When kept in good shape a sewing cabinet can last as long or even longer than a good sewing machine. Plus, they can add a level of elegance to any room they are placed. When they come with a rich history like the Martha Washington then you have something special.
It is not sure if Martha Washington used a cabinet that would eventually bear her name but the ones labeled with her name were made mostly during the early 20th century. They were extremely popular during the depression because they were small.
To learn more about this cabinet and its history, just continue to read our article. It explores the topic so you can know when you are getting a good deal on an antique sewing cabinet. Take a few minutes to learn about this slice of American history.
This sewing cabinet had a unique design. The majority of the ones you will find usually came with 3 drawers in the center and 2 revolving pockets, one on each side. There are different variations of course, but this is the style you should see the most.
It is hard to say if Mrs. Washington owned one or not. It is said that she may have had one where she could pull a chair up to and sit comfortably while she sewed. The rotating pockets are not exclusive to the Martha Washington sewing cabinet as many other desks from that early 20th-century era had them as well.
There are some alternate designs where the movable pockets had flip-top lids as did the center of the cabinet above the 3 drawers. When the lids were over the pockets, those pockets do not seem to move.
The type of wood used was generally mahogany and veneered with maple or wood called satinwood. Each desk or sewing table was finished to perfection and as you can see they have lasted for over 100 years.
If you get one at worst they are only a conversation piece.
It is hard to say exactly as too much history has been lost to time. But there was a Federal period which dated between 1785 and 1810 where a sewing table was used and the ladies would gather around it and do their sewing, write letters, read, and so on.
It is possible that Martha Washington owned one of these sewing tables as she liked to sew. This setting was still in use in 1824. The rounded top design was the first style of cabinet to be labeled as the Martha Washington but those designs have changed over the years a little bit.
The ones everyone knows today as the Martha Washington sewing cabinet were made in the very early 20th century when furniture makers needed to sell sewing cabinets at a cheaper price. This style was popular during the American Depression as they usually sold for under $10.
That puts their construction date around 1900 to 1939 approx. It is said that the type of sewing table Mrs. Washington used had no drawers. It is possible that the original Martha Washington style of sewing cabinet stopped production around 1850 or somewhere near the start of the Civil War.
The 20th-century designs could be called reproductions and based on the original designs of the 18th and 19th centuries.
The original sewing cabinet used by Martha Washington consisted of a table with an open shelf, 2 storage pockets, and no drawers in the middle. She did not use the style made famous by adding her name as she died in 1802 and that cabinet was not made until 1815.
The majority of the existing Martha Washington sewing cabinets are depression-era reproductions of that 1815 model. Then this original design was adapted during the reproduction years and you can find a Martha Washington cabinet looking a little bit different from each other.
The originals and the reproductions were made from different woods with the higher quality made from walnut, and the lower quality ones were made from some sort of fruitwood.
One of the more famous sewing companies of that era, White, often combined their sewing machines with the Martha Washington style of sewing cabinet. That company used to own their own forests so that they could produce the best wood possible for those cabinets.
It is said that the Priscilla sewing cabinet was a low-cost replacement for the more elaborate Martha Washington. This cabinet made its first appearance in the 1920s but did not survive the 20th century.
Exactly when companies stopped producing the Martha Washington is not known at this time. You may be able to find some being made by someone somewhere but the quality may not be up to the early 20th century standards.
In our research, we came across two companies that were said to produce this style of sewing cabinet. The first was the Sheets Manufacturing Company which was based in Wapakoneta, Ohio.
There is little information on this company but it is also said that it moved its plant to nearby Botkins, Ohio at some point. The sticker underneath the cabinet displays this information and should also have a number imprinted on it.
In one picture there is a number 234 printed in crayon but that is inconclusive as that number could have been written at any time. Another model had the #380 on it but no further information. In a search, a couple of companies named Sheets popped up but it is hard to say if they are related to that cabinet-making business.
Just about the same can be said about the other company that made this sewing cabinet, Cowan Manufacturing Company of Toledo, Ohio. There is little to no information on it and we know of only one mention of that company.
Either the depression or the War knocked both companies out of existence or they may have merged with another business and assumed the name of the partner company. It is hard to say as time does to all businesses what it does to old sewing machine companies. Time destroys records.
The different uses you can get out of Martha Washington sewing cabinet will depend a lot on the style of the cabinet you own. The first and foremost use would be as a sewing cabinet. You can keep ongoing projects in the side pockets and supplies in the main drawers.
Then, you could place your sewing machine on top of it and use it as a sewing table. But if the style is not the 2 pocket, three-drawer design you may have to have an accompanying cabinet to hold your sewing supplies and ongoing projects.
Other people have used some designs as an end table where they placed all sorts of picture frames, books, and so on. Then one person used hers to hold her family heirloom. It was a lamp owned by her great-grandfather.
