By Edie McGinnis
A friend sent me a posting for an estate sale the other day. I gave it the once over and, knowing I had a meeting that morning, shrugged it off. Then I took another look and saw that it opened at 2 p.m. Hmmm, maybe I could get there before everything was gone.
Five antique quilts were listed, as well as a spool cabinet. A spool cabinet! I have looked for one of those for years. I’ve found plenty, but they’ve either been battered beyond belief or they were so pricy that I couldn’t afford them. Maybe I would get lucky this time.
I drove to the address posted, found a parking place and walked up to the house. There in the driveway was a trail of what appeared to be litter. Reusable shopping bags, empty cigarette packets, an empty plastic cassette box and a handwritten note held in place with a rock were just a few of the things lined up in the drive.
I passed the trail of debris to chat with the few people in the front of the line. I asked if everyone was to enter the sale through the garage. “Yes,” was the reply, and they said they were the first in line. Anyone else showing up had to get in line behind the “markers.”
Markers? They pointed out the trail of litter and told me that people had left an item to mark their place in line. Who knew there were rules about standing in line for an estate sale? Certainly not me.
I went to the end of the litter trail and took my place in line. I also added a packet of business cards to the trail in case I decided to take a seat on the retaining wall instead of standing for the next hour.
People kept arriving, and soon I had a lot of company behind all the markers. There is not much to do while standing in line other than start chatting with people you have never met and may never meet again.
The two men behind me had driven to the sale from Sedalia, Mo., about 100 miles from Kansas City. They were shopping for the Fiestaware that had been listed. They weren’t even there because they wanted it but were shopping for a friend who couldn’t make it. Or so they said.
They must have attended a lot of estate sales because they seemed to know many of the people standing in line.
“Oh, yeah, you see that guy up there?” one asked. “He’s an antique dealer. All those people in front are dealers.”
Now that was a discouraging thought. I was standing in line behind a bunch of dealers and thinking I might as well go home. The chances of getting that spool cabinet were looking pretty slim.
About five minutes before the doors opened, people swarmed into line after picking up their markers. It was kind of weird to see who picked up what piece of trash and stuck it in their pockets. You could tell who had dropped the cigarette boxes. He was coughing as he bent down to pick them up.
As I walked in the door, the first thing I saw was a man carrying all the antique quilts. My heart sunk, but at least he wasn’t carrying the spool cabinet.
I walked through the house looking for the cabinet. After going through about five rooms, I walked back into the crowded living room and asked one of the people working the sale where I could find the spool cabinet. A voice behind me said, “Spool cabinet? Are you looking for the spool cabinet? It’s right here.”
I turned around, walked five steps and claimed it.
It wasn’t until I got it home that I took a good look at it. It is a Clark cabinet. Clark is a name we usually see with Coats, as in Coats & Clark thread. Coats bought Clark in 1896. They were run independently until 1931, when the companies named a president, John B. Clark, to run both companies. In 1952, the companies merged, forming Coats & Clark Inc.
In 1877, the J&P Coats Co. came up with a brilliant marketing plan to utilize the wood byproducts in its spool factories. It built a factory in Pawtucket, R.I., to make thread cabinets that could be placed on the counter in general stores. It didn’t take long before other thread companies followed suit.
The cabinets were free to the storekeeper as long as he placed a large initial order for thread. The Clark cabinets usually had a decal that advertised a thread George A. Clark invented called O.N.T., or Our New Thread. O.N.T. was a softly finished thread that worked perfectly in a sewing machine.
Spool or thread cabinets are highly collectible and can be found in a wide array of styles. Some have a gently sloped top that could be used as a writing desk. Some are circular with glass doors. J. P. Coats even produced one that looked like a large spool of thread that rested on its side on a stand and had drawers coming from what would be the top or bottom of the spool.
I’m very excited to have a spool cabinet at long last. Now I can have all my thread stored in one place and an appropriately labeled drawer for each kind.
This has got to be a better storage solution than tucking my thread into a bag here or stuffing it on a shelf there. Gosh, if I’m not careful, I might get organized.
Edie McGinnis is an author and editor for Kansas City Star Quilts. She writes every Friday.