By 1943, 15,000 models had been catalogued and moved to another site.
Then came fire number three which destroyed all the unpacked machines, leaving only those in the unopened crates.
Perhaps losing heart, Gilbert does little more and in 1949 fire number four starts, leaving him with just 2,000 crates undamaged.
There is a record at this time of 1,000 models being displayed in a “barn museum” in New Hampshire and three years later a new museum opens in an abandoned hospital in New Plymouth, New Hampshire, again with 1,000 models. It is reasonable to conjecture that these are from the earlier “barn” display.
By 1870 Gilbert has despaired of ever getting a museum off the ground and offers to sell the whole shooting match to the Smithsonian. The Institution officers visited Gilbert’s site, take one look at the vast array of unopened, unidentified crates and walk away shaking their heads, leaving the owner resigned to try to sell off the collection piecemeal.
A series of auctions takes place. As each crate is opened a catalogue is produced and a sale announced. I have a couple of these catalogues but have been unable to locate a full set so it is impossible to estimate how many sewing machineswere sold.
Sewing Machine Patent Models from the Maggie Snell Collection
Graham Forsdyke with a selection of patent models from Maggie Snell’s collection which he used to illustrate his lecture
Certainly they feature strongly in the catalogue that I have.
In 1979 Gilbert stuck a deal with patent model collector Cliff Peterssen who bought most, if not all, of the remaining crates. He has sold models ever since — there are no sewing machines left — we got the last one about 12 years ago.
There has recently surfaced a new company selling patent models at American antique shows. The paperwork it distributes is carefully worded to suggest a tie-up with the Smithsonian Institution, although my information is that no such deal exists.
Models are being offered at outrageous prices with an “own a piece of American history” sales pitch.
These models could be remnants from the Gilbert/Peterssen collection or could have been bought piecemeal over the past few years.
Whatever the case, the whole history of American patent models is a sad, sad story of government neglect.
America is not alone in doing too little too late to preserve its heritage.
A similar lack of foresight saw the selling off for peanuts of much of the British Patent Office library as late as the 1950s. Manchester Patent office disposed of a lot of archive material a couple of years ago, though we managed to rescue a long run of sewing-machine patents for the GF archive.
Other countries probably have similar ghosts in their cupboards, too.