Isaac Singer died in 1875, and did not see the massive success the company he founded, but the 12k was the machine that made him one of the wealthiest men on earth.
In it’s early days the 12k could cost a year’s wages, and when this example was made a skilled tradesman was making about .25 cents an hour, at 90.00 this was several month’s full pay so would have been bought on installments, and sometimes paid off over as much as a decade.
First sold in 1864, and when the United States was still at war with itself, it was a marvel of engineering that was able to sew everything from silk to heavier fabrics, and surely caused fits among Singer’s competition and made them run back to the drawing boards.
It was one of the first really great sewing machines that really established Singer.
The 12k was very successful and was made for 40 years and into the early 20th century, like many other Singer models it was also widely copied as soon as the patent protections ended in the 1880’s. Our 1902 Winselmann TS is an example of one of the countless copies the Germans made, and continued to make well into the 20th century.
Sewing with one of these machines is a wonderful experience as they turn so lightly and smoothly, and they do sew extremely well.
Marie Louise was a French seamstress who worked for LaFleche Tailors, a company that was established here in 1906, and eventually closed after 101 years of business in 2007, because of a lack of skilled tailors, and competition from Asia.
The LaFleche brothers came here from Quebec to start farming but when that did not work out it was a good thing that they had brought their sewing machines with them.
They eventually became the clothier for anybody who was anybody, and their clients included Prince Charles and Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson. They also made all the uniforms for Greyhound drivers and did this until they closed up shop. Generations of Albertans went to LaFleche for their graduation suits, and one story I read was that of a local farmer who came to them every five years to get a new wedding and funeral suit.
This Singer 31k20 tailor’s machine was made in 1911 and I strongly suspect it was originally owned by, and used by the original LaFleche brothers and later came into the hands of Marie Louise, either when the shop closed 12 years ago, or during a period when they would have been upgrading to more modern machines.
I will always wonder if this machine made a suit for a prince, or a prime minister… at 108 years old she is in wonderful condition and sews beautifully, as one would expect.
This machine will stay in our permanent collection.