Willcox & Gibbs in France

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By Rijnko Fekkes

The introduction of Willcox & Gibbs sewing machines in France has started in 1861 by Maximilian Carl Gritzner who came to Paris from the U.S.A. and established a depot “M.C.Gritzner et Cie“, (the first in Europe) on Boulevard de Sebastopol 82.

Gritzner did improve the working of the machine and also designed various accessories and mecanical applications for sewing machine systems. He did so with the help of engineer Emile Cornely. The first patent granted to Gritzner, Rue de Faubourg-Saint-Martin 39, was nr. 64514, from 21.9.1864, for improvements on sewing machines. After patents in 1864 and 1865 for accessories and applications on sewing machines, Gritzner and Cornely together took patent nr. 71272, from 18.4.1866, for improvements on sewing machines. Additional certificate on 15.3.1867. Gritzner had got a concession to manufacture Willcox & Gibbs system machines in 1865. Many cities in France purchased these machines already in 1865 and 1866 to let them circulate on schools; they found them easy to use and of reliable quality.

Patents later granted only to Cornely were:

Nr. 75485, 15.3.1867 to Cornely, Rue Faubourg-Saint-Martin 39, for improvements in sewing machines system Willcox & Gibbs.

Nr. 76132, 20.4.1867, for improvements on sewing machines system W&G.

Nr. 76982, 2.7.1867, for improvements on sewing machines system W&G (Additional certificate 26.1.1868).

Also in 1867 the W&G company had by act from 22.8.1867 deposited the G shape of their machines (G after Gibbs name) at the Industrial Tribunal and the trademark with the G shape machine at the registry of the “Tribunal de commerce de la Seine”.

Separately Cornely was working on the production of the embroidery-machine “ Couso Brodeur”, patented by Bonnaz in 1863, in a factory at Rue Barbanègre 5 in Paris. Cornely had purchased the patentrights for this machine from Hurtu & Hautin. He completed this machine in 1865. Cornely was granted patent Nr. 89089, 3.3.1870, for an application for an automatic movement on this Couso-Brodeur and patent nr. 90680, 14.7.1870, for improvements on this machine, with an addional certificate on 26.1.1872. He also got more patents and in other countries for further improvements. Remarkable fact is that Antoine Bonnaz was granted a US patent on 10.11.1868,nr. 83910 as representative of Emile Cornely for a sewing machine for embroidery. So these men kept working together on this machine.

Around December 1869 Gritzner had left the business to return to the USA. Cornely was the successor of “La Maison Gritzner” and was appointed as the depotholder and general agent for the entire France of the Willcox & Gibbs company. When he had taken over the business he also offered the “Machines Couso-Brodeur, système Bonnaz”. In an advertisement from 1870 he offered these machines next to the Willcox & Gibbs machines and also buttonhole machines.

Cornely stayed at this address Boulevard de Sebastopol 82 until 1885 and then moved to Rue du Faubourg St.Denis 87. In 1887 the sons of Cornely (Emile and Robert), had officially entered the firm; the name was changed to “E.Cornely (& Fils)”.

Around 1890 the agency obviously was withdrawn by the Willcox & Gibbs Company as the advertisements for the W&G-New York machines were no longer placed by Cornely but by the American company herself. Possibly by the success of the Couso-Brodeur machines Cornely had given priority to these and other machines made by him and the sales figures of the W & G New York machines were disappointing for the W&G company. Low sales figures could also have been caused by the large import of cheaper German W&G sewing machine copies and lookalikes.

In the meantime the W&G company was granted several French patents, amoung other nr. 180408 from 21.12.1886 for a shuttle sewing machine, nr.181.217 from 29.1.1887, for a mecanical sewing devise to make strawhats and nr. 180.408 from 2.5.1887, for improvements in sewing machines. Further patents followed over the years. I also found a patent nr.112521 from 21.4.1876, additional certificat 25.7.1876, granted to E.Cornely for improvements on W&G sewing machines. Previously patents for improvements were already separately granted to Gibbs in 1857 ( nr. 30535 from 16.1.1857 and nr.33123 from 29.7.1857, additional certificates on 21.10.1858 and 19.4.1861) and also many in the 1860’s and 1870’s to Willcox, for improvements and for accessories/applications to sewing machines; often referring to existing English patents.

“ E.Cornely (& Fils)” could no longer call themselves general agent of the W&G company and so only advertised in 1891 as constructeurs (manufacturers) of the patented “Couso-Brodeur universels”. Also they were offering other type machines, among them system Willcox & Gibbs sewing machines. Next year the offering of these W&G system machines was removed in the Almanach du commerce. Possibly advertising of them was ended on demand from the W&G company because of terms in their former agency-contract. By 1896 the international trademark became “CORNELY”. In 1925 the business was run by “R.Cornely et Cie’’.

At first the W&G company took over the management at the address Rue Ste Anne 14 at Paris. In 1891 she moved to Rue des Petits Champs 33 and in 1910 to Rue des Petits Champs 20, where she stayed for decades.

By having done this research I am glad to know now more about the origin of the Willcox & Gibbs machine, nr.230420, from 1873, in my collection. It was initially an enigma machine as she carries the W&G-New York medallion, but the markings on the clothplate are in French. Also she has a special ornated gantry, very different from the usual at coalbrookdale casted gantry, which you find on most glass tension W&G machines. Obviously Cornely, who was the depotholder and general agent at that time, has replaced the clothplate and has added a higher ornated gantry. He could have done so to make this machine more saleable and attractiv for the French market. A few of these machines with this configuration have survived.

R.F. 30.8.2020/updated 27.12.2021