I Saw a Monster Last Weekend

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Originally published on Collectorsweekly.com

Recently I read an interesting obit in the New York Times about a guy who spent his whole life tracking the Loch Ness Monster. I think we all have a little of this guy in us – the idea that there’s something out there you’d just like to see once in your lifetime, but doubt you ever will.

Well, I saw a monster last weekend. And it took my breath away.

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One of the companies I’ve gotten very interested in over the years is the Hamilton Manufacturing Company of Two Rivers, Wisconsin. For decades they were the leading maker of printing equipment for newspapers, magazines, and small printing shops – the whole publishing industry. They started out making wood type but branched out into cabinets to hold the type, composing room furniture, you name it. Their stuff was so high quality, with such great craftsmanship, it makes you wish you had a print shop.

I bought my first (and only) Hamilton printers cabinet several years ago at the Alameda Antiques Fair in Alameda, CA, which I attend regularly. Then I bought an early Hamilton Manufacturing Co. Catalog on eBay, and it really opened up my eyes to the variety of heavy-duty furniture the company made. I scanned the catalog and put it on the web so everyone could see it. Look through these pages – this was America at work. Working hard to make high quality products to be used by other people who were working hard, with both their bodies and their brains.

I couldn’t believe the sheer size and scale of some of the stuff in this catalog. And I seriously doubted that any of this larger stuff could have survived 100 years intact, much less that I’d ever see one of these pieces with my own eyes.

Until last weekend.

I was 2/3rds of the way through my rounds at Alameda. Hadn’t seen too much interesting, except an old library (or school) card catalog in great condition with nice dovetail joints (which I ended up buying). Garden variety stuff.

And then I looked up and there it was. My heart skipped a beat. You’ve got to be kidding me.

polhemus-at-alameda-300x225Laid out before my eyes was a 20-foot long triple-wide Hamilton Manufacturing Co. printer’s cabinet, in amazing condition. I couldn’t stop staring. I was afraid to even go up to it. It had all the original cast iron handles, not a single one missing, and they were even the very oldest, most ornate variety Hamilton made. It had every type drawer intact, with original labels from what must have been 80 years ago. It had fabulous extra drawers and nooks and crannies, details, wow, wow, wow. The wood was in great condition. A monster.

Before it disappeared, I grabbed a shot with my cell phone. Of course it was already sold, according to the dealer the minute it came off the truck (no doubted lifted by 7 or 8 guys). Which is a good thing, because I would have wanted it, but have absolutely no place to put it.

I got home and started looking through the catalog to see which one it was. Didn’t make it all the way through.

When you see a monster like this, you don’t really even want to know which exact monster it is.

You just want it to go back in the ocean and swim away, stay alive, so someone else can see it someday.

Wow.

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