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Our Favorite Reasons to Read the Sewing Machine Times

Posted by James Wolfensberger on

I can't stop pouring over The Sewing Machine Times, an industry trade paper published from 1882 to 1924.

For the history enthusiast, I daresay this paper is required reading. There is so much information to gather - and it's terribly amusing to contrast the style of business and marketing of 100 years ago versus today.

Here's what we love about The Sewing Machine Times.

What, People Actually Read Paragraphs?

The paper is dense with text. I mean, just look at this typical page below! I can't get people to read an email paragraph. I love thinking of a time when information was absorbed in a more leisurely and meaningful manner. I imagine a time when the professional could take quality time without being pinged constantly via email, text, newsfeed, tweets, etc. (Not that I don't admit I love my gadgets and broadband.)

But the Language Was So Tortuous! (Yet Sometimes Swell!)

Uh oh. Maybe those articles were so verbose because the written English of the times could be convoluted, even exhausting (much like my own). This ad speaks - um - volumes. "Its unique construction gives it the right of way in supplying the demand for a swell Sewing Machine."

Tweeted today: Great machine, easy to sell! #success #easy #whitesewingmachine #resellers

A Dollar We Can't Win

Well, even if we knew the answer, we can't find the online entry form.


Frank bit the hand that fed him.

Machine salesmen would deviate from the manufacturers' sales and credit policies to their own advantage, or just downright swindle folks. And sometimes agents apparently took one another to the wood shed to settle territory disputes. "The Fur Flew... it took half a column in the newspaper to describe the fight." I can't find the fight on YouTube so I might have to dig for that newspaper article.

And I just learned a new word: defalcation. The $600 this "bad man from away back" defalcated would be worth about $15,000 today. I mean come on, you could buy a longarm with that.

Products We Would Never Have Imagined

... Like this high-tech fan just right there totally integrated with your machine! The air conditioner in my wife's sewing studio has a stupid remote control that you have to reach for. Pfft. Oh, to be alive in 1910.

Seriously, They Know!

Vintage sewing machine ads are known to be a bit creepy at times, but this is downright ominous.

See?!? They Knew They Knew Because They Knew That They Were Deceiving Customers

Beautiful Illustrations of the Products They Were Watching People Buy and Sell, Because Seriously, They Knew

Whew. These last two were some pretty long section titles. Thankfully these images speak for themselves.

A sewing machine wagon:


Behold! The treadle perched mightily upon the globe, which itself has been marked with not one, but four U.S. flags. The best on earth! Suck on that Isaac Singer!

Tales of Blood & Terror

Just read 'em. You'll see.

Jokes Only a Great-Great-Great Grandmother Would Love

If you laugh at this, I want you to start putting down your Reader's Digest after dinner and pay more attention to Twitter. I wondered for a moment how to make the joke below funnier. I failed.

Speaking of Oil

Save the whales? Or is this something you freeze at a clinic?

The Case for Electrified Motors

A letter to the editor begging the question, "Why the hell can't I find a sewing machine with a motor?" Do you think Ellery would have ever guessed that 100 years in the future, a lovely handcrank or treadle would be coveted by tens of thousands of collectors?

Great Ideas for Better Living

"Turn drudgery into pastime." With sewing being less of a required domestic skill since the 1970s, enthusiasts today probably consider sewing a rewarding pleasure. The women of 100 years ago? Not so much. But this angel saved the day with the advent of a rotary hook and ball bearings. And to think I complain about my cell phone, for Pete's sake. I'm ashamed.

Now What?

OK, my wife thinks I've been doing, like, real work at home today. I just spent five hours compiling this article to brighten my - oops, I mean your day. So if you enjoyed it, I'm going to ask you to choose one of these things to check out if you can spare the time.

  • The VSM Collectors Survey - We have over 600 respondents and we're learning a lot about our VSM (Vintage Sewing Machine) community. We hope to reach 1,000 surveys before reporting the results. Take just a few minutes to share your thoughts on VSM collecting.
  • Our Still Stitching Documentary - It's the only feature-length film of its kind, and the reviews and feedback have been awesome. Some tell us they've watched it repeatedly. It stars a number of personalities from the VSM community.
  • Do you love fabric? Read about the as-yet unseen Hoffman Fabric to be featured in our August Quilter's Stash Box.

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  • Just a comment on the sperm oil ad. I got a White VS treadle machine this week, dated to 1889-1892 and the only manual I could download recommended using “only the finest sperm oil” for lubricating. I knew the oil from sperm whales was a “thing” back in the day but this week was the first time I’ve ever read a very specific use for it. Kinda makes me wonder if that’s part of the brown gunk I’m trying to clean off the machine head.

    Amelia Larson on

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