Sewing Machine Research
ISMACS International
International Sewing Machine Collectors' Society

Shaw & Clark

Graham Forsdyke
Issue No. 32

FOR YEARS, in the 1860s, Shaw & Clark got away with murder.

Of all the unlicensed pirate operators who produced machines without succumbing to paying license fees to the big patent holders, the Biddeford, Maine, company was probably the most successful, with its Monitor machine proving the mainstay of its business.

But it could not hope to get away with it forever and, in early 1864, a massive law suit instigated by the Sewing-Machine Combination forced it to go legitimate.

And in an attempt to make the best of a bad job, Shaw & Clark went overboard in its advertising.

Now that the company was paying license fees of $7 per machine, it wanted to make sure that no other pirate manufacturers could get away with the scam that it had enjoyed in the previous years.

It pointed out time and again that it was the only maker of cheap machines which could legally be used in America.

So were the Shaw & Clark directors, happy to sail close to the wind until forced into a license agreement, a collection of get-rich-quick operators who today would probably be running a bomb-site car lot? Not a bit of it.

The honourable Charles A Shaw was, in fact, a former mayor of the city of Biddeford. James R Clark was a member of the legislature of Maine and his son, Timothy Clark, was a registrar of deeds for York County.

Like all other companies, they believed in the power of the testimonial, and when the company went legitimate in 1864, they found a worthy band of individuals to endorse their products.

But the names and testimonials chosen did seem a little bit close to home. For example, the John Q Adams who vouched for the company's honest trading policy, happened to be the assistant mayor of Biddeford.

C F Cohen, who attested to the meticulous book-keeping and dealings of the Shaw & Clark empire was, in fact, the Biddeford postmaster and F A Small, who assured the public that the machines never dropped stitches and would work on anything, had an address in, you guessed it ..... Biddeford.

In a further attempt to capitalize on money paid in license fees, Shaw & Clark went so far as to suggest that anyone using an unlicensed machine could well be sent to jail.

One advertisement of late 1864 reads thus: "Many persons who have sold or used the bogus, infringing, cheap machines that flood the market have done so innocently not knowing their danger until their property was taken or they were imprisoned by the United States marshal".

And just to drive the point home, Shaw & Clark issued the public with a list of machines, the mere ownership of which they claimed could lead to imprisonment. The list includes such illustrious names as Bartlett, Franklin, Common Sense, Atwater, Wilson, Folson, Globe, Star, etc, etc.

Each Shaw & Clark made after the date which the company began to pay license fees was sold with a brass plate listing the patents for which licenses had been bought.

Two basic models were produced, one with a circular-section fire-hydrant top and skirted bottom, and the other with a square pagoda-topped hydrant which could come in open or closed form.

Today these later "paid-paid" models are far rarer than the pirate Monitors.

But of the two later designs, the circular tower is by far the less common, quite a few examples of the square tower having turned up in the past few years.

The company produced these machines for around three years before moving its operation to Chicopee Falls, Mass, where it produced a third model, again with the brass patent seal. But the company folded very shortly after.