Month: November 2017

The Business Drawers

Whether it be a set of china, a delicate spoon, a cookie jar, a hutch or dresser, the things that occupy the space with us become a part of our memories. Sometimes they’re just always there, a constant backdrop to the birthday party, graduation or marriage. Others are so used and integral that they are the actual bricks and mortar of a recollection.

Go to an estate sale or listen to someone reminisce about “grandma’s house” and you’re likely to hear stories about the objects that attach themselves to memories.

A recent move focused my thoughts on a piece of furniture in my life that doesn’t necessarily have specific memories attached to it, but it’s always been there. I’ve never seen another piece like it and it has a pretentiously formal name: the Business Drawers.

The Business Drawers got their start as a doll’s clothes dresser. It’s not uncommon to see antique miniaturized furniture items that were used as display models for furniture companies to sell full-size copies. They’re cute and fully functional and gave buyers a sense of the details and proportions for the dresser, buffet or table they might order. In the days before printed photographs, when line-drawn illustrations were the best way to convey a visual to a consumer, these dwarf samples did the selling.

At first glance, this little dresser may appear to be one of those samples. But it’s not. I’ve found many pieces similar to it, but no exact matches. It’s clear that for a period of time, these small pieces of real furniture were common accessories for children’s dolls.

This one belonged to my great-great-grandmother. My mother adored it as a child and at some point it was given to her.

Judging by the information I’ve found online, originally it likely had a mirror on the back or some other adornment. It’s in quite good condition, with repairs through the years evident, including a more modern back, sans a mirror or towel rack.

The Business Drawers have been a part of my life since the beginning. Named by my mom long before I came on the scene, why that name?

The adorable little dresser, measuring 24” wide by 12” deep by 15-1/2” tall held the household correspondence supplies.

The top left drawer overflowed with pens, pencils and erasers – anything you’d use to leave your mark.

On the right side, the drawer held calculators, dad’s slide-rule, a deck of playing cards, S&H Green Stamps books and postage stamps.

The bottom drawer, which spans the full width of the piece, stored envelopes, stationary, writing tablets and a ruler.

Throughout my life, people see the Business Drawers for the first time comment and wonder. When its purpose is explained they directly see the wisdom of its purpose. It’s just big enough, not too so. It’s attractive and seems to work with any other furnishing. Its top provides a place for a desktop phone (not of much use these days, I suspect) or any other small décor one might want to display.

When my dad refinished it, he re-glued joints, but left earlier repairs made with visible nails, in place. My foggy memory tells me that when he did his work on it, there was no back at all – he crafted a replacement from plywood. It’s certainly not “historically accurate”, but is not seen and keeps the case sturdy.

At some point my mom gave the Business Drawers to me and I cherish it. In the new house it again holds pens, a few USB charging cables and pads of paper. Most “business” these days doesn’t rely on the kinds of things you’d store in a drawer, but the Business Drawers live on.

Likely more than 150 years after it kept a doll’s dress, blouse and stockings tidy, the form still of course would work for doll’s clothes, writing implements, sewing supplies or the hundreds of fine pieces and parts we dare not lose under foot.

Or even supplies for those, like my wife, who still send the occasional tactile thank-you, cheer-up or hand-written note.

It has lasted far longer than the original maker probably ever imagined, but this little chest of drawers remains useful, decorative and is sized just right.

The sides, each made from a single board, has shapely detail.

The simple detail of the apron.

Another view of the leg detail.


An old repair is visible on the top.

An example I found online that may reflect what a mirrored back may have looked like. The apron detail looks very similar to mine.