The Tanker Desk

An American Modern Classic

Bold, industrial and nearly indestructible, the Tanker desk was most often confined to utilitarian uses in mid-century Americana. Today its streamlined craftsmanship earns a whole new appreciation amongst collectors and designers who are restoring this well-built classic and updating its look with modern hues.Since 1946, the Tanker desk has been manufactured the same way - a double pedestal base, made of thick gauge steel with a natural, brushed finish. Sturdy, reliable and practically immortal, the Tanker was the largest selling commercial desk in the world and well suited for schools, offices and governmental institutions up until the 1970’s. Manufactured by companies like McDowell & Craig, Art Metal, Steelcase and General Fireproofing, the Tanker desk was most often produced with one file drawer, 4 box drawers and a pencil drawer.
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Because of the materials and craftsmanship required to assemble these beauties, manufacturing a Tanker desk on a mass scale is nearly impossible today. Luckily, there are a variety of businesses like Twenty Gauge, Retro Office, and Rehab Vintage devoted to restoring these classic pieces, and they’ll even allow you to customize in a variety of ways. Options include choosing from a wide array of enamel finishes, selecting a Formica or glass top, drawer locks and even locking casters for the feet. The finished product is flawless, but comes with a price tag of around $1,500-$2,000.
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For the fearless DIY-er, resources like Retro Peacock are available to walk you through the process of restoring a Tanker desk on your own. A helpful tip they give in acquiring a Tanker original on-the-cheap (besides Craigslist) is to contact local elementary schools and universities. Often times these places will have a swap shop, or will simply be looking for someone to come haul away the “clunky old teacher’s desk.” The process of restoring any piece of steel furniture can be lengthy, but as proven by Jeremy Tanker_desk’s Flickr adventures, it is possible to tackle and tame the tenacious Tanker:
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Images: 1. foundphotoslj licensed under Creative Commons, 2. Sultana at 1stdibs.com, 3. Retro Office, 4. Rehab Vintage, 5&6. Flickr user tanker_desk, used with permission

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