Farm Collector

First Things

When it comes to antique farm equipment, it’s
easy to get caught up in eye candy. Take a look at a tractor or
engine restored to better-than-new condition, and it’s completely
understandable if your attention is quickly diverted from an
ingenuous design to the swimsuit competition.

Not that there’s anything wrong with restoration, particularly
when it’s done well and thoughtfully. The best restoration serves
as a primer on the past while it preserves the piece for the
edification of another generation. But it can be equally
instructive to spend time with pieces in pristine original

I recently had opportunity to wallow in a very, very fine
collection of items related to farm life in the late 1800s and
early 1900s. While many of the pieces were farm equipment, many
others were household artifacts related to cooking, food
preservation and laundry – very basic functions of survival. Nearly
all of the items were in their original dress, all were
unmistakably old and all told a tale of a uniquely
American resourcefulness.

It was utterly impossible to overlook each device’s singular
purpose and ingenuity of design and manufacture. It was just as
impossible not to pause and consider the thousands and thousands of
inventive minds behind the inventions. For many, the motivation was
clearly commercial; for others, it was simply a matter of solving a
problem. Either way, the innovation of the period was stunning,
whether you look at something as humble as an eggbeater or as
sophisticated as a steam engine.

In 1876, the International Exhibition of Arts, Manufactures and
Products of the Soil and Mine opened in Philadelphia. The event
celebrated the 100th anniversary of American independence, the
country’s emergence from Reconstruction and successes in science,
industry and cultural exchange.

Although more than 30,000 displays were submitted from every
state and many foreign countries, more than a quarter were from the
U.S. Covering more than 2 acres, the U.S. exhibit included
everything from a nearly overwhelming display of natural history to
engineering marvels of the age. For six months, visitors swarmed
over the exhibition, gaping at the pace of progress in their

We live in an era of rapidly evolving technology, and yet are
nearly speechless at the technological advancement of 125 years
ago. We take electronics for granted, yet we marvel at early
devices. Our eyes stay focused on the future, but looking backward
teaches lessons as well. American ingenuity has long been and
remains one of this country’s greatest resources.

Leslie McManus, Editor

  • Published on Dec 1, 2007
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