Tuesday, November 3, 2015

1890's School Desk and Seat

              This is about the history of an 1890's school desk and seat. It will include the known facts and story of this school furniture along with possible and plausible information as some of the history is not entirely is known at this time.

             The school desks and chairs manufactured between the 1890's and early 1900's were called the Triumph style. They were made from cast iron along with solid and laminate wood. The desks and chairs were combination pieces. The desk had the seat attached in front with the exception of the very first desk in the front of the row and the very last seat at the back of the row. The desk and seat in this article are such pieces. In the school class rooms the desks and seats were fastened to the hardwood floors and could not be moved. The bench part of the seats could fold up to allow the students an easier time to get in and out of their desks. The desks had holes cut in either the upper right or left corner for a glass or ceramic ink well. There was a groove cut along the top surface of the desk to prevent writing utensils from rolling off the desk. Just under the desk there was a shelf for students to store books and materials used for classes.

           Companies such as A.H. Andrews and Company out of Chicago, Illinois, manufactured these desks and chairs. They put a lot of work into making the furniture both functional and ornate. The intricate scroll pattern in the cast iron could be described as artistic and beautiful.

           Based on the serial number of this desk and seat, 478786, it was patented in 1892 and likely manufactured by A.H. Andrews Co. sometime between 1892 and 1922. It is presumed to have been used in a school in the Grand Rapids/Rockford/Martin area of Michigan. Not a whole lot is known about these pieces up until the late 1960's to early 1970's. One plausible assumption is they were used in the Rockford school building which was constructed in 1869 and was destroyed by fire in 1922. It is possible this desk and seat survived fire, was salvaged and possibly sold or given to a private owner until the 1960's/1970's when it changed ownership.

          The parents of the current owner of the desk and seat moved to Rockford, Michigan in 1968. They obtained the pieces sometime between 1968 and 1975. They gave the desk and seat to their daughter who still owns the furniture pieces today. The parents and their daughter lived in the Rockford/Martin area of Michigan until 1975 when they moved to Des Moines, Iowa. The daughter used the desk and seat for things a little girl would use them for. She used them for drawing and coloring and when she started school she would do her homework at the desk and seat. She used the furniture until the early to mid 1980's when she outgrew them and could no longer comfortably sit at the desk. The desk and seat were moved to the basement of her home. Up until October 2015 they were used as saw horses and support for a make shift table/work bench by the girls parents. 

         The desk and seat are now in the basement of her home in Sioux City, Iowa where her husband is working on cleaning and restoring the pieces to as close to a period piece as possible. They have been cleaned. The board base the desk and seat are attached to will be replaced with replica 1890's era hardwood to replicate the type of flooring the furniture was originally fastened when used as a school desk and seat in Michigan during the 1890's to the early 1900's. The future use of this desk and seat is going to include being temporarily loaned to museums for exhibits and as educational pieces but it will remain under private ownership by the woman who used the desk and seat as a little girl.


1892 - The patent for the furniture is filed by William B. Cogger.
School furniture, US 478786 A

1892 to 1900 - The desk and seat are manufactured by A. H. Andrews & Company.
Andrews (A. H.) & Co.
A. H. Andrews & co.'s illustrated catalogue of school merchandise
A. H. Andrews Building II
A. H. Andrews & Company, Images

1892 to 1922 - Possibly used as a school desk and seat in the school in Rockford, Michigan until the building was destroyed by fire. It is possible this desk and seat survived the fire and these pieces of furniture were salvaged.

1922 to 1968 - Much of the history during this time of the desk and seat are unknown but they were likely in private ownership at the time, especially if they survived the Rockford School fire and were salvaged.

1968 - The parents of the woman who now owners the desk and seat moved to Rockford, Michigan.

1968 to 1975 - The parents of the current owner obtained the desk and seat and gave it to their daughter for use when she became old enough to sit at it.

1975 - The current owner and her parents moved to Des Moines, Iowa taking the desk and seat with them where she continued to use them.

Mid 1980's - The current owner grew to big to comfortably sit at the desk and seat and they were retired to her parents basement.

Mid 1980's to October 2015 - The desk and seat were used as saw horses and for supports for a make shift table top/work bench used by the current owners parents.

October 2015 - The desk and seat were moved from Des Moines, Iowa to Sioux City, Iowa where they have been cleaned up and will be restored and preserved.

Note the following photo was not taken by the article writer:

These photos were taken by the article writer: