Willcox & Gibbs Early Serial Number Dating Guide:
New and Improved
The following revised rationale of Willcox & Gibbs serial numbers, painstakingly researched by Bill Grewe, initiated this revealing correspondence between the author and ISMACS’ Graham Forsdyke...
When Willcox & Gibbs began their partnership, keeping records of their sewing machine production dates, and serial numbers was not a top priority. They were focused on making sewing machines. According to Grace Rogers Cooper’s book “The Sewing Machine: It’s Invention and Development”, page 40, “After taking out two minor patents (on December 16, 1856, and January 20, 1857), Gibbs obtained his important one, U.S. patent No. 17,427 on June 2, 1857.” It is from this date that we can trace the birth of the cute machines that we have come to know and love.
国厂精品114福利电影While we may never know the actual production numbers of W&G earliest sewing machines, with a few mathematical calculations and reasonable assumptions we can come up with a much improved early serial number dating guide. The mathematical calculations will all be based on data presented in Cooper’s book. The reasonable assumption is that a start-up sewing machine company’s production will be done at a linear (gradual slope) pace and will have some correlation to the production (and sales) of other sewing machine companies at that time. Said another way, it takes time to ramp up production and it would be unreasonable to have a brand new sewing machine company immediately outproduce well established companies.
The early Willcox & Gibbs dating guide that we have right now comes from Cooper’s book, page 123:
|1857-1866 – 10,000 per year|
|1867-1870 – 14,999 per year|
This distribution of production is a simple accommodation. Consider The Combination production numbers that Cooper’s book reports on page 40 for established companies in 1857:
|Wheeler & Wilson 4,591|
|Grover & Baker 3,680|
|AB Howe 133|
|Ladd & Webster 453|
It is unreasonable to assume that in the last 6 months of 1857 that a start-up sewing machine company would out-produce an established maker – much less produce 10,000 machines. So clearly there is room for improvement on Cooper’s dating guide.
A generous start-up production number for W&G in 1857 would be 100 – more than Bartholf and just under Howe – both established companies. In 1858 another healthy production figure would be 900 – making W&G the 4th largest sewing machine maker at the time – a rapid rise indeed. 1859 would prove to be a boom year as all companies had production increases of 2 or 3 times the previous year – so we will increase W&G production to a level of 3,000 machines. And we will double that again in 1860 to a level of 6,000. In 1861, at the start of the Civil War, this rapid sewing machine expansion was halted, but overall production increases for Wheeler & Wilson and Singer continued throughout the war years – see Cooper’s chart on page 40 – so we can assume that W&G continued to make gradual production increases.
On the other end of Cooper’s W&G production numbers there is also room for improvement of the 14,999 per year allocated from 1867-1870. The accuracy of these numbers can be improved simply by using Cooper’s chart on page 40 which shows the number of sewing machines licensed to The Combination for W&G:
|1867 – 14,152|
|1868 – 15,000|
|1869 – 17,201|
|1870 – 28,890|
It is curious why Cooper didn’t do this originally since she used the W&G numbers reported to The Combination in that same chart for the years 1871-1876.
Another mathematical adjustment of Cooper’s W&G numbers starts with the overall production number (1857–1876) of 279637 – the last serial number. If we add up all the W&G numbers reported to the Combination numbers from 1867- 1876 we get 195,880. Subtracting 195,880 from the overall production of 279,637 leaves us 83,757 worth of production to spread amongst the years 1857–1866. This is fewer than the 100,000 total (10K per year) that Cooper allocated.
国厂精品114福利电影With the above mathematical adjustments and the reasonable assumption of a gradual start-up and linear growth in concert with other top sewing machine makers, here is the new and improved W&G serial number dating chart:
|Year||Production Estimate||Serial Numbers|
PRODUCTION NUMBERS from The Combination Report (Cooper, page 40)
The biggest change is in the years 1857-1860 where Cooper allocated 40,000 machines and the new allocation is for 10,000. After that the allocations gradually get closer together until they match The Combination report starting in 1871. This matches my personal observation of early W&G serial numbers being dated according to Cooper’s chart and frequently showing a production date earlier than the patent dates on the machine. Bill Grewe ([email protected])
From Graham Forsdyke
Thanks Bill. A very well thought out and argued paper. Let me devil’s advocate one point: the number of machines made in the early years and the linear growth theory.
