Sewing Machine Research
ISMACS International
International Sewing Machine Collectors' Society


TO AVOID confusion it must be realised that there were two Muller companies operating in Germany at the same period.

The one we are not going to deal with today is Clemens Muller who, for the record, had his business in Dresden and specialised in producing, as did so many German manufacturers, clone machines, initially Willcox & Gibbs and then Singer-system models.

The Clemens Muller factory operated from 1865, being one of the few pioneer German manufacturers to survive both World Wars. The factory was re-named VEB after the second round of hostilities.

That's the one we are not going to talk about.

The company under discussion today is that of Friedrich Wilhelm Muller Junior, the renowned toy maker of Berlin.

The company, which was to become the largest and longest-lived of all sewing-machine-toy manufacturers, was formed in 1868; but that is not when toy-making began.

FWM's first shoe-string factory was built to provide small bright-metal parts for his good friend Nicklaus Durkopp, a former clock maker turned sewing-machine manufacturer.

Muller initially worked for Durkopp and his partner Schmidt, but as the sewing-machine business began to grow, Muller saw the opportunity to establish himself as a sub-contractor and produced a variety of small parts, including probably, some for the Durkopp No 1 shown in the MS display at the '94 Convention.

Muller's first machine which, from the only illustration I've seen appears to have had a cast-iron frame, is mentioned in Peter Wilhelm's book of catalogue reprints.

The first of the popular toy machines produced in 1888 were what we call today tin plate but this is an inaccurate description. What we call tin plate is actually sheet steel coated with a thin layer of tin to prevent oxidisation.

Today tin plate, even for its traditional application in making tin cans, is fast disappearing as aluminium alloy cans are cheaper to produce and easier to re-cycle.

Muller and other "tin-plate" toys were simply produced from bare sheet steel which was then painted or Japanned. For the sake of a little more accuracy I going to try to call them "flatties", but I'll probably fall into the tin-plate trap myself before the day is out.

Machined-steel parts, needle and presser-foot bars, rocking arms,  etc, were either given a very thin coating of nickel or simply left with an oiled finish, probably in the hope that rust would not develop before they found a customer.

With over 80 per cent of the company's production going for export, the two World Wars, which isolated manufacturers from their overseas' markets, must have been particularly hard on Muller.

The Muller concern survived the first World War and looked set to flourish after the second, despite the fact that a lot of the specialist machinery was liberated by the Russians as official or unofficial war reparations.

When the factory was rebuilt after the war it was taken over by Kurt Pacully, a relative of Muller, who introduced a new range of machines and was, by 1950, exporting 250,000 models each year to the United States alone.

By 1955 the Pacully-Muller factory had toys driven by hand, battery and even mains electricity.

In 1970 a Mr Deskowski took over the firm but nine years later he saw it crumble, unable to compete with the mounting flow of cheap toy machines flooding the world's markets from factories in Japan.

The numbers given to various Muller machines by the manufacturer range from 0 to 70, but a close examination of promotional catalogues used by Peter Wilhelm in his Muller book suggests that numbers cannot be used to date machines as many were made over a 40-year period, some numbers appear to have been used out of sequence, and some models were dropped for certain periods and, at a later date, re-introduced.

It can be said with certainty that the first flat-toy machine was the number one. This was introduced in 1888 after the design was patented in London. The patent covered two distinct design features. The first was the innovative straight-link, hand-crank design and the other was for the walking presser foot.

"I must admit that until I looked at this patent I was not aware that these first machines had top feed and immediately I dug out a couple of examples of Muller No One from the MS collection. Of the three models I had access to, two were top feed. Close examination of the machines revealed that the cloth was worked towards the operator".

Peter Wilhelm reveals that such machines are not particularly rare but were certainly introduced before the more-conventional bottom-feed version of the No One. For the sake of avoiding confusion I'm calling the two varieties the 1A and 1B.

Catalogues show that the 1B was still being offered in 1940.

We've actually jumped a number, for in the 1910 catalogue a Model 0 appeared. This was also in production until 1940 and was probably a down-market model introduced in the early 1900s and given the 0 identification to "fit in" with the more sophisticated No 1.

GF then produced a range of Muller models from the MS collection aided by others fromJohn Brown, Les Coley, Diana Herbert and Bernard Williams, finding an example of most of the production range from numbers 0 to 26.

He made special mention of the art nouveaux No 6, the cast-iron nickel-plated machines which GF admitted was the only Muller than interested him.

Graham traditionally finishes his talks by discussing the collectability of various models in a range. This is what he had to say about Muller:

"Giving advice on Muller is difficult for me as the machines, with the exception of the No 6, do nothing for me at all. They don't have the mechanical crudity of some early toys nor the curiosity of odd-shaped American offerings. They are dull, efficient, well-made so whats.

But you all know I'm wrong. Mullers, like most other toys, are very collectable and getting more so every year. I find myself advising those who are looking to invest in sewing machines to go into good-condition toys. The 1,200 paid for a late Muller treadle shows the investment value's there but I'm not sure I under-stand it.

"So, what to look for? Treadles, obviously, and although none have yet come up in auction to give an indication of value, coloured cast-iron toys (there are three here from the MS collection) which are far rarer than treadles.  I  forecast crazy money the first time one of these is found in a sale room.Watch for the walking-foot No 1A. Unless it comes from a specialist dealer, it's likely to be no more expensive than any other flattie.

"Muller toys can still be found at most large antique markets and even the occasional boot fair.

"Don't forget that doll dealers often like to dress up their stalls with toy machines which can be bought".

During question time at the end of Graham's talk Martin Gregory suggested that the coloured machines were probably so rare because in the early years Japanning could only be done in black. GF confirmed that one of the MS machines with a chip in the red paintwork revealed that there was indeed black Japanning underneath and that the manufacturers would have had to have painted the machine twice, first with black and then with the finish colour, before applying the decorative transfers.