On July 19th, members of the Paris Hill Historical Society and other local societies were invited to tour Paul Cote’s amazing collection of Paris Manufacturing Company products and artifacts in Oxford, Maine. Paul is the owner of Route 26 Antiques, but beyond that he has encyclopedic knowledge on a number of topics, including Paris Manufacturing Company, the history and identification of antique snowshoes, as well as antique firearms, American history, and more. Perhaps most importantly, Paul is exceedingly generous with this knowledge, as we found out touring his collection that day.
Paris Manufacturing Company had its beginnings when Henry F. Morton built his first sled for sale in his kitchen in Sumner, Maine in 1861. However, it was incorporated as the Paris Hill Manufacturing Company and relocated to Paris Hill in 1869 after Henry joined forces with Alban Maxim, who was manufacturing furniture. At that time approximately twenty five employees made toys, furniture, baby carriages, and other products, but the most famous of the products were the sleds, which were hand painted with what can only be called original art. Paul Cote’s collection has many examples of the fine art treatments these sled tops received. Bear in mind that these were not made to be hung on the wall and admired. These sleds were made for children (and adults, if they wanted!) to use to barrel down the snowy hills of winter, and used they were. Here is a photo of some of that artwork:
One of these sled tops’ artwork is a very fine reproduction. Can you guess which one? If so, put a comment on this post and we’ll give the answer later.
In 1876 Paris Manufacturing Company exhibited a sled at the Centennial International Exposition (first World’s Fair) in Philadelphia and was honored with a prize. Paul Cote, after a long acquisition process which makes for a wonderful story (ask Paul sometime, because he truly tells it best), owns this very sled.
Honestly, it was breathtaking to see this sled. One of our members noted that she took great pride knowing that our history and heritage here in Paris is so interesting and remarkable. The center ringed mark on this sled is from a previous owner resting a plant on it (!) and while Paul could, theoretically, try to restore that out, he has chosen not to for solid reasons. It is interesting to note that the original gold leaf is shiniest where that wear/staining occurred, and gives an insight in to how gleaming it must have been when new.
Another piece exhibited at the same Exposition was an elaborate baby carriage, which Paul also has in his collection.
Paul said that this originally would have had side lamps. This is hard to imagine today. That surely would not pass modern day safety standards. Along with the carriage, there is a catalog page for it.
Not that model #34 was $20 in 1876. According to an online inflation calculator, that would be about $445 today. Model #36 was $30, or about $670 today. So, these carriages were very expensive in their day and most likely the state of the art.
One very interesting feature that Paul explained to us was a change Paris Manufacturing Company made in the undercarriage of its sleds. Instead of having straight pieces of wood as part of the structure holding on the runners, as the early sleds had, the company started using curved pieces. This eliminated a common problem of torque, as the sled was used, wiggling the joints apart and compromising the structural integrity of the sled. Here is Paul showing us an example of the newer design vs the older one.
In 1883, Paris Manufacturing Company moved off of Paris Hill and down to South Paris. A large towering stack still stands at the site today, off Western Avenue, bearing the company’s name. Here is what it looked like when it was in full operation.
Evidence of the popularity of these sleds still remains on Paris Hill. Several years ago, local historian Winnie Mott allowed some metal detecting folks to search on her property, with the understanding that Winnie could keep any artifacts that had meaning to her. Here’s one of the things they found, and that Winnie kept. Do you know what it is that she’s holding?
It is a sleigh bell from a Paris Manufacturing child’s sled (note Winnie’s tee shirt). A great find!
Paul also kindly showed us his collection of antique North American (including some Native American) snow shoes. Here is one set that was particularly interesting. Paul explained that the wool pom poms, although in some cases decorative, were also in many cases functional, especially on spring snowshoes when icy conditions created the possibility of the shoes being cut or damaged by the sharp ice. The pom poms were protective of the snowshoe edges.
Here is a pair of Native American snowshoes in Paul’s collection.
Older people from the area will remember the giant fifteen foot “Norway snowshoe.” At one time, Norway was an important hub of snowshoe manufacturing and the giant snowshoe was on display in town. Paul has a replica.
Finally, Paul showed us a very interesting piece of American firearm history, an Evans Repeating Rifle, which is not a commonly found weapon. It has an unusual ammunition screw feed mechanism and other features which ultimately made it noncompetitive for American military applications, but remains a well known rarity among antique firearm enthusiasts and was made in nearby Mechanic Falls, Maine.
After the tour, Paul and some of the attendees were able to follow up with a nice luncheon at the Paris Hill Country Club Cafe to chat some more. Then they went over to the Paris Hill Historical Society to see our very own Paris Manufacturing sleigh! You too can take a peek at that sleigh during our open hours, 1PM to 4PM, every Thursday this summer.
This amazing tour was by invitation to members of the Paris Hill Historical Society and was just one of the benefits of membership this season. Please consider becoming a member, if you are not already. The membership form is HERE.
We hope you have enjoyed this post and that you will contact Paul Cote at Route 26 Antiques with questions regarding his collection, or for anything in this realm you are seeking. We also have a pretty thick folder on Paris Manufacturing Company at the society on Tremont Street, so stop in.
Many, many thanks to Paul Cote for his generosity, knowledge, and time.