Sewing Machine Research
ISMACS International
International Sewing Machine Collectors' Society

Even More on Weir

Graham Forsdyke
Issue 49

MORE INFORMATION has come to light on Weir and the popular Canadian machines he imported and sold under his own name.

Source of the material is our old friend William Newton Wilson, first sewing-machine historian, who wrote a paper in 1894 about the evolution of the hand-crank machine.

Wilson insisted that 1866 - year of the original Black Friday in the City of London - saw the first practical hand-crank machines.

He acknowledged the earlier existence of the patented Grover & Baker but dismisses it as barely portable and as expensive as the average treadle machine.

The first practical hand cranks, says Wilson, appeared almost simultaneously in three forms.

First of these was the Judkins which fulfilled Wilson's criteria - a small, light, inexpensive hand-crank machine that could be clamped to a table and portable enough for it to be taken to the operator rather than the operator having to move to it.

"Very similar in size, form and action was the Raymond machine, made in Canada and introduced into this country by Mr James Galloway Weir who sold it under his own name.

"It was an exceedingly well-made little thing and getting introduced to one or two of the aristocracy who considered it quite sufficient for the use of their maids, it spread, particularly among ladies of rank, to a perfectly astonishing degree".

Although not really expanding on what he meant, Wilson wrote that "Weir's business was conducted under a veil of something like secrecy".

He reveals that  he started with a small office in High Holborn (news to this writer) and then moved to "a very commodious premises in Soho Square.

And Wilson, a fellow manufacturer who spent much of his money on fruitless legislation, had this to say about Weir's business acumen:

"At Carliese Street, Soho, the company was maintained for many years with great success so at least to enable Mr Weir to retire some years ago with a fortune estimated at 60,000."

He was in it long enough to witness its rise, its culmination and its decline; for like many other machines, the Weir passed through all these stages and when he retired the machine had become utterly unsellable. Wilson pointed out that Weir was just about the only Englishman (and he was a Scot) who was able to permanently retire with a fortune.

"Instead of wasting the profits already made as so many unfortunately had done in trying to resuscitate a falling business, he withdrew from the trade and all its conflicts.

Wilson, of course, then went on to describe the third of the portable machines which happened to be his own Queen Mab, patented on 14 February, 1866.

Modestly he described it: "It was much more important than the Judkins or the Weir. Resting on four feet on rubber cushions, it would stand on a table and remain firm without any clamping.

He described also the introduction of the Cleopatra, also a chain-stitch model, but with inverted teeth within the rim of the driving wheel doubling the 2:1 radio of the Mab.

Wilson maintained that the Cleopatra was copied all round the world. He issued some licences but did not bother to seek renewal of the gear drive when its patent expired in 1880.