EPPING, N.H. – A 19th-century document referencing Elias Howe Jr.’s patent for the first modern sewing machine sold for more than 100 times its estimate at Devin Moisan Auctioneers, Inc. on July 15-16. Estimated at just $100-$150, the folded and torn manuscript agreement between Howe and school friend George Fisher brought $12,500. Absentee and Internet live bidding was facilitated through LiveAuctioneers.
Fisher, a coal and wood merchant from Cambridge, Massachusetts, is a forgotten figure in the sewing machine story.
Excited by the idea of a machine that could replicate the work of a seamstress, in December 1844 he gave Howe his attic for use as a workshop and provided $500 for tools and materials. He ultimately put around $2,000 into the venture before selling out his half share.
Dated July 15 1845, this document records “That the said Elias Howe, Jr. has invented and manufactured a new and improved machine for making seams in cloth and other similar substances, and has filed a caveat in the Archives of the United States Patent Office …”
Slightly more than a year later, on September 10, 1846, Elias Howe took out US Patent 4750 for his lock-stitch sewing machine. Using a reciprocating needle working together with second threads supplied by a shuttle, he claimed it could do in an hour what it took five hand seamstresses more than a day. Fisher made the journey with Howe and his prototype to the patent office in Washington, paying all the expenses.
It was ultimately through the licensing of this patent, rather than as a machine manufacturer, that Howe would make his fortune. In 1854, after years of legal wrangling over patent rights with his rival Isaac Singer, he was granted a royalty of $25 on every sewing machine that was sold. When he died in Brooklyn, New York, on October 3, 1867, less than a month after his patent expired, his profits from his invention were estimated at $2 million.
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