I'm used to paying ikea prices, what is reasonable for a library card catalog file cabinet?
April 4, 2009 9:24 PM   Subscribe

What is a reasonable price to pay for a library card catalog cabinet?

I would really like to have a library card catalog cabinet, like the ones that held the thousands of catalog cards in all the small file drawers. I think it would look awesome in my office and make for great storage for all my small electronics projects.

The problem is that people who are selling these on craigslist and ebay are usually asking ~1000 dollars or so for the type I want. This seems really high to me. Anyone have a feel for a realistic range of prices?
posted by achmorrison to Home & Garden (21 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Shop around - I saw one in a clearance furniture outlet last month for around a hundred bucks.
posted by torquemaniac at 9:31 PM on April 4, 2009

"Realistic" is what the "real" market says.
You got it.
(Everybody seems to loves small drawers.)
posted by bru at 9:31 PM on April 4, 2009

Maybe it'd help if you could say a little more about what type you're looking for? I know I've seen card catalogue cabinets in good condition available for a LOT less than $1000 at local flea markets (more in the $150 - $200 range, actually), but maybe there's something special about the kind you're interested in?
posted by DingoMutt at 9:32 PM on April 4, 2009

Response by poster:
"Realistic" is what the "real" market says.
You got it.
(Everybody seems to loves small drawers.)

I understand that, in principle. However, it is NOT clear to me that these units are actually SELLING for that amount. So, I wish I knew what they actually sold for. Especially since the craiglist ads usually also say "or best offer".

And I wish I knew where the cool clearance furniture outlets are. :)
posted by achmorrison at 9:36 PM on April 4, 2009

Response by poster: I'm looking for something that is 30-60 drawers, and usually taller than wider. I like the ones that have the slide-out shelves that you could use to pull the drawers out and set them on. I like the all wood kinds, but that's not an absolute must. I like the look and style of the one that is on the set of "Big Bang Theory".
posted by achmorrison at 9:40 PM on April 4, 2009

I understand that, in principle. However, it is NOT clear to me that these units are actually SELLING for that amount. So, I wish I knew what they actually sold for. Especially since the craiglist ads usually also say "or best offer".

This isn't hard. Go on eBay, click on "advanced search" and then click on "completed listings."

Voila. One sold a week ago for $338.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 10:00 PM on April 4, 2009 [2 favorites]

Good lord, we just gave one to the mailroom down the hallway for free.
posted by Foam Pants at 10:02 PM on April 4, 2009

There are two parallel markets: the one created by eBay/craigslist sellers, and the one of people who are basically giving them away, albeit in somewhat obscure ways, meaning that they get bought up by eBay/craigslist sellers. Retail and wholesale, in essence.

There's no "fair price" between those two markets. There's the going rate on the "look, I've done the work of tracking this down and listing it on eBay" market, and the going rate on the "I'm prepared to make call, traipse around storage facilities, and got a tip from a friend" market.

See if your local council or school district is getting rid: the age of library computerisation has generally passed, but you'll still find a few laggers. The county where I am uses a site to auction off its old stuff -- police interceptors, old computers, furniture -- and they've shown up from time to time at knock-down prices. Or, to put it another way: your ideal seller is someone for whom it's taking up valuable space, and their ideal buyer is someone who'll show up with a van and take it away on Monday morning.
posted by holgate at 10:23 PM on April 4, 2009

I paid $100 for mine, it's much like what you describe. I got it from a small rural library thatit offered it for sale on a librarians' listserv. Most people who see it seem to think I got a great deal; however, the two other people I know who have them paid about what I did. I think the perception is that card catalogs are really expensive, but I think the reality is it's just as easy to pick up one for a song if you're willing to show up somewhere with cash in hand and a couple strong folks to help lift it into your truck. I'm guessing it also helps to buy 'direct' from a library that is strapped for space and cash rather than from flea market/antique dealer/etc.
posted by donnagirl at 10:44 PM on April 4, 2009

I scanned this Card Catalog from the 1936 Gaylord Bros. catalog. Is this the type you are looking for? I do not know what the one on "Big Bang Theory" looks like.

The most I would pay would be $500 but I don't think you would be being ripped off if you were able to get a genuine brand name (Library Bureau would be my first choice) complete (make sure every draw is original and has dovetails and that both bottom and top sections are matching) and not repaired (look for variations in the color of the wood) one for $800 if you really want it.

As others have mentioned, you could stumble across one and pay $100, but you might wait a long time.

I saw something about a college library closing in Wisconsin on a listserv a few months ago. Will follow-up with you if I can find the post.
posted by mlis at 12:05 AM on April 5, 2009

As someone who brokers antique instruments for a living, I say this again and again: It's worth is what someone is wiling to pay for it. That is its market value.

If you eschew the the 1000 dollar piece and by one on the cheap, you are now a market force driving the cost of them down.

If you buy one on the cheap and sell it for 1500 bucks, then that buyer is a market force dictating their worth.

