Selling what’s left of a shuttered elementary school
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    Auction Finds

    Relics are a reminder of school days

    The big red soda machine stood against a wall in the middle of the long hallway of the school building, looking out the double doors to a wide yard and just beyond, a main highway.

    I passed that co-cola machine – that’s what us southern youngsters called Coca Cola in our little town in Georgia – many times every day. Like the other children at my small school, I slipped my coins into the slot so the machine would give up its tasty bottled treat.

    Every time I see an old Coke machine at auction, my mind wanders back to those elementary years – the wooden school desks, the green chalkboards, the white sticks of dusty chalk and the childhood freedom of May Day and plaiting the maypole (In African American culture, both were said to be in observance of Emancipation Day and the arrival of spring. I didn’t know about the Emancipation part back then). My most special memories go back to my schoolhouse friends from whom I parted long ago and haven’t seen in years.

    quatersawn oak school desk

    School desks with arm supports and lower racks for books.

    Whenever I see those old relics, Al Green’s 1974 song “School Days” floods my brain.

    I barely remember my school desks but I’m sure they were wooden, either the heavy wooden desks with the stationary arm supports (some arm supports twisted away to the side) or the metal/wood desks with a bottom shelf for books. Those heavy desks were hard and unyielding, and after a few years they became transformed from holding so many small butts.

    Wooden school desks appear at auction pretty often, making me wonder where they could have come from. Where on earth had they been hiding for so many decades?

    When I covered education as a reporter years ago, school districts were starting to discover color as a stimulant in elementary schools. Chairs were colored plastic, classrooms looked like rainbows, and supplies were no longer black notebooks with white spots. It’s not often that I get a chance to venture into a school anymore, so I’m not sure what they’re sitting at – or on – these days.

    quatersawn oak school desk

    A vintage red Coca-Cola machine, with a blue Pepsi machine at right.

    Before school desks, children sat on chairs or benches pulled up to long tables. There seems to be some question about who invented the first desk. Several sites credited John D. Loughlin, whose Ohio company in 1881 made a one-piece school desk called “Fashion” with metal legs, wooden seats and backs, and a compartment attached to the backs for storage. The desks had a hole at the top for an inkwell, and they were made to hold either one or two children.

    Others credited Anna Breadin, who patented a school desk in 1889 whose style looked much like the Loughlin desk from an early ad. Here’s her patent. Via Google Patents, I found patents for several school desks prior to Breadin. Two websites had photos of wooden school desks with patents of 1871 and 1873.

    What are your school memories? Drop me a line in the Comments box below.

    Here are some desks and other early school paraphernalia I came across at auction:

    quatersawn oak school desk

    This early desk bears the markings of a child from 1919.


    quatersawn oak school desk

    This desk appears to have been painted, and an Eagle was once imprinted on it.


    grade school relics

    Sliding top school desk with storage drawer, 1890s and early 1900s.


    grade school relics

    Portable chalkboard and chalk sticks.


    grade school relics

    A reading primer, 1888.


    grade school relics

    Snoopy pencils, with copyright dates of 1958 and 1965.


    grade school relics

    A book on the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, given to a graduating grammar-school student in 1939.


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