Intricate Models: Farm Equipment on a Smaller Scale

Farm equipment salesman's samples, display models and patent models find a home in South Dakota collection

| July 2004

When Willard Zeeb first set eyes on an old Adams road grader model at a sale, he knew his quest for a new farm collectible was over.

“I was looking for something small, and I thought about collecting farm toys, but the unique detail of the Adams grader really struck me,” Willard says with a broad smile. He bought that Adams grader nearly 15 years ago, and it literally smoothed the road to model collecting for the Menno, S.D., collector.

Willard’s miniature road grader – which is an early 20th century salesman’s sample – is one of three model types that he collects. Salesman’s samples were typically handmade in relatively low numbers with a single purpose in mind: They were assigned to a traveling salesman who used the miniatures to demonstrate both machinery function and construction to potential buyers. Salesman’s samples weren’t necessarily true scale models, and they cost several times the price of the full-sized machines to build.

A second model variety that has found its way into Willard’s collection is the display model. Display models serve the same function as salesman’s samples, except they were placed in a sales agent’s office or store. These models are generally larger than salesman’s samples, but like them, they were produced in small numbers and at a substantial cost.

“Salesman’s samples and display models are usually the easiest to find because more of them are out there,” Willard explains. He owns many of these models, including horse-drawn mowers, a hay rake, moldboard plows, reapers, wagons and windmills.

The third type of model that Willard cherishes is the patent model. “The only truly unique pieces are the patent models,” Willard says. “They’re hard to find because only one was made to be included with the patent application.”

Because of their uniqueness and desirability, patent models aren’t only rare, they’re quite expensive, as well. Yet, that doesn’t deter Willard, who has dedicated himself to amassing rare and unusual farm collectibles.

A patent beauty

Like many farm collectibles, some of Willard’s miniatures traveled a unique path from creation to collection. His Superior Co. grain drill model is a perfect example.

On April 20, 1882, Charles E. Patric applied for a patent on a variable force-feed grain drill mechanism that would be incorporated into Superior’s grain drill line. Included with his application was a beautifully rendered, fully functional miniature model of that mechanism built into a Superior Fertilizer Drill No. 3 model.