1957 Les Pauls were not worth 250,000 dollars until that first person payed a quarter Million for one. Now they are all worth that much.
posted by sourwookie at 12:42 AM on April 5, 2009

Seconding the use of eBay's completed auction search function- while searching open auctions will show you what's going on in the market right now, the completed auctions give you a better idea of how the market has and will behave. Ebay, despite all it's troubles, is one of the most beautiful examples of a free market in action. Millions of buyers versus millions of sellers, all stewing together to reveal the true pricing of things...

Holgate is correct. The price you pay as a "seeker" of a thing- someone who is out in the marketplace creating demand for something- will be more than the price a "finder" pays. A "finder" being someone who's in the right place at the right time.

(I've had very good success using the "finder" approach for various big ticket items that I've wanted to get. I just keep a mental list of stuff I'm sort of looking for, and the going price for such things, and make myself available to purchase those things when they "pop up" for a good price. I've gotten three cars, a tv, a condo and various other things using this method. Example- a friend had a car that needed some work. He was complaining that he was sick of the car and was thinking of getting it fixed and then selling it. I said "how much do you want for it as-is?" He gave me a price, and I took it. It was win-win- friend unloaded something he didn't want any more, I got a car for a low price + a couple of weekends of work, and with the added bonus that by not haggling, my friend can't say I ripped him off. Same thing with another car- someone was in the market for a new car, I liked their old one. I told them I'd like the opportunity to match what they'd get for a trade-in. They aren't losing a dime, I got a car I liked for well under book value. The only caveat is that as a "finder" you have to be willing to act right away, and be willing to wait for the thing you want to become available. If those things I got never materialized, I'd eventually have had to go into the market place for them.)

But I digress- a piece of furniture like that is fairly rare when compared to more common furniture like tables, shelves and chairs. So it's price goes up. Also, those are VERY complicated pieces of craftsmanship. Even the cheapest, most flimsy version is going to be expensive by virtue of the work that goes into it. Heck, even cheap particle board literature organizers or mailbox cubbies are over $75. So $1000 for a sturdy piece doesn't seem unreasonable.
posted by gjc at 4:27 AM on April 5, 2009

I want a cheap card catalogue too! But I think if you consider what is involved in making one you might see why they are so highly prized. It would take an hour or so to make each draw, and with 40 or so drawers, even at minimum wage it would cost hundreds to make one today. So much that IKEA and the other cheap furniture makers won't sell them.
I haven't bought one at $1000, but I have been on the look out for one for a few years. If you want one, I suspect you will need to keep your eyes peeled for a time, or stump up the bucks.
posted by bystander at 4:42 AM on April 5, 2009

They have been abundant as libraries get rid of them. Post in the Items Wanted section of Craigslist and to Freecycle. They will get scarce once libraries have all converted, but that hasn't happened yet.
posted by theora55 at 5:54 AM on April 5, 2009

Response by poster: I really appreciate all of the comments and suggestions. I will try to take them all into account.

I feel that the "finder" approach as described above is the approach that I have been taking for several years, but with no real luck. And, I do appreciate that the craftsmanship of a specialized piece has value over more average items of furniture. On the other hand, I see sellers that do nothing to try to highlight the dovetails or other details of the cabinets.

The photo linked by MLIS is similar in style to what I'm looking for, but probably has nicer trim and details than what I have to have. I'm looking for function, in the form of the card catalog cabinet.
posted by achmorrison at 8:21 AM on April 5, 2009

I got mine for around $100 at a University inventory auction. Check and see if any of the schools near you ever have any sales of surplus inventory.
posted by pluckysparrow at 9:26 AM on April 5, 2009

I got one nice one with 24 drawers maybe for $75 at a school sale and another one [newer, not nice like I think you want it, more seventies style] for free from someone who brought it to my house. I'd give you that one but I suspect it's not your style, the drawers have plastic inside and the front panels are flat and slanty, not cool.

The older ones were often oak or other really nice hardwoods so they were heavy and last forever. I peek around estate auctions from time to time and often see them going for hundreds to thousands of dollars. I'll keep my eyes peeled for a decent one, but if I were really shopping for one I'd expect to pay $600-800 for one like the one in MLIS's image. Unless, that is, some library was tossing them out for free or nearly free.
posted by jessamyn at 10:16 AM on April 5, 2009

I've always wanted one, too. You might also try searching for "Chinese" medicine cabinets, which have hundreds of tiny drawers for herbs and whatnot. Many are quite gorgeous.
posted by rokusan at 1:03 PM on April 5, 2009

You might want to look at the range of things under the card catalog tag on Flickr. A few are mine. This is the card catalog I own [small pic of one drawer, it is quite large] which is yours if you want it but I live in VT and will not ship.
posted by jessamyn at 3:34 PM on April 5, 2009

I got one for $250 from a natural history museum internal auction. Its over a hundred years old and has 113(?) drawers of two sizes. I've seen ones in lesser shape than mine in antique shops for >$1500, so I'll second the "right time; right price" advice above.

Its really the ultimate junk drawer.
posted by buttercup at 4:56 PM on April 5, 2009

Response by poster: Whoa! All those images on flickr are like card catalog porn! Nice.... :)

Still waiting for "right time, right place" I guess.
posted by achmorrison at 10:41 AM on April 6, 2009

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