James Galloway Weir
The 55 shilling dream machine
J G Weir 1839-1911
I have a short Youtube clip on the Raymond chain
stitch sewing machine
The son of
builder, James Ross Weir, James Galloway Weir was
born 6 July 1839, one
of four children, to James and Margaret Weir.
entire family moved to London while James was still a young man.
He was a man on the move and by his early
20's he was already importing toys and sewing
machines. His first machine, The Lady
sewing machine, was a German imported chain
stitch. The machine made by Schroder in
Darmstadt was expensive and problematic. However James was looking for a more reliable
machine and he found one in Canada.
In the 1860’s James Galloway Weir, a Scotsman
with a canny business sense,
knew there was huge potential for a cheap machine
in the expanding Victorian market.
Expensive and complicated lock stitch machines were dominating
sales in Victorian England.
As a travelling
salesman for a haberdashery company he travelled the width and
breadth of England constantly meeting customers who needed sewing
machines. He knew the potential of a cheap and portable machine.
He later met his first wife on his travels in Brighton, East
Laws prohibiting how you advertised your
wares were scarce and hard to enforce in the
1860's. In 1863 Weir
set up as
an importer or commission agent. He imported a beautiful
small and cheap Raymond Chainstitch sewing
machine from Canada and called it his own.
This is a woodcut of
the later improved Weir sewing machine
the British Weir sewing machine business was established.
James had spent some time in Canada and had struck up a
relationship with Charles Raymond the Canadian machine
manufacturer. It was only natural that he saw the potential of a
business relationship. It was simple supply and demand.
For the complete history of
Charles Raymond click here: Raymond Sewing Machine
America was in the middle of a
desperate civil war so Weir looked to Canada for supplies. He imported
a popular machine from Charles
Raymond who had patented his first machine by 1857. The
machine was know under various names such as Improved Common Sense
and Globe sewing machine.
The Globe sewing machine
The Weir Globe sewing
machine of 1873, pretty identical to Weir's other models but sporting
patent 944 and 1052. The Globe was a name Weir used on his old
stock after his split with Raymond. It was offered at a knock
down price of 40-45s and did not have the upgrades of his
improved machines. However you could return any early machine
and have it modified for the sum of one guinea.
The name that really stuck in America was, The New
England Machine. It is interesting to note that Weir himself
advertised these machines in Britain as The American Hand Machine, though
they were from Canada!
Back in Britain it was not until the Trades
Description Act of 1890 that people were banned from stating they
made an item that they in fact, just imported. Many importers got
away with false descriptions until 1890. Thomas Shakespeare
also imported, or possibly copied, the Raymond machines and marked them The Royal
Sewing Machine Company, Birmingham, England. These are super rare
machines today and few have survived.
The Raymond Sewing Machine Company
Trademark, a wild Beaver.
1890 was many years away and James Weir happily
marketed the Raymond machines under his own name, right up until
1885 he was claiming to be a manufacturer and
in truth he did have had some input to the machines design, but
not initially. He simply bought and sold.
on Youtube with a Raymond walking foot pre 1860 sewing machine.
that he states that he made machines is true
later on in his career
but no one has yet ascertained positive proof that he made any
machines from scratch. As an importer it would seem like a whole
different profession. Few importers bother to
manufacture even today.
Sperm Whales were hunted for their bright
burning candles, lamp oil and sewing machine oil!
Charles Raymond, whom James
was importing from, had started manufacturing sewing machines in partnership with
William Nettleton in Bristol, Hartford,
Connecticut. By 4 April 1857 they had
acquired their first Nettleton & Raymond patent.
1861 Raymond had established a factory at
The company initially produced chain-stitch machines. They were exported
world-wide with several European agents including William Moore in
Ireland, P Frank in
Liverpool (who was also an agent for
Wanzer) and finally our man in London James Weir.After
the Weir Raymond split, Frank took almost all of Raymond's
imports straight into his main port depots in Southampton,
London and Liverpool..
Another first on the Internet the
Raymond-Nettleton patent of 1857. The ideas went into production
but not the beautifully cast and ornate design.
