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Charles Berthier


By Rijnko Fekkes

The arrival of the in America invented sewing machines like Grover & Baker, Wheeler & Wilson, Singer and Howe ment a big demand for these useful machines in France. They were not only offered by the sewing machine companies and agents of them, but also French investors and mechanics hurried to take part of this booming business. A lot of French mechanics designed and manufactured sewing machines based on the American invented systems. They had most times to achieve a license from the patentholders, but often they manufactured machines with only minor modifications to their design to avoid paying for a license. A lot of succesful lawsuits from American companies and/or licenseholders followed then in the 1850´s, 60’, and 70’ ties’.

One of the Frenchmen who also wanted to take part of the promising business was Charles Berthier, an engineer and manufacturer, watchmaker and maker of precision instruments. He turned to sewing machines in 1862.

The first advertisement of him I have found was in the “ Revue Industrielle “ for 1.1.1863 where he offered improved sewing machines. In “ Le Temps “ for 5.3.1863 he was offering improved sewing machines and all kind of sewing accessories.

Maison “Berthier (Ch) et Cie” was located at the address Rue Faubourg-du-temple 129 at Paris. He started energetically. In the late 1860´s he had 150 employees at work. He could manufacture sewing machines with the use of a steam engine as power source. He made complete sewing machines from the casting to the final painting. They were designed for all kinds of purposes. He supplied dealers and retailers in many other cities in France and also abroad. Alas is not known how many machines he has produced over the years.

Charles did take out some patents in France.

Nr.68864, 28.9.1865, to Berthier et Cie., Rue de Faubourg-Poisonnière 35, Seine, for improvements in sewing machines. An additional cerificate was given on 1.5.1867.

Nr. 93538, 17.11.1871, to Berthier, Rue de Montreuil 82,Seine, for a new sewing machine.

Charles also attended several (international) exhibitions.

Exposition universelle at Paris 1867: Ch.Berthier et Cie, Boulevard du Prince-Eugène 257, exposed on stand 26 with sewing machines and on stand 57 with designs of varied types of sewing machines. He got a mention honorable.

Exposition de la marine et du commerce du Havre 1868: Ch.Berthier et Cie, Boulevard du Prince-Eugène 257, showed five varied sewing machines for couture, light and heavy fabrics and leather. Also a sewing machine in a beautifully crafted cabinet was on display. A bronze medal was awarded. Exposition industrielle at Beauvais 1869: Berthier (Ch) et cie., Boulevard du Prince-Eugène 275, exposed a sewing machine. A silver medal first class was awarded.

Exposition international at Altona, Germany 1869: Charles Berthier was honored te be named as the president of the French commission of this exposition. He received a golden medal awarded to the collective industry of France and her colonies by the international jury of the exposition. They unanimously had decided that again on this exposition the products of France and her colonies continuetly had maintained their well-deserved reputation.

Exposition universelle et internationale de Lyon 1872: Berthier (Ch) et comp., Rue de Montreuil 82, exposed sewing machines. A silver medal was awarded ( handed over to the newly formed Société générale des machines a coudre).

Exposition universelle et internationale de Paris 1878: Berthier,C. et Cie., Aunay-sous-Crécy (Eure-et-Loir) attended this exposition with sewing machines. He exposed in groupe VI, classe 58, but was not awarded with a medal or mention honorable. He also exposed in groupe IV, classe 37, for hosiery and lingerie and got a silver medal in that group.

Probably due to a financial necessity, by 21.10.1869 Charles had changed his business setup in a Société en commendite par actions (a partnership limited by shares), having for object the manufacturing and selling of sewing machines. This however didn´t work out well and ended in a failure. The shareholders anonymously dicided 10.5.1872 to dissolve the Société. The tribunal de commerce de la Seine declared the Société bankrupt on 27.9.1872. A new Société had already been formed on 29.5.1872 and was named the SOCIÉTÉ GENERAL DES MACHINES A COUDRE. All assets belonging to the former Société Ch.Berthier et Cie. were taken over, equipment, clientele, marchandise, models and trademark. Even patent nr. 93538, from 17.11.1871 was transferred to the new Société. The patent assignment was registrated on 9.8.1872 with the secretariat de la prefecture du departement de la Seine and confirmed 6.6.1873 by the ministery. In the “Journal officiel de la Republique Francaise “ for 4.10.1872 the Société générale published that they had nothing to do with Charles Berthier et Cie anymore and had bought and used the brevèts , machines and trademark.

In the street directories for 1870 the sales outlet of Berthier had been displayed at Boulevard du Prince-Eugène 257 and Rue de Montreuil 82.

In 1871 Boulevard Voltaire 257 et Rue de Montreuil 82.The street directories for 1873 showed no Ch. Berthier anymore. In stead of him the Société generale anonyme des machines a coudre advertised with “machines a coudre “ (sewing machines). Rue de Montreuil 82 was mentioned as its usine et magazines (factory and warehouses) address. The Société itself was housed at Voltaire 257 and Rue de Montreuil 82.

