Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Old Wagons Can Look The Same

Over the years, I’ve regularly shared the competitive nature of America’s early wagon builders.  The more I’ve researched this industry, the more amazed I am that the cut-throat business tactics and dominant reputations of many have rarely been reported.  Throughout the 1800’s and early 1900’s, countless firms went head to head, challenging each other with price wars, races for single and mass market dominance, control of raw materials, employment benefits, and innovative engineering.  Some even mimicked paint graphics and fabrication styles of competitors in order to sway buyers.  From the forest to the factory, a lot of stories from this part of the American West can be just as wild as those from an all-night saloon in a frontier mining town. 

With tens of thousands of makers and a known history for some to simulate the construction traits of others, it’s inevitable I suppose that modern day efforts to identify wagon brands can hit a snag from time to time.  As a result, I’ve regularly cautioned against using only one or two points to assume an identification is accurate.  To illustrate that counsel a bit more this week, I thought I’d open up our files and show yet another example of how confusing and problematic evaluations can become when we focus on just one notable characteristic.

By all accounts, T.G. Mandt (Stoughton, Wisconsin) was one of America’s most prominent wagon makers.  His innovative genius is recorded in numerous patents granted for wagons and sleighs/sleds.  Because the Mandt brand was a dominant and high-profile company, many of today’s early vehicle enthusiasts will quickly recognize the hollow-tubed bolster stake design that Mr. Mandt created in the late 1800’s.  What most don’t know, however, is that there was another patent granted to yet another company for an extremely similar design. 

Below are illustrations from the two (2) different patents.  Can you pick out the original design conceived and manufactured by T.G. Mandt?  While some might be fortunate to choose the correct Mandt design here, looking at a single example on a wagon without paint would likely be a bit more tricky.  

Can you guess which of these early illustrations belong to the patent awarded to legendary wagon builder, T. G. Mandt?

Both concepts are so alike in form, feel, and function that, unless a person is well aware of the alternative design, it’s tempting to associate each as being the same T.G. Mandt piece.  Moral of the story?  Caveat Emptor... collectors, buyers, and those quick-to-judge will do well to take note.  There are countless mirrors of innovations and design practices just waiting to be misread.  As with any topic, one way to help avoid misconceptions is to devote oneself to continued growth and experience on the subject. 

Ultimately, period wagons are made from hundreds of parts.  Each segment of the whole has a story to tell related to identity, originality, authenticity, purpose, and even the timeframe of manufacture.  By the same token, overlooking any element can easily leave individuals open for embarrassment, frustration, and maybe even a healthy dose of regret. 

Please Note:  As with each of our blog writings, all imagery and text is copyrighted with All Rights Reserved.  The material may not be broadcast, published, rewritten, or redistributed without prior written permission from David E. Sneed, Wheels That Won The West® Archives.