Assignors to Henry E Fickett, Glenn's Falls,
New York. To all whom it may concern. Be it known that we,
Willford H Nettleton and Charles Raymond, both of Bristol in the
county of Hartford and the State of Connecticut, have invented,
made and applied to use certain new and useful improvements in
sewing machines. April 14, 1857 Patent 17049.
Although the machines
Weir imported from Raymond
were Canadian, they were pretty much identical to the bestselling New England
American models of the time and so Weir
also called his model the American Hand
Machine and New American Hand Machine.
Raymond had sold
his London machines through the
Highbury Sewing Machine Co of 75 or 73 Holloway Road North,
London, but soon supplied Weir with most of his machines. For a
few years all went well with the Raymond and Weir partnership.
A very rare note from Weir advertising his
New American (in my Sewalot Collection).
But by the 1870's Raymond's production in Canada
was in trouble as were several other Canadian sewing machine
companies. With the war over competition from the huge American
manufacturers on their doorstep was proving too much.
A recession hit North America in the late 1870's that lasted a
The Chas Raymond sewing machine of 1861.
Note the reel of thread under the sewing machine. This was a
lock-stitch machine. I have never seen one so it may not have gone
into production. Patent No 32785. I was so excited when I
discovered this patent. Train spotters have nothing on me!
sold his pretty machine to just about anybody who wanted them
around the world.
this time the same machine was sold under many names from the
Household Fairy to the Star.
The Raymond Star sold in Britain during the
1870's. Probably to the disgust of Weir.
What we do know is that James
and Raymond had some sort of falling out and supplies from Canada
to James Weir ceased.
The Raymond Trademark with Chas Raymond's
signature across the beaver. You can almost still see his
partnership between Weir and Raymond was over the Scotsman was
livid and from then on made sure all his machines were clearly
marked with his London address to let his customers know that
other supplies from Canada flooding Britain were not his Weir's.
possibly in his last fling at his old company, was also not happy.
By 1873 Raymond even went so far as to take out adverts in a trade
magazines letting everyone know that
Weir and Raymond had split.
guess it was not by mutual agreement!
The Globe Sewing Machine 1864-86. Typical of
the New England Weir Raymond models
After his split with
the Raymond Company,
for whatever reason, James Weir needed
supplies and tales say that he found a French manufacturer
who was already making his bases
and asked them to produce
the complete machine of his popular model.
This was possibly Seeling's of Paris
possibly in partnership with Ms Goodwin of Paris, so if you happen to know mail
me this instant!
There was also a company in Dublin called W B
Moore who were making parts and bases for the James Weir
For the complete history of
Charles Raymond click here: Raymond Sewing Machine
Sewalot presents an early sewing machine, pre American Civil War. -
This is a link to an early Raymond Walking Foot
machine with a clever automatic tension device made in Brattleboro.
firm connection I have so far was kindly sent to me by Raffaello
in Italy who has an early Chas Raymond sewing machine with a
Seeling's of Paris cast base in his collection. It is not
impossible to make the connection that it was James Weir who had
the bases initially made for his Canadian imported machines and
later got Seelings to make more of the machine when he split from
Raymond. Oh, this is so confusing but I promise it does get easier
from now on...
Seeling's of Paris made this supa-rare
cast base and possibly later entire machines for James Weir.
Weir took this split with Raymond as an opportunity to make several changes
to his machine, namely the thread holder and tension assembly,
again copied from American machines and earlier sewing machine
improvements on the
original Frederick Parker patent of 1859. Parker, a Sheffield man,
also re-designed and improved a tension device in the same year
that helped the stitch no end. Both
appeared on the later, post split, Weir sewing machines.
Weir's earlier patent
(in 1872, Pat No 580) was
Further improvements were made in 1873 No 2738.
The improved patented thread tensioner on later Weir
The Weir Manufacturing Company
I have the London manufacturing base as,
Weir Manufacturing Co of Belmont Street, NW London and Ferdinand
Place. Anybody else
know that? You do now. I expect to see it everywhere by 2009.
He also had a larger premises at Chalk Farm, London and his
prestige offices and showrooms at 2 Carlisle Street, Soho.
