I want to tell you about this piece of iron. Let me approach it this way: Two of my favorite PBS shows are Antiques Roadshow and History Detectives. It was therefore a bit of fun that I got to investigate this item on my own.
You can probably discern that this is a sewing machine – or at least, it used to be one. It was made by the Willcox & Gibbs Sewing Machine Company. It was recently purchased by CC on E-Bay for a modest sum. The sellers had little information to offer other than a photo and a few sketchy details, but in this condition, they weren’t asking much, so the sale was made.
A careful examination revealed that there are some patent dates etched on a metal plate, as well as a partially readable serial number. That serial number might be readable in its entirety were I to clean the piece, but I’d really rather not do that if I can help it. The thing about patent dates is they only establish that a given piece was built after a certain date, so I needed more information. As it turned out, there are a couple of web sites devoted to the products of this particular manufacturer. One site even offered a formula one could use to infer the year of manufacture if one had the serial number of the unit in question.
I’ve been able to narrow it down this far: the machine seen here was built sometime between 1883 and 1894, though probably closer to the earlier date. It was built as a hand-cranked, rather than a treadle, machine. I’ve also found some glorious photographs which indicate that some collectors currently possess examples of this type of machine that are in far, far better condition than this one. This one is missing a few important parts that would be necessary for it to be a working machine. And well, then there is the matter of the condition of what is here – it is cast iron, to be sure, but if the goal were to make it actually work, it would probably have to be scrubbed with a wire brush to rid it of a century+ worth of rust and dirt. As it happens, though, I don’t believe CC acquired it to make it work, but rather as an addition to her modest collection of antique sewing machines.
I will close here by offering you a photo I came across. Here’s a Willcox & Gibbs machine similar to CC’s, but in far better condition – just so you can truly appreciate the rough condition of CC’s. And let me reiterate that it was a lot of fun for me to research this topic!