'Here is a sewing-machine we do not recommend'
by Jennifer Gregory
This advertisement heading, unusual to modern eyes, appeared in Montgomery Ward and Company's catalogue Number 82 of 1913. This was the Chicago company's first New York catalogue, giving 'their Eastern and Southern friends double quick service at close range'.
The advertisement related to the 'Oakland'(Figure 1), at $8.75 the cheapest in the catalogue, other than their toy machine for 'little women', the 'Juvenile' (Figure 2) at $2.95. (The 'Juvenile' was a National Sewing Machine Company's 'Stitchwell' made for Montgomery Ward). The advertisement continued: 'While we warrant this for 5 years and will replace any defective parts free of charge during this period, we do not recommend the Oakland. Under all circumstances you are advised, if possible, to order one of the better grades.'
People who ignored the recommendation received a drop-head machine in a five-drawer treadle, enamelled in black and decorated in gold. It boasted a self-setting needle and a self-threading shuttle. An extra $0.75 purchased a set of Greist attachments. The machine was manufactured at Kankanee, Illinois at a factory that had belonged to H.B. Goodrich. This company developed into Foley and Williams in about 1885, only to go out of business in 1926 and be reorganised, shortly afterwards, into the Goodrich Sewing Machine Company. During their troubled existence, Foley and Williams continued to make 'Goodrich' machines at Kankanee. The problems of the company perhaps account for the cheapness of the machine. Montgomery Ward plainly did not keep this machine in stock; when ordered, it was shipped from the factory.
Montgomery Ward's 'better grade' machines, such as the 'Brunswick' and the 'Damascus' were manufactured by the National Sewing Machine Company. Eldredge, one of the two manufacturers whose merger produced National, first sold to Montgomery Ward in 1889, one year before their merger with the June Manufacturing Company.
In 1913, the 'Brunswick', a high-arm machine (Figure 3), with a bobbin 'that always works in a satisfactory manner' could be supplied on at least three different treadles costing from $12.95 to $17.85. The 'Damascus' vibrating shuttle machine (Figure 4), could be supplied on six different treadles at prices ranging from $19.50 for a four-drawer treadle to $23.95 for a full cabinet. Both 'Brunswick' and 'Damascus' machines were decorated in gold and 'harmonious colours' and came complete with their Greist attachments.
Top of the range was the 'Damascus Grand Rotary' machine (Figure 5), costing $25.95 as a sixdrawer treadle or $29.50 as a full cabinet. The catalogue raves: 'Our Damascus Grand Rotary is the best machine you can buy. We mean by this that no matter how much you pay, or from what line your selection is made, you cannot get a better machine.' The catalogue hastens to add, however; 'Remember this statement must not in any sense be construed as having the slightest reflection upon the high quality of our Damascus Vibrating shuttle, because the latter, while practically a perfect work doer, is of a different type.'
All these better grade machines were kept in stock and were shipped from Montgomery Ward's warehouses in New York or Buffalo, whichever was nearer to the purchaser. The shipping weight of the cabinets was 160lb.
Montgomery Ward also sold 'Windsor' machines, which were 'easily run, there being no complicated devices to get out of order'. Their only hand machine, the 'Amazon', was a 'Damascus' in disguise. It was 'intended for those who for various reasons are unable to use foot power'. At $9.98 this hand-machine was more expensive than the unrecommended 'Oakland' treadle.