Whether Weir actually
just imported from France or manufactured these machines himself at his
London addresses is still unclear but we do know he made large profits
which would come from cutting out other suppliers and middle men.
also know that in the early years of his business he personally fixed many of the faulty machines in
his own workshop.
1877 he dropped the lady model from Germany and launched the
Globe, basically an identical machine to the Raymond New
England type he was previously selling. The decorations were
slightly different but very little else, oh except the price it
was now two guineas!
The same year he launched the Zephyr
and the Argus sewing machines. He now had a formidable range but it was his
little 55 shilling dream machine that still sold like hot cakes.
The 55 shilling Raymond Weir
James was living in London.
He had premises at Hanaway Street and later at 2 Carlisle Street in Soho. Soho was
once a centre of the sewing trade.
Soho of course is now far more
famous for its
shady nightlife, strip clubs and gambling
joints than long forgotten sewing machine magnates.
you want an exciting night out in London...say no more!
very short period, with manufacturing secure,
Weir's 55-shilling dream machine became a great
Within ten years Weir went from sleeping under
his workshop bench to become a wealthy man. They
say because of his early struggles in life he was always kind to those with
His small, light, pretty and
simple machine, that
produced the most fundamental of all stitches, was making him loads
of money. Lucky fella!
For a while he advertised his machine as
the New American. Often referred to as The New England Machine.
The later half of the Victorian period was one of
great invention and discovery and Weir was there to seize the opportunity.
It was a time of great
change in the World. Let me tell you a little about the period.
America was still
rebuilding after its bloody civil war but, union and expansion was
Queen Victoria sat on
her throne at her Palace in London as the most powerful leader our
planet had ever known. Her dominions stretched to the Four Corners
of the Earth and she ruled two thirds of the Globe. In truth the
sun never set upon her empire.
The last great Indian
war was started in America by the Red Indian Shaman, Paiute, whose
ghost dance would free them from the Paleface. In December 1890 it ended with their
terrible destruction at Wounded Knee Creek.
a more positive note Aspirin (what a relief!) was discovered
and so were the first x-rays. The independent Labour party was
founded and Britain took control of Hong Kong only to have to give
it back a 100 years later.
In New Zealand
women were allowed to vote, the first nation to do so. So who
thought of that great idea! Only kidding girls.
Eiffel built his
famous tower in the centre of Paris, and later used his technique
to make a frame for Bartholdi's Statue of Liberty modelled on
Singers French wife, Isabella, a French actress considered one of
the most beautiful women in Europe at the time.
Doesn't it always
amaze you how these old men with money attract such beautiful
women, true love of course!
The AC electric motor
was invented and Gillette found out how to make a razor that did
not cut you to ribbons.
George Bernard Shaw
was beginning his novels such as Antony & Cleopatra and
Pygmalion at the same time as the zip was invented.
Oscar Wilde was
putting the finishing touches to his work, the importance of being
earnest while staying at the Savoy Hotel owned
by my Great Grandfathers new wife, Helen D'Oyle Carte.
Edison was sorting out how to put moving pictures
onto a screen. Watching paper pictures skip round inspired many.
What the maid saw through the keyhole at a fair!
No Weir was genuine
without his bed-stamp, notice the later cross-cut gears
started the World’s first ever skyscraper in New York, it
stood over 600ft high. While he was in New York
he would travel to work in a huge carriage, down
Central Avenue, to one of the grandest buildings in the world, show
Illustrated London Almanac 1871
Improved Weir sewing machines
One months free trial!
Now with improved mesh gears. Still only 55s.
Beware inferior imitations, they are numerous.
Back in England Weir had
reached a pinnacle in his sewing machine career. His machines were
now by Royal Appointment after Queen Victoria commanded to see
one. "Bring one round young fellow and be sharp about
He had also supplied H.R.H The Princess Mary and a whole
list of important establishments including the Royal Medical
College, Guy's Hospital, and my personal favourite, Broadmoor
Lunatic Asylum! One can only guess at why they would have needed
some, a rush on straight jackets perhaps!
Weir also listed nearly 100 other 'Distinguished members of the
aristocracy' on his adverts. I doubt if they all sewed but
certainly they had staff that did and if a free machine arrived
it was just taken as a perk.
