabinet and consider if it has the following:
- Original knobs and hinges, as well as glass inserts to drawers.
- Drawers should be able to open and close properly.
- Decals and lettering on drawer fronts should be original, clear, and colorful.
- The font and letter sizing should match the manufacturer.
Many commercial spool cabinets have their manufacturer’s branding clearly on the drawers, knobs, and/or back panels. Cabinets with these marks are worth much more than spool cabinets with no clear identification.
As with many antique furniture pieces, the larger the cabinet the more money it is worth. Spool cabinets came in a variety of sizes and styles.
Some came in smaller, 2-5 drawer sizes, and their values range from:
- This 2-drawer Clark’s O.N.T. Spool Cabinet is worth $274.99
- This 5-drawer Willimantic Spool Cabinet is worth $750.
Some spool cabinets are much, much bigger, come in multiple columns, and can have upwards of 20 shelves and more. These can fetch a very high price at auction, including:
- This 8-drawer, 2-column Corticelli Walnut Spool Cabinet is worth $5,000.
- This 1890s Country Oak Spool Cabinet is worth $1,895.
Where to buy & sell antique spool cabinets
Wondering where you can get your hands on a cheap spool cabinet? Or perhaps you’re ready to sell your prized piece of history to collectors and designers alike.
Here are some of our favorite auction sites where you can buy, sell, and price spool cabinets:
Ruby Lane has a variety of antique spool cabinets from several makers ranging from $700 upwards to $1,650.
eBay has hundreds of antique spool cabinet listings each day. Prices range from a couple of dollars to $5,000 and more.
Etsy has a growing number of spool cabinet sellers, however many listings are for repurposed or restored furniture.