I have several dozen pricing sheets for the Gearhart Knitting Machine. Most of them are undated, so it would be hard to put any weight behind them when it comes to dating the price of the machines. However, there are a few sheets that are clearly dated and have illustrations as well. The prices from these sheets are shown below. In all cases, the price includes shipping.
There were three different models manufactured between 1888 and 1925. The original model had a very small crank, no cam ring, no ribber, and operated by rotating the Cylinder inside the Crown Ring. The improved model resembled the modern model shown to the right, but it also operated by rotating the Cylinder inside the Crown Ring. The modern model was the first to reverse the operating mechanism by instead turning a Cam Ring inside the Crown Ring, thereby leaving the Cylinder stationary. There were also many other improvements over the years, including a ribber as well as different Cam and Carrier mechanisms.
By 1924, the machine had reached the height of its evolution. I have several letters describing suggested improvements. Having sold over 200,000 machines, the company was very careful to scrutinize every suggested change to the machine. From what I can tell, very few suggestions made it into production. Even some obvious changes, like having the crank turn one revolution for each 360 degrees of cylinder rotation, was declined for good reason. I’d be hard-pressed after reviewing the letters to override the company’s judgement at that time, other than for those things which would soon become easy to implement due to big industry milestones like ball-bearings, electronics, and so on. But then, how would they have know at that time? To their credit, they did take advantage of modern die-casting techiques invented by Herman Doehler in 1905. A motor drive (declined by the company in 1914), and sealed bearings (declined by the company in 1922) are just two of the other things that might have stayed on the table given developments which were just then appearing on the horizon.
|1889||$3.50||original||Wood. 1 cylinder, no ribber||$82.00|
|1890||$5.00||original||Metal. 1 cylinder, no ribber||$118.00|
|1891||$8.00||improved||1 cylinder, no ribber||$189.00|
|1891||$10.00||improved||2 cylinders, ribber||$236.00|
|1900||$12.00||improved||2 cylinders, ribber||$306.00|
|1908||$14.00||modern||2 cylinders, ribber||$331.00|
|1914||$14.00||modern||2 cylinders, ribber||$297.00|
|1921||$47.00||modern||2 cylinders, ribber, 2-lb yarn incl.||$561.00|
|1924||$67.00||modern||2 cylinders, ribber, 2-lb yarn incl.||$831.00|
I have included a column which shows the price of the machine in today’s dollar, adjusted for inflation. In general, we see a price increase as accessories are added and the machine evolves. It is interesting to note, that unlike other products of the time which were mass-produced, the Gearhart Knitting Machine did not experience a price decrease other than for the period between 1908 and 1914. The Ford Model T, for example, was priced at $850 in 1909, but fell to $300 by 1920 due to the improvements in manufacturing processes.
Possibly in the case of the Gearhart Knitting Machine, the parts were not manufactured in a volume high enough to realize much of a cost savings. Also, if the competitors had inflated prices, then I suspect that the Gearhart Knitting Machine company would have little incentive to out-price them, since according to the volume of machine sales, the Gearhart Knitting Machine was by far the preferred machine at any price.
Out of curiosity, I made some inquiries about the machine which is in production today. We currently have a single manufacturer. The price ranges from $1695.00 to $3000.00. You can sure buy a lot of socks at Sears for that price. It is definitely for the hobbyist since it has no historic value. This machine is comparable to the 1924 Gearhart Knitting Machine and has a similar parts list.
So, I’m now even more curious. If you have a 1980’s Harmony Knitter, I’d be very interested in hearing how much you paid for it, if you bought it new. I’d also be interested to know if anyone has other pricing numbers for the Gearhart Knitting Machine for the years not listed above. And, it would also be useful to compare the Gearhart Knitting Machine prices to their competitor’s prices. I don’t have any of this information, but would very much welcome input.
Of course, buying vintage machines on eBay is another subject entirely. This might make an interesting posting…