The virtually unknown Weir
His improvements to the
original Raymond machine are more than many people realise. The
super-rare Zephyr had many similarities to his chain stitch models
and close examination of one will show how James progressed from
one machine into the other with of course the benefit of a
two-thread lock stitch mechanism.
this super-rare Weir Zephyr lock-stitch the similar gearing,
presser bar spring, foot lifter arm. They look so similar to the
Weir Chain Stitch that it is easy to see how James' mind was
working when he designed this machine.
beauty came onto Ebay in Sept 2007. The first one that I have ever
seen. The seller was kind enough to grant me permission to use one
of his pictures on my site to show collectors.
Galloway Weir, Zephyr sewing machine. Their lock stitch.
Machines ready for shipment to the colonies
complete with written guarantees at one hours notice.
J G Weir, 2 Carlisle Street, Soho Square, London.
After close examination
of many models over the years let me tell you what he did improve
bit is for the nerds among us, me included).
improved not only the tension which became far more practical and
easy to adjust but also he added more oil holes for longer life.
Spiral cut-gears on the later Weir,
smoother, better wearing and quieter.
Weir also cut all the gears in a spiral pattern rather than straight
which makes the whole machine smoother and far quieter, plus the
gears lasted longer as there was more wearing surface on each gear.
Then there was the better
needle slide which was prone to wear on the older models and the
thumb nut to adjust the stitch length rather than the silly screw
on older models.
Easy Terms of Payment
Bankers, London & County Bank,
All in all he did a great job on improving a best
selling machine. Then there were the boxes in different woods and
with little hidden drawers.
Weir's marketing skills kept
his small chain stitch a best seller even though it did not do a lock
stitch like many of the oppositions machines. It was the size that
made it so practical and its simplicity. Even today there is no
machine made as easy to thread as Weir's little marvel.
A woodcut of the super rare Weir Victoria
very similar to the
Twisted Loop but supplied by
William Jackson of London.
There must have been several
copies of the Weir around as he became almost paranoid about
making sure his was the only machine to buy. This makes me laugh
as he was the person who originally copied Raymond's machine!
It went to the
extreme when even his instruction leaflets became invalid unless
they had been red-stamped genuine! All his literature that I have
seen from the period of 1877 onward clearly states that unless the machine was
bought from his only premises at No 2 Carlisle Street, Soho,
London West, they
were not genuine!
He also mentions his address is two doors from
Soho Square just to make sure you don't buy a machine from one of
his close competitors. That's a canny Scot for you.
The last machine, a
super-rare but plain Weir Argus Lockstitch
I have just one in my Sewalot Collection. Weir also had a
lockstitch machine called The Comet sewing machine.
Before his retirement Weir experimented with a few
other machines. His last machine sold by his daughter and
son-in-law who carried on his business was the Improved Argus
lock stitch. It sold for the sum of 84 shillings and was their
most expensive machine.
This is a bit off topic but connected with Weir's
Argus. The American Sewing Machine Company was founded by
E.Todd in 1863. They were trading out of Ludgate Square in London
and imported models from all over the world. I have seen there
badge on Canadian, American, German and Swedish machines. The
was a Todd-American Sewing Machine Co import.
Stories go that they had strong ties with the Southern Confederacy
during the American Civil war and stamped the seven stars on there
machine plates as support for the Confederate States, just a
Now back to the relevance of all this and the Argus
Some experts say that the Weir Argus was a
German import from Bottcher in Berlin. However the similarity to the American New Home models
of the same period is startling, especially New Home’s Nelson
We know he was importing from America and to top it
all if I look closely on my model, in the right light,
underneath the gold, you can just see the name Nelson across the
machine! I bought my Argus from a dress shop where it was on display. It
took a month of bargaining for them to let me have it but my
persistence eventually paid off.
It is the only
Argus sewing machines to have surfaced so far! Although I know of a couple of
Todd-Nelson's which are obviously from the same manufacturer.
German or American it is impressive. Where is my time machine when I need it!
James. So time rolls on and Weir is
now getting tired of the business. He has meddled with other
machines including a superb machine he called the Victoria sewing
possibly an early Wanzer but
none of these sold in great numbers.
