Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

More than a sewing cabinet August 26, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 10:22 AM
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My "new" sewing cabinet from The Caswell-Runyan Co., Huntington, Ind.

I REALLY, HONESTLY, did not need the sewing cabinet I purchased for $30 at a recent yard sale. Although I have a sewing machine and once stitched nearly everything I wore, I don’t sew much any more.

But the rows of old tables lined up on both sides of the cement driveway lured me to look.

Once I saw the shiny Perfect Sewing Cabinet up close, I couldn’t resist its quaint charm—a lid that opens to reveal thread compartments, a curving front, dove-tailed drawers and unique golden knobs accented with amber heads. I already had visually placed the table in a corner of my dining room. With two drawers, it would be so much more practical than the tiny open-shelved table currently occupying that spot.

The cabinet lid lifts to reveal a compartment for thread and notions.

Craftsmanship is detailed in the dovetail drawer construction.

The original drawer pulls simply gleam.

But for $37, should I buy it? Should I walk away? Pay. Walk. What about that promise to start down-sizing, de-cluttering? Hadn’t my husband and I just returned from the recycling center where we dropped off an old TV, a printer, and a computer monitor and tower?

“Will you take less for it?” I ask the old guy running the sale.

To my surprise, he’ll take $30.

Still, I ask him to “keep my name on it” as I walk further up the driveway, perusing the merchandise while struggling to justify my purchase.

Then I just do it. I open my purse and pull out a $20 bill and two fives and the table is mine.

But I don’t simply walk away. I need to know where this peddler of tables has gotten his goods.

He finds furniture at yard, garage and rummage sales and then refinishes the pieces, he explains. He does magnificent work. Every tabletop shines with a glossy, flawless finish.

Then I learn a bit more. This elderly man (whose name I never do ask), says he rummages all the way to the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Minneapolis, where he’s been doctoring for years.

“World War II?” I ask.

His military time, he says, came between WW II and the Korean Conflict. He was stationed in Alaska, where he injured his back. He’s had numerous surgeries and has a leaky heart valve. But they won’t replace the valve, he says, because during his last heart bypass surgery, doctors had trouble restarting his heart.

And then he tells me that his wife has cancer.

“I’m sorry,” I say, amazed at what people will share because I take the time to genuinely listen. He assures me that she is doing OK.

Then I thank him, wish him well. Randy loads the cabinet from The Caswell-Runyan Co. of Huntington, Indiana, into the back of our van. Then we are on our way with a table that is now more than a piece of furniture. It is also a story of a veteran and a craftsman and a husband whose wife is battling cancer.

A label from The Caswell-Runyan Co. is inside the sewing cabinet lid.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


27 Responses to “More than a sewing cabinet”

  1. Sara Says:

    I always find it interesting how sometimes just talking to someone can bring up wonderful stories and histories that soon, will probably be forgotten.
    I really enjoyed this post!

  2. ken mertz Says:

    I was just surfing to find a value for a similar item. It was bought for my aunt for her wedding in the 20’s. It is not refurbished. On the uinderside fo the one drawer is the #25 in pencil. Do you have any idea where I might find the value? Thanks

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Ken, I have no idea what the value is on this sewing cabinet or where to find the value. But since yours has not been refinished, the value would be even higher than my refinished one.

      Readers, do you have any suggestions for Ken?

    • Keesha Says:

      I just bought my cabinet today. While researching this beautiful piece that has not been refurbished, I found this site and read what you wrote. I curiously looked underneath and found it marked, with #25. My heart skipped a beat I admit. Did you have to part with your piece?

      Is each one a different number? Is 25 the number of an employer? It being an employee ID doesnt seem as likely but many questions are going through my mind.

      I hope that despite the passing of time, this will find you and you will get in contact with me and we can solve this mystery and share the information with others who may end up with the same # in the future, who knows!

      Crocheting1 at gmail dot com

  3. Marilyn Dori Says:

    Mrs. Audrey Kletscher Helbling, I have received a cabinet which is identical to yours. One of the knobs is missing. I would you be very grateful if you would be able to advise me how I could purchase a duplicate one.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Marilyn, I wish I could help you find a knob for your sewing cabinet. But I have no idea how to find one. Readers?

