The Department of Special Collections continues to host an exhihibit on patent models. Patent models saw their heyday between 1836 and 1870 – and that is the period from which most of the models in this collection date. Inevitably, inventors submitted models more rapidly than space could be found to house them. Despite devastating fires in 1836 and 1877, by 1880 the Patent Office had exceeded capacity and banned new models altogether – with the notable exceptions of flying machines and perpetual motion devices.
The first sale of the models took place in 1925, resulting in the dispersal of more than 100,000 models among institutions and private collectors. In 1941, one such collector – the auctioneer O. Rundle Gilbert – purchased tens of thousands of models at a bankruptcy auction, saving them from being melted as scrap. He in turn sold approximately 1000 of these to Jack R. Crosby and Fred Lieberman in the early 1970s. In 1973 Crosby and Lieberman donated more than 800 pieces from this collection to the then Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas. Faced with space constraints of its own, the Harry Ransom Center transferred the collection to the Texas Memorial Museum between 1981 and 1988.
The models now serve the University of Texas as tools for teaching, scholarly exploration, and inspiration, and as concrete examples of the School of Law’s commitment to intellectual property law.
Curated by Elizabeth Haluska-Rausch, Director of Special Collections.