With the legs off, it does make for a good television stand or entertainment center, that is with the right components and proper wiring. A bookshelf is a possibility or even a place to place a mirror.
These are just some suggestions to get your creative juices flowing. The good part about these suggestions is that you do not have to ruin the look of the cabinet to use them in these alternative ways.
With a little brainstorming, you should be able to find some other use for the cabinet if you are not a sewer and still be able to keep it in the family.
It is said that Mrs. Washington was an avid knitter. Not a sewer but a woman who liked to knit. She loved it so much that even during social calls, she would entertain her guests while still knitting away.
The look of her sewing cabinet is different from the ones that bear her name but a famous name does sell products and the modern eras are not the first to capitalize on that fact. She may not have approved of the label but it is not sure if that label was given to the sewing cabinets while she was still alive.
When records are read, her cabinet was a simple table with no drawers in the center. There were pockets on the side and an open shelf was there instead. A fabric skirting was used to shield those shelves.
It seems that adding drawers was a more practical application than that style. Since people’s tastes are not the same, you will find that the depression era replicas came in a variety of styles that were based on her sewing cabinet and not an exact match.
That means you can find one that you like and still be a part of the Martha Washington heritage when it comes to sewing cabinets.
In the words of the Pawn Stars lead character, ‘people can fake anything’. And they do. This is why you need to be careful and make sure you are getting an actual depression-era Martha Washington sewing cabinet.
You do not want to pay too much for a fake. Don’t be upset if you are fooled. Even the experts are fooled from time to time and that is not limited to the Pawn Stars television show. The Hitler Diaries are a famous example of experts being fooled.
With that said, the value of a true Martha Washington sewing cabinet will range. Some go as low as $50 and that may be due to the condition or for the fact the seller just wants to get rid of it.
Others have said the top-quality cabinets are worth around $500 but that cabinet should be made from walnut or some other top wood. As well as being in very good condition.
From what we have seen on eBay and other websites as we did our research, the most you can expect for the majority of these cabinets is around $200 to $250 with some going in the $100+ range.
The key is to buy low and sell high. It works in real estate and that principle will work with antique sewing cabinets. Plus, you can always raise the value by restoring the sewing cabinet to its former glory.
But if you decide to do that, expect to pay $100 or more. It may not be worth it.
Let’s start with the traditional locations where you are most likely to find one of these cabinets at a very low price. The classified ads are the best place to search if you want to remain local. You can use Craigslist to expand that search if you are unsuccessful with your local investigation.
Then remaining with the traditional sources, you can go to the estate, yard, and garage sales to see if there is one available. These options are a hit-and-miss venture as you may beat the dealers to the punch or you may have missed one by a few minutes.
Another traditional place to look will be your local flea markets. But flea market vendors are not naive sellers like most yard sales, etc., sellers are. They usually know what they have and its value so expect to pay more here.
Then there are your older relatives or friends. You never know what they have in their homes or if they know someone trying to sell their Martha Washington cabinet if they know what that is.
One more traditional place to search would be different antique stores. They are always on the lookout for good pieces of furniture. But expect to pay a premium price when you go to one of these stores. The owners know the value and will sell the item as close to that value as possible.
Finally, you can go to the new modern method to find outlets selling this sewing cabinet. eBay has several right now on sale as does Etsy. There may have been 5 at the former place and 11 at the latter, at the time of this writing.
Then different stores and businesses will advertise online and you can always check with them through email to see if they have one available. As they say, nothing ventured nothing gained.
This topic should fit in here as not all Martha Washington sewing cabinets are found in the greatest of shapes. generally, they need a lot of repairs, or the finish has to be stripped off and a new one put on to make it look like it was when it was new.
If you paid top dollar for allow quality version, restoring the cabinet may not be worth it unless you are going to keep it and pass it on to your children or grandchildren. The cost can get quite high.
For a sewing cabinet, the cost for stripping on the low end is $100, and on the high end $175. The finishing goes for $375 on the low end and up to $825 on the high end. That is just one company’s pricing.
You would have to shop around to see if you can get a better price for the same top-quality result. The costs to you will be flexible depending on if any of the wood needs to be repaired or not. Or if the cabinet is missing legs and new ones have to be put on.
It is something to consider when you have one in your basement or you find one at a garage sale, etc. Let’s just say that you won’t make the money back you hoped to make if you plan on fixing it up and reselling it.
The name lends prestige to the sewing cabinet. Under any other name, the reproductions may not have been made in the early 20th century or have garnered as great of sales. Name recognition is important.
With the Martha Washington sewing cabinet, not only do you get name recognition but you get a very practical sewing cabinet. With its side pockets, flip-top lids, 3 drawers, and other features, you can store a lot of items inside and stay organized at the same time.
These cabinets were well made for the most part and if you want a good one then look for those cabinets made from walnut or some other high-end wood. These sewing cabinets are a part of history and lend an air of sophistication to any home when in the right shape and condition.