Sewing Machine Research
ISMACS International
International Sewing Machine Collectors' Society

Smith & Egge

Otto Landgraf
Issue 42

Long-time ISMACS member and toy collector Otto Landgraff (who also wrote the Oldtimer Sewing Machines German book) sent us an article on the Smith & Egge company.

Although some of the information has already appeared in a past issue of Toy Stitchers, we welcome the opportunity to introduce this new research to a wider world-wide audience.

GF adds some comments at the end

WITH EACH new toy machine which enters my collection toy sewing machine, I first of all consult ISMACS News or the German journal Der Schlingenfanger in the hope of finding some information.

With the Little Comfort toy sewing machines I had little success. I couldn't even ascertain the manufacturer - Smith & Egge or the firm Wanamaker.

These series of models (I know of four different basic types) were not only delivered under the name Smith & Egge and Little Comfort, but also under the names: Little Comfort Improved, Smith & Egge Automatic; Automatic, Peerless Automatic, Perfection Automatic, John Wanamaker, Z A O Schwarz.

The marking Automatic refers to the Willcox & Gibbs looper system and to the automatic tension lifting after every stitch.

The most simple version of the Little Comfort series I would like to designate as LC No.1. It is an identical type to my Smith & Egge Automatic.

This little machine is dated 1901. On the cloth plate there are imprinted some patent dates for the years 1896 and 1897. The automatic tension lifting results from the raising of the lever screw. It is the same for all four models.

The Little Comfort machine No.2 is identical except for the drive which is by chain and allows the machines to be geared up 3:1.

Often these machines are found with the chain missing. If the chain becomes lose it can be tensioned by turning the eccentric driving wheel bolt after releasing the locking screw.

The cloth plate is substantially bigger than the cloth plate of the LC No.1. 

The label Little Comfort, which is screwed in the base, is easily removable facilitating a brand-name change.

What is really remarkable is the fact that the LC No.1 and LC No.2 have a variable-stitch regulator. This could also be an indication that this  midget sewing machine was not only intended as a toy.,

The Little Comfort No.3 - unfortunately I do not have it in my collection - has the same general dimensions as the 1 and 2 but features a true geared drive to increase performance.

In my opinion the great disadvantage of these three machines is the pedestal, which is too small. It is only possible to sew with these three machines after fastening them to the table.

Further improvements on LC No.4 are: New design; more space for the cloth to pass through; a bigger pedestal and an enlarged cloth plate.

It seems unlikely, but LC No.3, as well as LC No.4, were offered in advertising as household machines. In a press advertisement around 1910 you could read that this machine was not an experiment, but a perfect hand sewing machine. The complete price for it at this time was only $4.

The LC No.4 has, compared with its predecessors, important improvements, but  in no way is it a perfect domestic hand sewing machine. It is a miniature machine which was used mainly for small repairs.

What is interesting for collectors is the fact that Smith & Egge had in 1910 already produced more than 50,000 pieces. Thus the little Comfort is in no account rare.

In Europe today between 150 and 250 is usually charged for a machine of medium condition. Prices for miniature machines in better condition are correspondingly higher.                                                                  Otto Landgraff

GF Comments.

Egge on his face

AND NOW for an amusing note for Graham from Glenda Thomas. Yes, Texans do pronounce the E on the end of Egge.

"The firm of Smith & Egge was located in Connecticut, and I even checked with someone who lives near where its factory was located. He says they do pronounce the E on Egge, also.

You can joke with me all you like about my Texas accent, as my husband is one of the world's biggest teasers, and I am used to being teased about everything. My favourite people are those with a good sense of humour. .

GF Comments: I'm not convinced. There's no Egge in the Bridgeport Connecticut phone book but there are a couple of Howes and none of them pronounce the final E.

Im sure there must be some, but I cannot think of a single word where the final E, without support of an accent or similar, in pronounced.

All readers will be relieved to know that in a attempt to resolve this most important issue, I have written to the Professor of English at Harvard University (it's in Massachusetts, next door state to Connecticut).

I agree to abide by the academic decision unless it goes against me.



Gf adds some background

The formation of the Smith and Egge  Company came about in 1873 when William Smith, a former postmaster at Bridgepohrt, Connecticut and Frederick Egge got together to try to win a  United States Post Office Department contract to supply a new lock for post boxes.

In the perfect partnership, Smith invented the lock and Egge the key. The design was a winner and the company was born.,

 It was set up in Bridgeport Connecticut, close to the might Wheeler and Wilson factory which dominated the town.

The company develop[ed as a  as a specialist manufacturer of locks for sewing machine cabinets but soon expanded into making other sewing machine hardware .

Other lines included chains for sash windows and it was to promote this side of tne business that Smith arrived in England in 1891. He sep up the Auctmatic Chain Company in Birmingham and soon hac contracts in Mexico, Haiti, Chile and San Diomingo.

No sewing machines were produced in England and the last recorded Tue, Nov 16, 1993 for the company in Birmingham is 1900 although a history of Bridgeport written in 1937 suggests that the company was still operating in England.

It is possible that it was also responsible for producing some of the special tooling used in Wheeler and Wilson factory.

During the last decade of the 19th Century the company began producing a miniature sewing machine for the giant John Wannamaker store. This carried the Wannamaker name but later Smith and Egge used tits own name and sold in bulk to other retailers simply adding what ever name was required to the base casting.

All Wannamaker and Smith and Egge machines were sold as "adult" models and all advertisements and other literature stresses this.

In fact we could write off any suggestion of the machine ever being sold as a toy were it not for those few examples bearing the Schwarz label.

For Schwarz was New York's leading toy retailer in the early years of this century. It's reasonable to conjecture that after sales of the "adult" version ran down, surplus stocks were sold off to Schwarz to retail; as toys.

Another possibility is that the same thing happened on the introduction of the later, improved modeled to the general adult market.