Howe in France

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Howe in France


By Rijnko Fekkes

After the important American sewing machine companies had established their factories and were producing their machines, they were looking for interesting markets in the rest of the world to expand their production.

One of the countries with a promising potential was France with its colonies and entrance to the European continent.

WHEELER & WILSON and GROVER & BAKER joined in with Léon Say and Sautter in Paris in 1854 who established a first depot at Rue Lepeletier 10 in Paris. These companies also gave them a license to produce the machines. At the International Exhibition at Paris 1855 Léon Say already could expose Wheeler & Wilson and Grover & Baker machines and got two medals.

SINGER joined in with Charles Callebaut in 1855 and gave him a license to produce the Singer Nr. 2. The depot was at Rue Choiseul 6 in Paris. Callebaut had an impressive exposition with a large number of varied machines on the International Exhibition at Londen 1862.

WILLCOX & GIBBS joined in with Maximilian Carl Gritzner who established the first depot in Europe in 1861 at Boulevard de Sebastopol 82 in Paris. Gritzner got a license to manufacture Willcox & Gibbs system sewing machines in 1865. He exposed his machines on the International Exhibition at Paris 1867.

The other important company was HOWE. The Howe sewing machine company in New York, established by Amasa Bemis Howe in 1854, looks to have taken a different path. The first person with the qualification as representative / depotholder I could find was MOYSE MAYER in an advertisement in “Le Temps” Paris from 1863. Mayer announced he was the only depositaire in France and Belgique at the address Boulevard de Sebastopol 72. In 1862 he already had advertised in the Almanach du commerce with sewing machines de L’Amérique, “ Maison Howe de New York “ at the address Boulevard Sebastopol 82.

Mayer was quite an active inventor and manufacturer in the 1850’s and 1860’s. Concerning sewing machines he had got patents with additional certificats in 1856 (nr.30321) and in 1857 (nr.34674), and a patent without additional certificats in 1861 (nr.49631), all for improvements in sewing machines.

It is plausible that Mayer, being already a manufacturer some years, also has asked Howe for a license to manufacture Howe system machines, but the Howe sewing machine company evidently decided not to do so. Mayer stayed as depotholder for Howe then with the exclusive right to sell Howe sewing machines in France, made in the New York factory.

Mayer went on manufacturing sewing machines. I noticed him exposing his sewing machines at the International exhibition at Paris 1867 , the Exposition maritime internationale du Havre 1868 and the Exposition universelle et internationale de Lyon 1872. At the International exhibition of household and business objects at Amsterdam 1869 he exposed as agent the sewing machines of A.B.Howe and of Plaz et Rexroth.

In 1868 he got, together with Deshayes, another patent nr. 81249, for a sewing-and embroidering machine, called Couso Brodeur, making multiple crochet stitches and a continious twist.

I found an advertisement in ” Le Constitutionel “ from 2.5.1865 where ANDRÉ et FONTAINE advertised the “ Veritable Machine Américaine Elias Howe Jr. “ They sold them in their maison speciale de ces machines, Boulevard Sebastopol 48. The firm was registered at the address Rue Montorgueil 98 (the homeaddress of Victor André). The machines of which they had the agency were the sewing machines made by Elias Howe and his sons in law the Stockwell Brothers, in their set up factory of the Howe Machine Co. at Bridgeport, Connecticut. In “ Le Constitutionel “ from 6.2.1866 they were mentioned as the only agents for these machines in France. In this advertisement the brass trademark medallion with the portrait of Elias Howe was published for the first time and the public was warned that only machines with this mark were original. It is remarkable that the trademark-medallion in this advertisement indicates that this trademark was not put on the Howe sewing machines by the Stockwell brothers after Elias Howes death in 1867 but that this medallion already was used a year earlier before his death.

The initials of Victor André & Francois Fontaine “ V.A. & F.F “, placed within an oval with the text “ A L’union Americaine progrès & bonne foi “ ( to the American union progress & good faith ) on top and “ Seule Elias Howe veritable “ ( Only genuine Elias Howe “ ) at the bottom, with a drawing of a hand shake inside this text, were put on a slideplate of each sewing machine.

I could not find indications that Victor and Francois achieved getting a license for manufacturing Howe system machines from Elias Howe. but all the same they could use their constructingskills in inventing some improvements applied to sewing machines. They owned a factory at Rue Neuve-Chaussée 105, Boulogne-sur-Mer.

Both were registered with their names for the following patents:

nr. 80097, 24.3.1868, for a universal edging guide applicable on sewing machines.

Nr. 84944, 24.3.1869, for a universal needle insertion guide for sewing machines.

Nr. 87657, 20.10.1869, for a variable movement system instantaneous applied to sewing machines.

It is, of course, possible Victor and Francois were not interested in constructing Howe system machines and haven’t asked Elias Howe for a license.

