Suppose you could travel back in time. Let’s say 1924. Then, let’s say you could buy something and bring it back to the present? Just wishful thinking?

Well, something like this has actually happenend. Circumstances surrounding the shipment of one Gearhart Knitting Machine back in 1924 have recently unfolded into an amazing story for Kathy from Virginia. I thought you might be interested in this story, so I’ve asked Kathy if I could reprint some of her emails, and she has agreed.

Kathy has come into possesion of a brand new, unopened, 1924 Gearhart Knitting Machine. This has certainly got to be one of those rare, once-in-a-lifetime events that you never thought could happen. We’ll pick up the story as she starts to unpack:

Hi Mark,
I couldn’t believe my luck either! 😮

The machine was absolutely never unpacked. All the original packing materials, yarn, tools, etc. were wedged in the box so securely that I couldn’t believe it. There’s no way anyone could have unpacked and then repacked it. As far as I can tell from the manual (1924 date), the only thing not in the box were the sock blockers, but I’m not sure they would have fit anyway, so maybe the company sent them separately? Or perhaps the original owner found a use for them, even though he chose never to use the machine. It was addressed to Lewis Curd, Fishersville, Va. I wonder if Mr. Curd bought it for his wife and she chose not to use it….. who knows. The dealer I bought it from said it sat in a barn for years, perhaps since it was bought. He wanted $575 for it…. I talked him down to $285! I feel like I stole it. 😮

Everything else was there, including the screwdriver from the factory. There are two cylinders, 80 and 100, and the ribbers to match (40 and 50). The 80 cylinder was on the machine with a second sock started on it. The first sock, completed, was also in the box. The wool is a gray heather and there was a good supply of it… 4 skeins, about a pound. Everything was wrapped in unprinted news-print type paper. There wasn’t a cubic centimeter of wasted space in the box, and the main components were bolted down and utterly immobile. One end of the yarn bundle was broken open and a bit chewed up, as was the completed sock & the incomplete one on the machine. I don’t know if mice or moths were responsible, but considering that the crate had been sitting around in a barn for who-knows-how-many decades, the amount of damage was surprisingly minimal.

The owner’s manual is in perfect condition. There was also a return envelope from the company for the use of the CSM owner to send back the first sample of a sock for approval. There’s some handwriting in pencil on the back of the manila envelope that contained the paperwork that gives a number for the machine. A serial number? A production number?

I let it sit in the box for about an hour…. I did consider putting it on eBay, since I’d never ever seen one in such pristine, unpacked, original condition. I’m sure it would have been worth something. However, I’ve really wanted a Gearhart since seeing them at the CSM convention last summer. I already own a Home Profit Master Machine, a Legare 47 and a Cooperative. I feel like this Gearhart rounds out my collection and I can stop looking for machines. (We’ll see if that happens…..)

So, I did unpack it, carefully, reverently, and I photographed everything extensively as I did. I felt a bit like I was violating King Tut’s tomb, but I couldn’t see never unpacking it and I wanted to keep it, so…..

I appreciate your offer to buy it, but for now, at least, I think I’d like to hold on to it and treasure it.

However, I’d be very pleased to share the pictures with you. The easiest thing would be to copy them to a CD and mail it to you. You are welcome to come see it in person, too, if you’d like. I’m a teacher with just one more week in school, then will be off for the summer. My time will be considerably more flexible starting next week.

If you’d like copies of the pictures, just let me know a mailing address. By the way, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed your documenting your family’s history with the knitting machine company. The photos and stories and timelines have been fascinating. I’m a history major from college and grad school. My brother and I are passionately interested in family history and have been documenting family photos and family stories for the grandchildren in recent years. This kind of personal documentation is not only very gratifying for family reasons, but eventually will become the material for historians working from primary sources. It’s important work and lots of fun. (My family, both sides, is also from Pennsylvania…. the coal region and Philly.)

Best regards…. Kathy

Kathy goes on to write in a later email about a mystery concerning an envelope packed with machine. Here is an excerpt from that email:

I’ve looked again at page 23 of the owner’s manual and it appears that the only items I’m missing are the sock blocker(s) — designated as the pressing board(s) in the parts list — and the parts for the stand (apparently not ordered by this customer, or
at least not included in this shipment).

A mystery that became apparent to me this evening in perusing all these items again is that the handwriting on the back of the envelope (that contained the owner’s manual, the return envelope for the sample sock and the return labels notice) says “FROM (my emphasis) Lewis H. Curd Machine No. 60878 Notice a letter following”. I don’t know why it would say “from” when the company was sending this shipment TO Mr. Curd. Also, I’m wondering about the “Machine No. 60878″….. did Gearhart use serial numbers? Also, the return address label on the crate says in red “R 3684”. Do you know what significance that number bears?

Wouldn’t it be a hoot if you recognized the handwriting on the envelope? Maybe your great-grandfather?

Interesting. Does anyone have a theory about why Lewis Curd’s name is on the back of the envelope?

For the numbers, the Home Earners where given numbers in order to maintain their hosiery shipment account balances on the books at the factory. A Home Earner, versus a normal person who buys a machine, is one who enters into a contract with the company to supply finished hosiery to the company, so that the company can then send it to department stores for resale. This number, 60878, would be in the correct range for a Home Earner number, not a machine number. However, there is no way from the archives to verify whether Lewis Curd or this machine was connected to a Home Earner. By 1924, if the machines were numbered sequentially starting with serial number 1 in 1888, the serial numbers would be up in the 200,000 range. As I look at my own Gearhart Knitting Machines, I do not see any serial numbers. Of course, I could be completely wrong about this if the machines did in fact have a serial number, and it reset at some point during the manufacturing run which spanned 36 years.

I’m wondering if anyone has a serial number on their machine, or a number on their crate similar to R 3684. If so, please feel free to post a comment or email me with serial number theories as well as Lewis Curd envelope theories. Thank you.

As soon as we get some pictures in from Kathy, I’ll post them. Stay tuned….