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A Gimbels Sewing Machine

Donna Williams suggested we illustrate her lavender and cream Gimbels sewing machine for the Vintage Sewing Machine Coloring Book. While the machine itself is quite beautiful, it was really her story that most compelled us.

Donna had a dear friend with the same first name - Donna Dougherty, frequently referred to as "Donna D" to avoid confusion among friends. Throughout their friendship, Donna D often spoke of her years working at the famous Gimbels department store in Pennsylvania.

Gimbels, founded by Adam Gimbel beginning with a general store in Indiana in 1842, became the world's largest department store chain as of 1930 when their sales were the equivalent of $1.8 billion in today's dollars. The Gimbels history is rich with interesting events and accomplishments. The wildly popular Slinky toy was debuted at Gimbels, and the store was the first to provide an escalator for customers. Gimbels has been noteworthy in popular culture in many ways, not least of all it's appearance in the 1947 film, Miracle on 34th Street. The concept of a department store parade began with Gimbels in 1920, four years prior to the launch of the Macy's parade.

Gimbels' success waned in the 1970s, and the chain was ultimately brought to an end through acquisition and sales. Gimbels was gone by 1987.

Gimbels had been known as the ideal store for the middle class with emphasis on product quality more so than aesthetics. Nonetheless, Donna William's Gimbels model is a gorgeous example of a Japanese-manufactured machine badged for the U.S. market.

The history of Gimbles, interesting as it is, is only a small part of our interest in Donna William's machine. More importantly, Donna's friend Donna D, who had worked at Gimbels was herself a seamstress who made clothing for herself and her four children. Sadly, she fought breast cancer three times and passed away in 2000. She was only fifty years old.

Donna D's favorite color had been lavender. Appropriately if not amazingly, Donna Williams located a lavender Gimbels machine in her home state of Florida. Now when she looks at it, she readily thinks of her departed friend.

Illustrating the Gimbels machine owned by Donna Williams. In the coloring book, it will be a line drawing that you can color as you please.

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Shorebird said...

Beautiful machine and heart-warming story!

Rose Orr said...

Those lavender machines always get me to do a double take, and what a wonderful story to go along with it.

AC said...

I have just been given this lavender machine. I can't find a manual. help.

Suzanne said...

I love the machine and the story. I grew up in a New Jersey suburb of Philadelphia and periodically shopped at the big, beautiful dept stores: Gimbels, Wanamakers, Strawbridges, Lit Brothers, Snellenburgs. They were all gorgeous around Christmastime - lit up and shining brightly at night. Gimbels had gorgeous, big display windows, and Lit Brothers had a wonderful Christmas Village display. When we were little, Mom and Dad would take us to see those, then to Wanamaker's toy floor where we'd ride the kiddie monorail. It took us on a little trip up to and around the super-high ceiling. While we rode, they'd order our Christmas presents to be sent to the house (only we didn't know it back then!). Such wonderful memories! That was WAY back in the 1950's. By the 70's, big malls were built and the the department stores moved out to the suburbs. Nobody needed to go into the city anymore. All the the stores except Macy's - formerly Wanamakers - are gone now and the monorail is but a faint memory; same for the Lits Christmas village. Sadly, I was never able to share this joy with my kids and grandkids. They'll never know what they missed; life has changed so much. Only a few good things like that beautiful Gimbels sewing machine have survived. It's a beauty which can serve well for generations to come. At least something remains.

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