Holes in socks are just a fact of life and once upon a time, people used to darn them to extend their life, or if you were lucky enough to have a delightful little free arm machine like this Bernina 125, you could darn them on the machine.
Back in 1906 the Boye company, maker of needles, shuttles, bobbins and all sorts of notions introduced their commodity case, which they provided to retailers to display their various wares.
This example probably dates to 1910 and was still wonderfully stocked with needles, a good number of shuttles, and a small number of extra bobbins for machines that, in many cases, have not been made for well over 100 years.
Each one of these tubes contains 3 needles and there are over 200 tubes in the bottom and top carousel.
The top is badly worn but originally had a transfer on top which listed makers and models, and all the retailer had to do was point the needle at the name and would then know what shuttle and needles a customer requires. I am in the process of having a transfer reproduced to restore the top, and to scale so that the reference marks line up.
Boye used their own numbering system and charts are available to cross reference these numbers to match specific makers, some of the needles in the case are quite rare, as many manufacturers used proprietary needles before things were standardized as they are today.
It will be quite a project to inspect all the contents… and make a list of needles.
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.