Comments on Cheap Machines

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(extracts from the 1886 trade press)

From: The Sewing Machine & Cycle News November 27, 1886

At 17, Great St. Helens, E.C., the offices of The "Frieda" Sewing-Machine Agency, we last week inspected a new sewing-machine of the cheap variety. Our readers will be able to gain a very fair idea of its appearance from the illustration in our columns elsewhere which gives a bona fide likeness of the little machine and is not exaggerated like some of these blocks unfortunately are.

As we often stated these cheap machines can never hope to compete with patterns of established and deservedly high reputation and which are necessarily sold at a higher price. But as toys for children and implements on which young beginners at machine work can gain a deal of useful knowledge and experience, they are very welcome on the market, while the nominal price at which they are retailed will always make them popular with a wide section of the public.


There are some "cheap" machines about now which we can only describe as "cheap and nasty", and dear at any price. We recently referred to such "catch-pennies" in rather strong but quite fair language.

Happily the new "Frieda" machine does not partake of any of these objectionable drawbacks and is really a capital little instrument and well worth the price it is sold at. We have examined it very carefully and find it well made and finished. The parts are put together strongly, the action is simple and effective and likely to wear well, while a capital arrangement is provided to effect a proper adjustment of the stitches. Very properly we think the stitch used is a very simple chain, which is far less liable to get out of order than a lock-stitch, this being easily explained when the smallness of the machine is considered.

The "Frieda" is put up in a neat wooden box, and delivered free anywhere in the United Kingdom, with a clamp (to affix to a table) screw-driver, extra needle and oil can.

From: The Sewing Machine & Cycle News, Dec 4, 1886


There promises to be quite a fight for popularity among what may be termed the cheap machines in the market, that is, those whose purchase-price is the modest half-guinea.

As we have already noted, ten shillings cannot be supposed to rival those which cost nearly as many guineas, but they may be none the less admirable in their own way and for the purposes claimed for them. These objects may not embrace great variety, but what they do they may do sufficiently well, and even prove remunerative investments at their price. The "Half Guinea" sewing-machine of E. Thomas and Co. of the Strand, is one of those which deserves attention on the grounds of merit claimed for it, and that the firm have sufficient enterprise to give this machine a fair chance seems denoted by the fact they they have just announced their intention to give prizes of 10 pds, 5 pds, 2 pds 10s, and 1 pd for the best work done on this little machine by their "own customers." The idea is, of course, not a new one, but it is laudable, and shows a desire to advertise their machine chiefly by whatever intrinsic merits it may have.

From: The Sewing Machine & Cycle News, Dec 25, 1886


Many of our readers are acquainted with the virtues and the good qualities of the various dyes and other preparations which are so extensively bought by the public from Messrs. Daniel Judson Ltd, of Southwark Street, SE.

This it may be said, has very little to do with sewing-machines, but we mention the fact as a sort of introduction to the firm, who have recently placed on the market a little cheap sewing-machine which, a week ago, we had the pleasure of inspecting.

This instrument is really an interesting one, and the illustration we print of it elsewhere very fairly depicts its general appearance. With the exception of the needle, a small spring, a cam, and the rod and handle (one piece), all the parts are of stamped brass, which being lacquered, present a most stylish and unique appearance. The instrument is affixed to the table or other convenient surface by means of a clamp in the usual way with cheap machines.

We tried it and carefully examined it at Messrs. Judson's, and found it capable of making a good chainstitch of orthodox style. The looper is well made and nicely adjusted, and there is no reason whatever why excellent stitching should not be got out of the machine as long as ever it will last. At the price sold it is really a marvel, and we have little doubt that a great number of these latest "wonders" will find their way into the market.

  • * *

Speaking of cheap machines, here let us have it once more distinctly understood that in cricitising these articles as we find them, we are not in any sense desirous of parading them before the public as perfect sewing machines, capable of doing the work of a family. If the confiding Briton, of either sex, purchases a cheap machine with the idea that he is doing a very clever thing and effecting a saving of some 4 pds or 5 pds, he will soon find out his mistake.

Cheap Machines in America in 1880

We often hear people talk about the cheap sewing machines of the different European countries and compare them with the prices at which these articles are sold in this country. Those who have been acquainted with the sewing machine trade in this country for a number of years can recollect the time when the United States was the very paradise of the cheap sewing machine.

All the old members of the craft can remember the omnium gatherum of such contrivances with which we were once favored, such as the "Common Sense," "New England," "Boudoir," "Pearl," "Globe," "Buckeye," "Green Mountain," and plenty more of the same stamp. These were nothing more or less than a lot of trash; but worthless as they were in themselves for the purposes of sewing, the played an important part in swelling up to its present proportions.
Courtesy of Linda Scholten

At the time when these inferior sewing machines were offered for sale, the sewing machine was not very well understood by the people generally. In fact, the great majority of ladies looked upon these articles with a great deal of suspicion, for various reasons; and as the price of first-class sewing machines was high, the difficulties in the way of doing an extensive trade were many. It was just here that the cheap and worthless class of sewing machines, such as those mentioned above, took the place of the wedge, as it were, to open the way for those of greater merit.

People were induced to buy them, simply because they cost but little, and that therefore if the sewing machine was a humbug, as many supposed, but little money would be lost in trying the experiment. As soon as the cheap sewing machine had been purchased, its use was tested, and these cheap machines would sew just enough to convince people that a good sewing machine was very desirable. They soon found that these cheap machines were imperfect but were easily persuaded that the high-priced ones were all that was claimed for them, and they purchased and paid the full price for them without hesitation.

The cheap sewing machine has now passed away from us as an article of trade, although the employees of sewing machines companies can often be seen bringing them into the office from places they have done duty as "kids" and as they are now generally saluted with the sledge hammer and consigned to the scrap heap as soon as they come into the possession of any well-regulated company, their almost entire disappearance may be looked for before long.