      • Marilyn Dori Says:

        Dear Audrey, thank you very much for your response.

      • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

        You’re welcome, Marilyn. I wish I could help you find a knob for your sewing cabinet. Readers, Marilyn is still looking and if you can help, send a comment my way.

  4. Jamie Crouch Says:

    I know that feeling. When an item calls to you, seeming to choose you to become part of it’s own personal history. My luckiest finds sometime feel more like an adoption than a purchase. Which is why I can imagine that you wouldn’t want to part with this little cabinet but, I have to ask.
    I was doing a search on Caswell Runyan cabinets which led me here. (Strangely, I am also in MN.-Duluth, actually.)
    I just started sewing/quilting this year.
    My Grandmother, who taught me to knit & crochet as a child, passed away last year. She was 98 years old.
    She lived in Texas & though we didn’t see each other enough, we spoke often.
    In short, every time I stitch, I feel close to her again &, as a result, I have taken to this hobby with a passion.
    If you would ever consider selling this beauty, pls. let me know. I am trying to create a room that has beauty & function & history. All of the things that inspire me to create.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Jamie, thank you for asking, because it never hurts to ask. And I totally understand, after reading your precious story about your grandmother’s craft legacy, why you would want this sewing cabinet. But you rightly guessed that I really do not want to part with it. However, if I ever change my mind, I have your contact info filed away.

      Second, as to the patent # being specific to that cabinet model, I really do not know. Readers?

      Best of luck in your search to create the room you envision. You would make your grandmother proud. Thank you for stopping by from Duluth.

  5. Jamie Crouch Says:

    Also, do you think that patent # is specific to that model of cabinet or all of their “perfect sewing cabinets?”

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Can anyone answer Jamie’s question?

      • Michelle Says:

        I’m working on one tonight that has different styling…but the same label/patent number on it, so I suspect the patent applied to all cabinets they made with the drawers, tray and lid function.

      • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

        Thanks for the info, Michelle.

  6. Greeblygreebly Says:

    Here is a copy of that patent. http://www.google.com/patents?id=VK1zAAAAEBAJ&pg=PA1&source=gbs_selected_pages&cad=2#v=onepage&q&f=false

    I have seen several other cabinets with that patent number that are not the
    same on the outside as yours. (Incidentally, yours is the nicest one I’ve seen. I love the curves!)

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      My cabinet does not look exactly like the one on the patent page you found, but similar. I love my little cabinet. I store greeting cards, stamps, my address book and such inside. Thank you for researching this and giving me that link.

  7. Barbara Says:

    I found one of these fabulous cabinets today! Looking up the manufacturer’s name lead me to you! Thank you for your story.

  8. antique lover Says:

    Hi, I just found one of these cabinets at a harvest fair near my town. It has been painted but still looks old. Inside is the original wood finish. It too, holds the same patent number but looks different from the one in the picture. Yes! I do believe that it found me! Someday I hope to unlock it’s stories.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      It sounds like the cabinet was meant just for you, someone who will appreciate it and its history.

      • antique lover Says:

        Yes, you are right Audrey, it just sent out vibes that drew me in! I tell her how beautiful she is every night since she is now a bedside table. And her blue and cream colors look so nice. She does have some original spools of threads and yarns inside and some older tools, too. My Mom is seeming to be a little bit jealous too. I can tell she loves it also!

      • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

        A bedside table, and with original spools, sounds even better. Mine holds greeting cards and stamps and such.

  9. Gail Bookout Says:

    Would this be for sale?

  10. Joan Pellegrino Says:

    My Parents married in 1939 and bought 2 Mahogany Caswell-Runyan Perfect Sewing Cabinets, made in Huntington, Ind. They both have the silver label with the name and Patent #: 116985 on it. My sister had them for some years and then passed them on to me. So, my parents were the original owners. They have been in storage for some years but now since our last son moved out, we are turning his room into a guest room. My theme is Vintage and these cabinets will be the perfect end tables! I found a mahogany headboard and even have an original oil painting with a beautiful mahogany frame by Vera Ellwood, that my grandparents had in their living room from when I was a baby. (now 65). I am so excited to get this project finished. These antique pieces hold so many beautiful memories. I am so happy to give them purpose again.

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