In 1872 the name in advertisements was changed and “ Vor André ” was mentioned as the only agent of Howe. Francois Fontaine had left 1870 to begin a firm selling sewing machines of the Howe Machine co. at Berlin. Remarkable is that the “ V.A. & F.F.” initials in the oval trademark still remained for many years on. The first one with only V.A. I saw was in an 1884 advertisement. Possibly there still had been a business relation between the two. It even cannot be ruled out that Victor supplied Francois in Berlin with Howe sewing machines.

The Howe sewing machines were exposed on many exhibitions and these were always highly regarded.

In France the Howe Sewing Machine Company got medals on expositions at Nantes, Bordeaux, Paris, Nimes, Troyes and Besancon. The Howe machine company exposed at the International Exhibitions at Paris in 1867 ,(la croix d’honneur/medaille d’or), at Beauvais 1869 (diplome d’honneur), Lyon in 1872, (grand prix/diplome d’honneur) and in 1878 and 1889 Paris again. Also Howe sewing machines were exposed of course in other countries, for example at the London exhibition in 1862 by the Howe Sewing Machine Company and at Vienna in 1873 by the Howe Machine Company, where a high award “la croix de l’orde imperial de Franz-Joseph” was received. A majority of the German manufacturers at this exhibition used the Howe system in their exposed sewing machines.

French patents which were granted to “Howe” were:

Nr. 23504, 16.5.1855, to Howe, for sewing machines and improvements related to them.

Nr. 47860, 11.04.1860, to Howe, Elias, for improvements applied to sewing machines.

Nr. 60972, 25.11.1863 to Howe, for improvements applied to sewing machines.

Nr. 66967, 11.04.1865 to Howe for improvemenst applied to sewing machines.

Nr. 71145, 6.04.1866 to Howe for improvements applied to sewing machines.

Nr. 72193, 5.07.1866 to Howe for improvements in sewing machines.

In 1870 the French Howe patent from 16.5.1855 had expired. The Howe machines were very succesful and the name Elias Howe was very appealing. Manufacturers and wholesalers which were offering Howe system sewing machines increased substantially. Some of them, even without permission, used the Howe trademark and put the name Howe on the manufactured machines. It was often unknown who made these machines. The Howe system was widly used by German sewing machine factories, which also operated on the French market. Howe had to start several lawsuits to undo the misuse of its name. For instance a lawsuit can be mentioned from the Howe Machine Company Ltd., Boulevard Sebastopol 48, against Maquaire, Onfray and Thabourin, which led to a judgment of the Tribunal correctionnel de la Seine on 13.8.1875, confirmed by the Cour de cassation on 18.11.1876, and cost these three a large sum of compensation. Also all the confiscated machines were handed over to Howe as an additional compensation. The same happened two years later in a lawsuit against a German company, Grimme (Natalis).

Advertisers offering Howe system machines I noticed in the 1870’s were Barriquand et fils, Martougen, Thabourin, Maquaire, Brion, Ricbourg, Onfray, Goodwin and several other smaller firms. I also found Moyse Mayer again advertising in 1870 as brancheaddress of “ La Maison Howe de New York “. He also offered Willcox & Gibbs and Wheeler & Wilson system machines, probably made by him. Howe machines were also sold by retailers in nearly every larger city in France.

In 1873, after the Stockwell brothers (Howe Machine Company) had taken over the Howe Sewing Machine Company, a new factory at Bridgeton (Glasgow) had been set up, which manufactured for the European market and eastern hemisphere generally.

Next to Victor Andrè, as seul agent général, A.(Albert) Ricbourg , a manufacturer, established in 1855 (exposed his machines on the International Exhibitions at Paris 1867 and 1878) and wholesaler of several sewing machine marks, Boulevard Sebastopol 20, advertised as “special agent of the Howe company” in the years 1870, 80 and 90´s. Most times separately from his other advertisements and with the Howe Machine Company medallion. He also advertised then with wholesale and export of Howe machines. From 1901 to 1906 only small advertisements appeared with “Howe machines originales, agence générale, A.Ricbourg, directeur “. In 1906 etablissement A.Ricbourg was taken over by A.Rogalle & Cie., agency of New Home sewing machines, Rue de Rueilly 123. One can say A.Ricbourg has also made a significant contribution all these decades to the spread of Howe sewing machines.

Victor André was seul agent général pour la France et colonies of Howe, but in 1885 also operated as “ Only general agent of American Davis sewing machines ” (agency taken over from A.Ricbourg). The sale of Howe machines had declined and he had found it necessary to start an addional way of income. The competition with other and better mass produced, cheaper, sewing machines from mainly Germany, but also machines from America, could have been the cause of this.

In 1886 in America the Howe Machine Company was re-established as the NEW HOWE MANUFACTURING COMPANY. In 1887 the New Howe Manufacturing company, Bridgeport, Connecticut, occupied a part of the in 1886 closed works of the Howe Sewing Machine company and made in february that year a start up with 200 men making sewing machines and other machinery.

