Prison Furniture

Reply Sat 12 Jun, 2010 12:01 pm
I noticed an antique shop that had been closed for the nearly three years I have lived in the area had re-opened, so, I stopped in. On the porch was a very sturdy, arts and crafts looking oak stool. It was chair height (18") with slightly splayed legs and an smoothly cut oval slit in the top to allow the stool to be easily moved.

I turned it over. Under the seat was a stamped area reading, "Manufactured by Maine State Prison." The name of the city where the prison is was also printed but the ink smudged. There is no zip code but there were spaces for the name of the cabinet maker and the date. Neither the signature nor the complete date can be read.

The price for the stool was $35. As it is sturdy and in good but not pristine condition, I bought it.

I have wanted a few stools for my house, particularly since I have a pellet stove in my dining room. The stools I have seen in catalogs . . . admittedly, fancier and with heftier price tags . . . were prettier, but this needs no refinishing and since it looks arts and crafts, it goes with my house and my other (eclectic . . . early 19th C through recent) furniture.

I was curious about this piece. The part of the date I can read runs like this:
6/2/?2. I thought the year was either '22 or '72 but my son thought it either '32 or '52.

I googled Maine prison furniture and, from the ME corrections website, this is what I learned:

The Maine State Prison has had a working industrial program since it's early days (1823) when inmates worked the quarry, constructed wooden wagons, buckboards, wheel barrows, sleighs, buggies and tack for horses. Inmates also grew produce on the prison farm. With the advent of the automobile, the industrial program migrated to constructing furniture and expanded this line in the late 1930's to include crafts and novelty items.

The Maine State Prison in Thomaston, which was built in 1823, burned in 1923. The institution was rebuilt in 1924 and remained a maximum security facility until its closing in February 2002. The prison was demolished in April of the same year. The Prison Farm (Bolduc Correctional Facility) and the new Maine State Prison in Warren continue to carry on the tradition of farming and woodworking.

All wood products displayed in the Maine State Prison Showroom are handcrafted by the inmates working at one of our facilities. The industries program provides inmates with a means of learning valuable marketable job skills, work ethics and responsibility - all necessary tools for the transition into the workforce upon release.

Explore the wide range of cutting boards, bureaus, coffee tables, end tables, bookcases, jelly cupboards and stools, woodcarvings and wood burnings. You'll also find a large selection of nautical items, including ship models, lamps, ship wheels and many other items representing Maine's coastal heritage. Reasonable prices, quality manufacturing and a unique selection make the Maine State Prison Showroom a great place to shop.


I posted this because when I explored the site, I saw a wide range of case (wooden) pieces that were traditional in style and reasonable in price.

I have a collection of furniture, some inherited, some purchased. My ex told me when we married that I had to be a traditional New England wife and either buy furniture from Paine's or antiques. I discovered there is an booming artisanal furniture industry here in NE and so I have pieces not from Paine's but from several small manufacturers who hand build their pieces.

When my older kids established homes, they bought some mass produced items and have not been happy with them.

I hadn't known about prison furniture, but, it looks like it is made in many state prison systems, so I thought I would pass this info on.
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Reply Sat 12 Jun, 2010 12:05 pm
Inmates used to make British Columbia license plates. Now they have nothing to do but read books and watch tv and we have to pay $49 for them.

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Reply Sat 12 Jun, 2010 12:07 pm
Let's just hope this chair isn't possessed with the evil spirits of an ax murderer! Talk about embarrassing when your next houseguest gets possessed by it's ghost and tries to hack up the entire family with a butter knife.
Reply Sat 12 Jun, 2010 12:19 pm
They're more likely simply to turn black, if not already so.
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Reply Sat 12 Jun, 2010 02:08 pm
I had my kitchen table custom made at the Iowa State Men's Penitentiary about three years ago. they made it with cherry from the Iowa State Forestry Service. It's beautiful and a real conversation piece. The inmates can make just about anything you want.
Walter Hinteler
Reply Sat 12 Jun, 2010 03:45 pm
plainoldme wrote:

I hadn't known about prison furniture, but, it looks like it is made in many state prison systems, so I thought I would pass this info on.

In the 70's nearly 90% of all office furniture (for 'normal' employees and civil servants) in offices of Justice departments, police stations, city halls etc was produced in prisons.

Now, due to competitors, that figure is lower.


In the prison I've worked in, we had a bakery and a cable factory. (Both still there.)
A funny, anecdotal but true fact was the "exchange" of products: prison buses make regular tours between various prisons. And many prisons had (have) some kind of 'monopol' production, like sausages, ham, wooden products and similar.
So when a bus arrived, the first duty its guards was to deliver 'their' products and get bakery products in exchange. (Cables, furniture and such wasn't 'exchanged', though.)
Reply Sat 12 Jun, 2010 03:49 pm
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Reply Sat 12 Jun, 2010 03:50 pm
@Walter Hinteler,
Did not know that.
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Walter Hinteler
Reply Sat 12 Jun, 2010 04:22 pm
Swimpy wrote:
The inmates can make just about anything you want.

In our state (same in most other German states), the Justice Ministry has a special website, named (translated)'clink shop', where anyone can order various products from various prisons online.
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Reply Fri 19 Oct, 2012 10:59 am
Its niice
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