Some of my friends and antique collecting associates are routinely frustrated that I have so much luck at finding some of the most interesting antiques. While I believe that I have some personal sunshine following me around, I don’t believe luck helps me on the antique trail. Earlier in my life, I inspected homes professionally, and it taught me a lot about where to look and what to look for. Most of this can be summed up with ABBI which is the acronym for Above, Below, Behind, and Inside.
Applying this to antiques, not everyone has the same interests as you and doesn’t value what you might be looking for like you would. Therefore, you have to look carefully and in places where you probably wouldn’t expect – ABBI. If what you are looking for is proudly on display, somebody else has probably already beat you to purchasing it. When I’m out looking, I’ll casually look at what’s proudly on display, but my main focus is everywhere else for anything that might be of interest to me. Look at the picture below to see what I mean.
There is a fair amount to take in – books, lamps, jewelry, etc. However, I zero in on where most people don’t look. See the table in the foreground that’s being used to display postcards? It’s not a table. It’s a sewing machine treadle frame that is being used as a temporary table. Here it is with the top lifted off.
Even though the treadle is turned the wrong way (you’re looking at the back of it) and the manufacturer’s name or markings are facing away towards the cabinets, one unusual features stands out: the flywheel is outboard of the frame. This warrants much closer examination.
The treadle is turned towards the user in this picture and the manufacturer’s name is visible as shown below.
I’ve read about Wheeler & Wilson treadle sewing machines, and I’ve seen a fake machine made by a rival sewing machine company, but I’ve never seen the real thing up to this point. This treadle was probably used for one of the later model machines that looked similar to the sewing machines we know of today. (These days if you have a smart phone and reception, you can research things on the spot. Also, don’t forget that you can take and text/email pictures to those who may be able to provide instant help.)
On the right side there is a belt guide, for the leather drive belt, and a small wooden flip down pawl that only allows the wheel to spin away from the user (it’s flipped up, disengaged, in the above picture).
The wooden pitman arm drives the crank which turns the flywheel. The shaft is very short and looks very much unsupported despite being very rigid. This treadle is both unique and rare.
I’m not sure if you’ve used a standard treadle sewing machine, but they are somewhat frustrating. Several things to know: the flywheel is inside the frame (inboard) which reduces space, we are taller/larger today than our ancestors, and the machine needle sits too far to the left for easy use. After some measurements, I purchased the Wheeler and Wilson treadle frame to use with a “3/4 size” Singer 99K sewing machine that I have tucked away. Because the flywheel is outboard of the frame and the 99K is shorter than the typical machine, the needle will be centered almost directly in front of the user. This treadle is definitely a conversation piece and will be restored and saved for future generations.
Getting back to ABBI, I’ve found valuable woodworking planes being used as door stops, an nice decanter mixed in with cheap glass bottles, and some really cool things listed on eBay just by typing in variations of misspelled manufacturers names. I’ve even found an actual Roman coin in a small box of sewing machine attachments and other junk. However if I’m looking for something specific, I’ll take a picture printed from the web and show it to anyone who might be able to give me a lead.
Prior to the web, the search for a specific blacksmith post drill lead me from an antique dealer to a farmer who said he thought he had one behind his barn. We walked the distance to the barn, he handed me a sling type lawn mower, and told me it was around back with some other stuff. The grass behind the barn was very thick and waist high. We cut our way through the grass in the general direction of our quarry. However, cutting a path didn’t help much because my foot hooked into the post drill flywheel that was partially exposed above ground, and it sent me plowing face first into the grass. The kind gentleman’s only words were “Found it.” We dug it out of the ground, and I paid him $20. Those were the good old days. Still, I’m willing to look where others are afraid to look or dare to tread. That is the secret to finding the best antiques.