Solved: Mystery behind cabinet’s origins uncovered

BOARDMAN — A massive cabinet set with intricate carvings catches the eye along with overflowing inventory of vintage collectibles from different eras last century.

Weighing 200 pounds and standing a majestic five feet tall, the three pieces that come together to make the “Mystery Cabinet” intrigued its current owners and baffled antique dealers.

Brian Lizzie and Melanie Reda, owners of Retro Ohio in Boardman, acquired the cabinet last fall from a dealer auction in Mahoning County.

“It had passed through a couple dealers’ hands, but never marketed because none of them could figure out its origins or creator,” Lizzie said.

Reda added, “The cabinet was a bit eerie when we first noticed it. It was large and intriguing. We were instantly drawn to it.

“The cabinet is stunning at first glance and seems to get better on further investigation. The ornate carvings suggest a travel story and the craftsmanship might be the best we have ever seen. With all this going for it, we had to have it, and cherish it, until it finds its permanent owner.”

Rather than placing it in their home, it was put in storage to be researched and cleaned and, later, it became the first item displayed at the Retro Ohio store, 4170 Market St., when it opened in December 2023.

“The moment we saw the cabinet it became an inspiration for us and gave us a renewed excitement to the opening of our store,” Reda said.

Soon, Lizzie and Reda were on a fact-finding mission.

“We contacted numerous antique and woodworking experts that could not even pinpoint a country of origin,” Reda said.

Made from Philippine mahogany, the cabinet doesn’t have any metal holding it together. The door hinges are wooden pins and the sides are held together with pegs.

The cabinet was listed on the store website for $17,500, and local sleuths took to social media to helped break the case.

“We received a message from someone we did not know. They said, ‘Hi, this is my family’s cabinet. How did you get this? My Mema’s father-in-law hand-carved this cabinet,’ ” Lizzie said. “This started a conversation and a visit to our store. We were so excited to find out the name of the maker and where they were from.

“Through further discussion and meeting, we found out that the person contacting us was not actually related, but referred to the relative as her ‘Mema.’

“As a young girl, she recalled stories about and saw pictures of the cabinet. The inheritor of the estate locked out the rest of the family and sold the contents to a dealer. That dealer never marketed it and sold it to another dealer who was unable to identify its origin for several years. That dealer is where we acquired it.”

The family, who does want to be identified, did not want to buy the cabinet back.

Additional sleuthing led to a May 5, 1929, article in the St. Louis Dispatch with information about the maker plus photos of him and the cabinet. A lifelong artist from the St. Louis area, Anthony Feldes, was a professional stone carver. He did wood and stone carving on homes and woodcarving on pipe, theater and church organs.

In the case of the mystery cabinet, it served for family entertainment as well as storage.

“It features two doors that open to a shelf on the right for a tube radio and a shelf on the left you’ll find a fine carved and color stained large wooden floret at the top for a light,” Lizzie said. “Both shelves have a flip down door with metal hinges and door retainers that open to storage below.

Travel magazines and movie newsreels inspired the carvings.

Besides his handiwork with carving tools, Feldes also used his artistic skills in other ways. One of his drawings was displayed as part of the Eleventh Missouri Exhibition, while his paintings were shown at the Jefferson County Junior College in 1965.

While Lizzie and Reda are still looking for a buyer, they find a high degree of satisfaction that the cabinet’s background has been discovered.

“It feels great to find out the maker and background of the cabinet,” said Reda. “It amazes us that our persistence has finally brought its origins to life.

Have an interesting story? Contact the newsroom by email at news@vindy.com. Follow us on X, formerly Twitter, @TribToday.


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