You compare the low initial sales of other companies (Singer, W&W) to the relatively high figure attributed to W&G,. I think theres a good reason for this which might explain and support 10,000 units in the first year.
国厂精品114福利电影Most companies were limited by production capabilities. I have letters from James Bolton, designer of the Singer 12 and their Chicago branch manager dated early 1860s, begging for more machines.
And speaking of lost sales due to promises continually being broken... Singer and W&W virtually hand made its machines in the early years with final fitting done on the assembly bench. They were simply not able to keep up with demand.
W&G went a totally different route. Instead of trying to produce their machines in house, they employed Browne and Sharp, the premier American precision tool maker to make the production machinery to a level where there was complete interchangeability of parts.
It took two years to complete the work before production started and parts could have been stockpiled during this time.
Thus with a machine that could be assembled in a matter of minutes, W&G would have hit the ground running. Given this, and the fortune spent on advertising, 200 machines a week might not be an unreasonable total.
国厂精品114福利电影I have paperwork from W&G giving production figures with serial numbers. I’m a little skeptical about it as we are talking round numbers every year. However, this could simply reflect the ordering from Browne and Sharpe. The numbers are pretty close to your figures for most years......
Which begat from Bill...
国厂精品114福利电影I grant that the W&G chainstitcher was much easier/quicker/cheaper to make than the other companies machines. And it is conceivable, although unlikely, that they had Browne and Sharpe, raw materials, parts, agents, and stores all lined up to assume 10,000 unit production and sales once the key patent was awarded in June 1857. But that doesn’t mesh with what we do know: 1. W&G numbers were not in the report to The Combination until later years. If they had quickly jumped to the #1 maker of sewing machines in the US, I’m sure that Mr. Howe’s lawyers would have taken notice.
国厂精品114福利电影2. No other sewing machine company was able to enter the market at such speed. 3. A start-up of anywhere near 10,000 per year does not conform with the production and sales growth of the later years.
Said another way, if the chainstitcher was so easy/cheap to make and sell, then an initial production start of 10,000 should have been followed with a growth to 20,000 in 1858, and then 40,000 per year in 1859 - the growth rate of the other companies. If the demand couldn’t be meet by Singer then W&G would have reason to greatly increase production - but that increased rate is only evident if they started in the early years with a very modest production.
国厂精品114福利电影Good points, Bill, Worth bearing in mind that the patent grant could have been well after production had started -- the patent model is a production machine, not a one-off designed for the job....
国厂精品114福利电影One thing that’s always bugged me about The Combination’s production numbers. If we accept these, one would expect surviving machines to be in roughly the same ratio..... e.g., one Ladd and Webster for 10 W&Ws. Or one Bartholf for every 100 Grovers -- clearly not so......
Figures can be a lot of fun.
国厂精品114福利电影I haven’t looked at those ratios/numbers, but I would not be surprised to find fewer of the less successful company machines remaining. I would think that if you had a successful, and therefore surviving sewing machine model, then customers would hold onto your machines at a greater rate because it works, you can get parts, you can contact the company agent, etc. Conversely, a short-lived company indicates an inferior sewing machine, less company support, no replacement parts -- and eventually the customer will scrap their machine -- or trade it in to the traveling salesman for a different sewing machine -- and then he will sell it for scrap.
And finally, from Graham...
国厂精品114福利电影To which there’s a counter argument that, perhaps, has some validity.
When I find a super rare early machine it’s often in great condition. It suggests that it performed badly and was swiftly relegated to the attic or cellar, Better machines got used, worn out, scrapped and replaced...
We could go on forever..... (GF & BG)