The independent factory of the Howe Machine Company Ltd. at Bridgeton (Glasgow), making sewing machines, bicycles/tricycles and electro-motors, closed in december 1887. Offers by means of a sale by tender could be made before december 20, 1887. A new start up was made in 1889 by new owners Firmin Mignot (agent general for genuine Howe sewing machines in Holland and Belgium) and Francois Fontaine ( known as the former business-partner of Victor André and retailer of Howe sewing machines at Berlin). The name became HOWE MACHINE COMPANY AT BRIDGETON, GLASGOW. In an advertisement in the Journal of domestique appliances from 1891 however appeared the name New Howe Machine Co., Bridgeton, Glasgow. Already after two years the company had been taken over. The NEW HOWE MACHINE COMPANY was established and made a new start concentrating on the production of bicycles/tricycles, which was very succesful. They were highly regarded and sold all over the world. Even the shah of Persia had a weakness for the New Howe types and ordered a special made front steering tricycle in 1894. Also large numbers went to France.

Victor André died in 1892. Advertisements for Davis and Howe sewing machines still carried his name until 1896. In 1896 the street directories entries for “ Vor André “ became “ L.André et Cie.”, Louis André a son of Victor, who kept both the agencies.

By 1899 Louis still advertised as “Maison Elias Howe “, Boulevard Sebastopol 48 and entrepôt central of Davis sewing machines at Rue Quincampoix 101.

In 1902 next to L.André et Cie. as sole Maison Elias Howe, Boulevard Sebastopol 48 and depot central of Davis, Rue Quincampoix 101, there appeared an advertisement of G.André (Georges his brother), Boulevard Sebastopol 48, as only depotholder for France and colonies.

In 1903 André, G. advertised as the sole depotholder of Howe, at Boulevard Sebastopol 48, still with the original Elias Howe New York medallion, trademark of the Howe Machine Company. Obviously Georges had taken over the management of Howe machines and only he advertised them from then on. André, Louis et Cie. managed the general agency of the Davis sewing machines at the address Quincampoix 101 and advertised separately.

By 1904 André, Georges, seul depot pour la France et les colonies Elias Howe , Boulevard Sebastopol 48, used a new trademark-medallion with the portrait of Elias Howe jr., and the text “ Elias Howe Jr.” on top and “ registered trade mark ” at the bottom. Also the text “seul agent et propriètaire de la marque” (only agent and owner of the mark) was added. So in 1903 Georges had registered the new trademark on his name. As the Howe Machine Company was disbanded and could no longer supply the sewing machines, he had to get them from elswhere. Following the family tradition, loyal to the mark, he continued with the brandname “Elias Howe”. Also a new trademark medallion was choosen, looking very much like the original one. Possibly because of the familiair and trustworthy name “ seul agent général Howe “, which the family had used since the 1860’s, George kept this in his advertisements, although there was no Howe company anymore to be agent of. He claimed after all being the owner of this mark himself. Where these sewing machines were made is an interesting question, which yet has to be answered. Possibly they came from the factory from which André and Fontaine were the owners in the 1860’s; Rue Neuve-Chaussée 105, Boulogne-sur-Mer.

In 1905 Georges André, advertised as sole agency for Elias Howe at Boulevard de Picpus 15. E.Douchin was appointed as special agent for Paris, Boulevard Sebastopol 48.

At the Exposition Universelle de l’ouest de la France at Nancy in 1909, Georges André exposed  his “ Elias Howe “ sewing machines. He received a medaille d’argent (silver medal) for them. He also attended the Expositions de l’ouest de la France at Le Mans and du Nord de la France at Roubaix in 1911, where he got “ Diplomes d’honneur “. The  last time original  Howe company machines were exposed was at the Exposition Universelle in 1889 at Paris, where the “ Howe Machine Company at Glasgow, Avenuestreet, Bridgeton “, showed “ sewing machines and accessories “ . As Georges André was admitted to the  exhibitions and was rewarded for his machines on his own name, this indicates that he was acknowledged as the owner/producer of the exposed machines and there was no manufacturing company with the right of this qualification involved, which otherwise had  to be mentioned..

At the outbreak of the first World War in 1914, André, Georges, was still advertising as “ seule agence pour la France et les colonies des machines a coudre “ Elias Howe “, Boulevard de Picpus 15.

From 1921 to 1928 the street directories still listed “André, Georges, agence générale des machines a coudre Elias Howe, seul depôt pour la France et les colonies, Boulevard de Picpus 15 “.

By 1934 the “Journal des machines a coudre” listed George André under recommended trading houses as “ Seul agent général de machines a coudre Elias Howe “, Boulevard Picpus 15. This listing was continued until the beginning of the second world war in 1939. I could not find him after that time anymore so I think there ended the longtime bond between the André family name and the Elias Howe name.

RF. 19.3.2021/ updated 27.12.2021.