Hume Castle in Berkeley, California
Stickley Says Relax - redux

the appeal of the wooden library card catalog

My parents met while students at UC Berkeley and I was born while they were in graduate school; my father stayed on at the university, eventually becoming a faculty member and administrator there. It's no surprise, then, that I spent a lot of time roaming libraries and their stacks.

One of my fondest memories of that time is of the wooden card catalogs that used to document the holdings of the graduate and undergraduate libraries - vast, long room-fulls of tiny little drawers, all in cases polished smooth by generations of student fingers and hands.

Since then, I've always loved these things; it might be that they offer an ideal of secure compartmentalization of everything, with each item having its own correct place, certainly an ideal for a perfectionist like me. Or it could be the inflexible grid that they are designed along, which appeals to my technician side. The grain of the wood, the warmth of it, always seemed to match that beautiful Craftsman finish, the fumed oak look that has become the hallmark of the Arts and Crafts movement.

Whatever the reason, these things are beautiful, and you don't find them in good shape all that often. Certainly, you get them more often than a decade ago, with so many libraries going all-digital, but they're still hard to find.

Here are a few that are up for sale right now:

  • a 60-drawer catalog in Palm Beach Gardens, FL ($300)
  • a gorgeous set of 3 60-drawer catalogs in Minneapolis, MN ($150 ea)
  • an interesting and well-kept card catalog / file cabinet with inconsistently-sized drawers in Minneapolis, MN ($800)
  • a small tabletop 15-drawer unit with pretty brass hardware in Detroit, MI ($299)
  • a "library bureau card catalog" that is actually a refinished/restored printer's cabinet - drawers for type and cuts and sorts (although not full-size type drawers); inclined top for composing - absolutely beautiful! - in Long Island, NY ($900, and a good deal at that price)
  • an "immaculate" all-cherry 70-drawer cabinet with pull-out shelves in Cleveland, OH ($975)
  • an interesting 60-drawer unit, looks like 1930s or '40s design, in San Antonio, TX ($1500)
  • a table-top 15-drawer cabinet with attractive stainless steel or nickel hardware in Milwaukee, MN ($250)
  • A good looking, circa 1930 20-drawer unit on top of a pretty, decorative stand/table in Annapolis, MD ($800)
  • a small unit with large drawers, this 4-drawer piece is rather original, in Sarasota, FL ($145)