A model of an electromagnetic engine. Rothschild Patent Model Collection, Scherzi Photography
Inventors today have got it easy. If they want to patent something, all they have to do is file some paperwork. Before 1880, however, if you wanted to patent a better mousetrap, you actually had to build it - or at least a miniature version to help patent inspectors understand why you actually deserve the patent.
Curator Charles Robertson is showcasing about 30 examples of such models from the private collection of Alan Rothschild and Wired blog has photos of some of the neatest: Link | 2006 article about the Rothschild Patent Model Museum in Forbes