Sewing Machines | Historical Trade Literature in Smithsonian Collections
IntroductionExplore the CollectionAbout the Smithsonian Trade Literature Collections


This guide illustrates the range of materials published by and about sewing machine companies in the United States, starting in the 1840s. Sewing machine catalogs and other industry materials are just one portion of the remarkable collections of manufacturers' trade literature held in the libraries, archives and curatorial units of the Smithsonian Institution. The trade literature collection managed by the Smithsonian Institution Libraries (SIL) alone numbers some 285,000 pieces published since the mid- nineteenth century and representing 30,000 American companies. The Smithsonian Libraries is a 22-branch system serving the information and research needs of the Institution's staff and the general public.

The Smithsonian collects trade literature for use by staff who are entrusted with the care and study of manufactured objects now in the collections of the national museums. This guide to sewing machine literature includes materials held in three separate collections: in SIL's Library in the National Museum of American History, and in the Museum's Archives Center and in its Textiles Collection. The sewing machine project illustrates the collaborative efforts of Smithsonian staff to provide relevant and useful information to the public as well as to the museum and research communities. This guide will be of interest to sewing machine collectors as well as to historians, lawyers, and the curatorial and program staff within the Smithsonian Institution. We thank Barbara Suit Janssen of the Museum's Textile Collection and John Fleckner, Director of the Museum's Archives Center, for their cooperation with this project. Ms. Janssen prepared the Bibliography that appears in the guide.

A finding aid to these sewing machine literature collections including scanned images of many of the texts can be viewed at online. It is a work in progress which will continue to grow, providing extensive details about the three collections. The website will eventually provide information on more than 3,000 items with many thousands of images. Full descriptions of each of the pieces of trade literature are given in the Libraries' catalog at (Smithsonian Institution Research Information System). Funding for the scanning was provided by the Smithsonian Institution Image Archive Fund.

The reader is cautioned to read the Notes on Style very carefully. The text of this guide is based on information found on the pieces themselves and in available published resources. This guide directs the reader only to materials which are in the Smithsonian collections.

Many heads and hands contributed to this project, gathering the materials, sorting and classifying them, scanning and cataloging them, and preparing the text and index in this printed guide. The project was conceptualized by Amy Begg DeGroff, Reference Librarian in SIL's American History Library, and she contributed her ideas and many hours of work in organizing and describing the materials. Rhoda S. Ratner, head of the History, Technology, and Art Department of the Libraries, and head of the American History Library, completed coordination of the materials presented in this print guide. Nancy L. Matthews managed the production of this publication. In the Libraries' Information Systems Division, Martin R. Kalfatovic served as coordinator of the online project. Courtney S. Danforth oversaw the online design process. Interns Christine Winkler and JohnLee Curtis and volunteer Betty Spungen assisted in assembling and describing the materials. Volunteer Kristina Santilla, a sewing machine collector herself, helped with several stages of the project. Staff of the Libraries' Preservation Services Department, headed by Susan R. Frampton, scanned the images that can be seen online. David Holbert managed the production side of the project, and Shawn Adams and Nicholas Worthy contributed to that work. In the Libraries' Cataloging Services Department, Suzanne C. Pilsk coordinated the cataloging and metadata collection efforts. Other Libraries' staff who contributed to the project are Maureen Daley who coordinated the photography for the print guide and Kari Richardson and Gwen Leighty who helped to prepare the funding proposal to the Lemelson Fund. Mario Rups proofread the index, and Savannah R. Schroll assisted with production responsibilities. This guide was designed by Stephanie Firestone Design.

We are grateful to the Jerome and Dorothy Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation for funds to publish this guide to a fascinating portion of Smithsonian Institution collections.

Nancy E. Gwinn, Director
Smithsonian Institution Libraries
February 2001
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