c1860 Victorian Specimen Cabinet

Isn’t she gorgeous?


We’re lucky at the Olde Engine Works; we see a lot of wonderful old antiques.

But every once in a while, a piece comes in that really stands out… and this Victorian Specimen Cabinet is one of those pieces.

What is a specimen cabinet?

A Specimen Cabinet is a specially designed cabinet meant to holds scientific specimens.


They typically have large, shallow drawers - ideal for displaying scientific collections.

Usually, the “specimens” were exotic bugs or small animals, but cabinets were also used for exotic plants and flowers.

Who collected specimens?

Collecting scientific specimens was a hobby for the very wealthy, and consequently, specimen cabinets were exquisitely crafted, and expensive.


This particular cabinet was produced with the highest level of craftsmanship, and has several hidden special features.

Special Features

The two most interesting features relate to:

  • A hidden hinge/locking mechanism embedded in the right side of the cabinet

  • A patented “full-depth” drawer slide system

Here you can see the hidden hinge/locking mechanism, as well as the patented 2-piece drawer slides

Here you can see the hidden hinge/locking mechanism, as well as the patented 2-piece drawer slides

The Hidden Hinge/Locking Mechanism

The hidden hinge/locking mechanism is completely invisible when looking at the cabinet… but if you gently pry on the wooden trim on the right side of the cabinet face, it gracefully swings open revealing a delightful brass locking mechanism.

It’s a small detail, but really makes this piece feel special.

You can only imagine the pride the maker must have felt when he finished this piece. No one would ever be able to see it… but he knew what was hidden inside.

The Patented Drawer Slides

The drawer slides are very clever.

They’re a beautifully crafted 2-piece design that allows drawers to be pulled out to 100% depth, and remain completely stable.


The mechanism is simple, but elegant.

It relies on a series of brass tabs and carefully fit wooden elements, and even now, the mechanism works beautifully. It’s a joy to slide these wooden drawers out.

Patented Drawer Design

While doing some research on this piece, an advertisement from 1861 was discovered detailing this innovative design.

The text in the advertisement reads:


“Taylor's Patent.
H.R. Taylor, cabinet-maker, 132 Washington Street, Roxbury, Massachusetts

Manufacturer of Taylor's Patent self-supporting drawer, so arranged as to be drawn out to its fullest extent and to support itself in that position. It being impossible for it to fail and yet capable of being removed from the case and replaced with the same facility as a common drawer. There is none of the disagreeable side motion and sticking of the drawer, nor is it necessary to exert one's utmost strength to pull it out or put it in. It is peculiarly adapted for tellers' drawers, money-drawers, &c. Its advantages are perceptible at a glance and the necessity of such an improvement warrents for its success. It has already been introduced into many public buildings and private houses and has everywhere given complete satisfaction. Persons desirous of seeing specimens of work are invited to call at his manufactory. No. 132 Washington Street. Taylor's Patent crib and cradle constantly on hand and for sale. Window-Shades of every description finished at the shortest notice.”


You’d be hard pressed to find a modern drawer that operates as smoothly as the drawers in this old specimen cabinet.

Closing Thoughts

This is a gorgeous piece, even by today’s standards. It’s even more impressive when we remember it was made entirely by hand, 159 years ago.


(For historical reference, that’s one year before the civil war started!)

They sure don’t make them like they used to.

This piece is beautiful, rock solid, and very useful for holding jewelry, collections, precision tools, art, office appointments, or anything else.

We’re glad we got to spend some time with this beautiful specimen cabinet, and can’t wait to send it off to it’s new home.

PS - This one won’t last long, but at the time this blog was published, this piece is still for sale! Check out our online store, and bring it home before someone else does.