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|Caswell Runyan cedar chests were chests made by the Caswell Runyan Company, which started life in 1906 and closed its doors in 1956. Chests were made in a variety of styles, invariable from cedar.
Previous to 1906, cedar chests were not a commercial product. Those in existence would have been built by hand, for personal use. They are recognised as an American furniture staple and would have been used to store and transport personal items, such as linens, quilts, books and clothing.
The Caswell Runyan Company, which began life in 1907 when it was founded by J W Caswell and Winifred Runyan, was the first of its kind to offer readymade cedar chests as a commercial product.
Manufacturing took place in Huntington, Indiana, and the firm hoped to corner the cedar chest market at the point of its inception. The plant became the second largest wood-working plant in Indiana at its primacy.
Caswell cedar chests were a patented product. They reflected the fact that people were moving away from creating their own furniture in favour of buying ready made goods.
At first, the company employed approximately two dozen people – a figure which had increased to 600 by 1924, by which time Caswell Runyan cedar chests were being sold across the United States. This rate of growth is quite remarkable, bearing in mind the company forewent a national advertising campaign.
In 1929 Caswell Runyan merged with Utah Radio Products Co. (a loud speaker manufacturer) of Chicago, bringing together speakers and cabinets to complete a radio reception combination.
Catalogue numbers, patent numbers and lot numbers were printed on Caswell Runyan cedar chests. These can tell collectors a great deal about age and value. One or all of these details can be found stamped lightly onto the top edge of one of the trays.
The firm closed its doors in 1956 – all genuine Caswell Runyan cedar chests were therefore manufactured before this time.
Condition and eye appeal are key concerns and will deeply affect a chest’s value. Damaged chests can be professionally restored – a process that will restore some or all of their value.
Caswell Runyan cedar chests, although handsome, are fairly common and this is reflected in prices paid. Many were destroyed and disposed of during the 1960s, but there are still a great deal in circulation. Many wouldn't look upon them as collectible, as they are ubiquitous.
Caswell Runyan cedar chests were invariably made from cedar in a variety of styles. No style is inherently more collectible than another, however, art deco chests are beginning to see a resurgence of interest.
A Caswell Runyan carved blanket chest sold for $45 at Homestead Auctions in February 2008.
An antique Caswell Runyan lift-top cedar chest with a scroll cut border and carved feet sold for $80 at Professional Appraisers & Liquidators LLC in October 2011.
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