A hand-me-down Hoosier cabinet

A few weeks ago my paternal grandmother asked me if I was interested in an old cabinet she purchased years ago that was now in possession of my great-great-aunt, her mother’s sister. At first I wasn’t sure if I had room for it in my tiny kitchen, but after some mental rearranging I told her I would take it. With the exception of our bed and our love seat, every piece of furniture I own either was a gift or a hand-me-down, which suits me just fine.

From her description, I knew it was a large cabinet with lots of storage space, which is something I always need for the food I buy in bulk or for kitchen knickknacks.

Here’s what I inherited:

My wonderful, new-to-me cabinet!

My wonderful, new-to-me cabinet!

After some research, I discovered that this cabinet is generally known as a Hoosier cabinet. Cabinets like these were manufactured by several companies in Indiana (hence Hoosier) and were used in kitchens before built-in cabinets were around. There aren’t any markings on this cabinet, but based on online pictures from the Amish Acres Historic Farm & Heritage Resort, I think this is a Coppes Napanee cabinet from the mid-1920s.

My grandmother bought this in the mid-1950s and she told me it was an antique then. She used it in her farmhouse kitchen for a few years until her built-in kitchen cabinets were put in, then it was passed to my late great-grandmother. My great-great-aunt got it in the 1970s and has had it ever since. My great-great-aunt is in her late 90s now and is downsizing, so she wanted to pass it back to my grandmother since she was the original purchaser. My grandmother passed it to me.

I think it’s in pretty good shape for its age, don’t you? I’ve washed it off and given it a good polish, but it still needs a little TLC. The tambour door needs repaired and the bread board needs reglued, but everything else seems to be OK. The porcelain enameled top still slides out for extra counter space and the bottom right drawer is the old tin bread box.

This cabinet came with the part of the old flour bin that fits in the left cabinet on the top. It’s missing the sifter and the glass window on it and it’s also pretty rusted. I’m trying to find a replacement online because I would love to use a bin, but I’m only finding bins that are for decorative purposes and not for food use. Can anyone guide me on that?

I know it’s an antique and probably is worth something, but I don’t care about that. I’m proud that I’m the fourth generation to use this cabinet and I hope it serves me for years to come!

9 responses

  1. My friend and fellow Bloomingtonian Nancy Hiller wrote a good book on the Hoosier Cabinet, http://www.amazon.com/The-Hoosier-Cabinet-Kitchen-History/dp/0253314240 She has also built several by hand, for she’s also a master cabinet-builder. —You should check eBay for the sifter mechanism, but many of them seem to have been made out of really rust-prone metal. Hoosier cabinets are relics of the days before kitchens commonly came with built-in cabinets, and the idea was that this single piece of freestanding furniture would offer you adequate workspace to stand and prepare meals or baked goods, etc., with all the items you would need right at hand. Many of them also came with storage canisters, spice jars, measuring cups, etc. Congratulations on your lovely new Hoosier cabinet, it’s a real beauty!

      • Not for food use?!? Perhaps it’s made in China from toxic metals, or perhaps the vibrations of daily use create micro-flakes of metal that can fall into the flour. I’d keep searching for one that’s food-grade. If there are bi modern replacements that are food-grade, that’s a sorry reflection on our technology. But perhaps one could make a muslin slip/liner to place inside the new metal bin to keep the flour clean? (with a vent at the bottom to dispense the flour, naturally.)

      • I did get an answer from the company. They said the reasons why their flour bins are not recommended for food use is because they are not air tight, aren’t easy to clean and need a light coat of oil to keep from rusting. They didn’t specify what type of metal it was made of. I’ll keep looking around.

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