By 1875 the street directories published an advertisement of Berthier(Ch) et Cie, with the text: Usine près la gare d’Aunay-Treon (Eure-et-Loir), depot a Paris, Richelieu 1. So Charles Berthier had started with a new sewing machine factory and depot elswere exclusively for his own.

The same text appeared again for Charles Berthier in 1876. For the Société was announced : “Société générale des machines a coudre, anonyme au capital de 1 million. Machines a coudre Berthier. Ateliers de construction mecanique et magasins de vente ( mechanical construction workshops and sales stores), Rue de Montreuil 82”.

From that year on the Société was only mentioned in the street directories (under the heading sewing machines), at the address Rue de Montreuil 82 without any addition or advertisement until 1888. So it looks like the main activity was supplying sewing machines to dealers and retailers.

In 1878 a short announcement appeared : Berthier (Ch) et Cie. Echelle 2. No addition.

By 1880 a new name entered the street directories: BEAURY, Seul depot Berthier, Rue Richelieu 42. This announcement was continued until 1891. In 1888, 1889 and 1890 also was added: Ancienne maison Berthier, Rue de Richelieu 1. Beaury was already familiar with the sewing machine business and had a company earlier, a couple of years, with Ducrot until 1876.

That Beaury had taken back to the former depot of Charles Berthier mentioned in 1875 (Rue de Richelieu 1) and Charles had moved in 1878 to Echelle 2, would mean, that Beaury had taken over the sewing machine business from Charles. This is reinforced by the fact that Charles Berthier was declared bankrupt by the court on 25.2.1880.

Beaury too only could have delivered “Berthier” sewing machines without the registered trademark, which had become the property of the Société générale. That would explain why Berthier sewing machines often turn up in collections without the original Berthier messing trademarkplate. They show only a messing retailers nameplate on the face-side or a retailers name stamped in a slideplate then. Curiously enough often these turned up in the Bordeaux region sold by Milliac, Tschiemer or Brunet.

The Société générale was not mentioned in the street directories anymore until an advertisement was published in 1888 in which the “ Société générale des machines a coudre (Ch.Berthier et Cie.)” introduced seule maison (only trading house ) A.RICBOURG, Boulevard de Sebastopol 20.

From 1889 on Ricbourg advertised (with the original Berthier trademark) as seul propiétaire des brevets et marque de Berthier. (sole owner of the patents and trademark of Berthier), Boulevard de Sebastopol 20. So obviously the Société générale des machines a coudre had stepped down as seller of Berthier sewing machines. Ricbourg had become the director of the Société. The manufacturing of sewing machines had moved to Rue Quincampoix. The Société had left the sales management to Ricbourg, who was mainly a wholesaler and retailer at that time. He was already a succesful agent of several other brands Howe, Singer, Wheeler & Wilson and Willcox & Gibbs.

By 1890 “ Berthier (Ch), A.Ricbourg “, was located at Rue de la Reynie 20 and Boulevard de Sebastopol 20. Later in 1903 only one (new) address was published: Rue de Reuilly 123.

For 1891 Beaury was only mentioned with his address in the street directories. No Berthier name was added. In the “ Archives commerciales de la France ” for 5.3.1885 had already been published the dissolution of A.Beaury et Cie., Rue de Richelieu 43, incoming 1.1.1885. So obviously he too had struggled to sell Berthier machines and had to end his company. He did however not stop selling sewing machines as he stayed only with his address under the heading sewing machines in the street directories until 1906. Then it turned out that Beaury was still in business with other brands, as in an advertisement for 1907 Beaury (A) offered: “ La Silencieuse “ and other sewing machines.

In 1906 A. Rogalle et Cie. had taken over A.Ricbourg. He announced in the street directories for 1907 that A.Ricbourg , Rue de Reuilly 123 “ la plus ancienne et la plus importante maison de France” (the oldest and most important trading house of France) had become his property. “Berthier” machines were no longer mentioned. Only New Home Standard sewing machines were offered.

So it looks Berthier sewing machine production and selling had come to an end. That was not surprising as we know the French sewing machine manufacturing industry had declined already some decades, mainly because it couldn´t compete with the foreign brands. Also from this historical overview appears again how difficult it often was for a French sewing machine manufacturer from the early days, like Charles Berthier, to keep standing between the heavy foreign competition over the years. Many of them with a big success and promising prospects in the beginning had to quit. Charles even was declared bankrupt twice.

Happily a lot of nice French sewing machines, several with beautiful mother of perl inlay, have survived and can be found and admired in museums and sewing machine collections nowadays. I think the Berthier sewing machine with the design of the machineframe looking like the shape of a tulip, also has a nice appearance and is an asset for a sewing machine collection.