Oh by-the-way for the history
fanatics amongst us (me included), Weir also had a storage/manufacturing facility
he referred to as his works at Ferdinand Place in Chalk
Farm Road NW London. Interestingly at Ferdinand Place Weir was
involved in a business called The Automatic machinery Company.
It is possible that it was here that some of his patents were
put to use. in 1878 the company folded. It was not long after
this point, and the previous loss of another business interest,
The British Boot & Shoe Machinery Co, that Weir took the
decision to go into politics full time.
A stunning treadle Weir. Makes
me dribble just looking at it! Really...
This is an actual Weir treadle, one of three
models, still very rare but
not quite so nice.
At 41 he is fed up with business.
New machines are turning up all the time. Patent protection was
running out and anyone could copy all the early ideas. His
machines were under threat. The glory years of his dream machine
were behind him. Time to get out and follow his love of politics!
We all know how that feels
that grass is always greener! I know how to cure that problem. Buy
your neighbours garden then the grass is yours on both sides!
James Weir decides to retire from
the sewing industry around 1879-80 and follow his passion. How we would all love to retire early. I think I will drop
dead over a sewing machine at 75 with the old dear prodding me
with a stick to finish the job!
James Weir leaves the business to relatives and goes into politics
James Weir, after an earlier failure in Falkirk in 1885, was elected
a Liberal Member of Parliament for
Ross and Cromarty and followed a colourful life in politics for
many years. Lots can be found about his career on the net but we
are concerned with his sewing machine life so I will desist from
too much waffle on the subject. Although
they say he was not a strong political speaker he was full of
energy. He doggedly supported the rights of crofters in his
constituency and worked tirelessly in Parliament and was said to
be one of the most active members in the House of Commons.
He died at
home at Frognal in Hampstead, in late spring,
18 May 1911 in his early 70's
after suffering a stroke. He
is buried in Marylebone Cemetery, London. His wealth by now was said
to be considerable.
One of the
giants of the early sewing machine industry had gone but what a
legacy he had left behind him. Some of the most sought after and
collectible machines of all time. Every serious collector should
have at least one in his collection.
Now I have
a little further information to add about James from Dawn Siggs.
Dawn was born in Brisbane, Australia in 1936 and sought me out to
tell me of her distant relation. After a lovely chat over a cup of
tea she added some great information.
first wife Mary Anne Dash, from Brighton, Sussex, had three
daughters with James before her death in 1896. Edith, Alice and
apothecary, married a doctor from Stornaway and moved up to the
island. She once organised a group of Stornaway crofters daughters
to travel down from Scotland with her father and sing to the
House of Commons local crofters seasonal songs. They sung to the
entire Commons with much applause.
Both the other sisters later possibly moved to Italy
where one died in an earthquake. Amy died in 1910 three years
after her husband, they had no offspring to my knowledge. I may be
wrong and would love to find any distant relation to James.
Dash, James' first wife, was a furrier in Brighton and met James Weir while he was a
travelling salesman for a haberdashery firm, before he
started importing and selling sewing machines.
This is a really
interesting point for it shows how James became involved with
sewing machines. He was supplying the very trade where he knew his
later in life as an old man James Weir married again to Marion
from Northumberland. They had two children a girl and boy,
Margaret and James.
I once bumped into the wife of
his grandson, how amazing is that!
She had called me out to service her sewing machine
in St Leonards, East Sussex.
In her living room was a grand oil painting that looked so
familiar. I kept staring at it but could not fathom why it felt
like I should know him. When I asked I was amazed to be confronted
with one sewing histories giants. I promptly got my camera
from the car to take a picture of the oil painting.
She told me some
information that I never knew and is hopefully accurate, that
James Weir lost one of his family
in the Siege of Paris, probably the same siege that made
head for England from France in 1870, and another relative was killed
in Spain. Interesting gossip for sure.
James Weir retired
from the sewing machine world, he handed over the firm to James
possibly his son in law. Columbine and
Weir had many business dealings together over the years.
Columbine traded from the same Soho shop right up until the 1890's
selling an assortment of sewing machines.
Funny how history gets rewritten almost daily. It was always
assumed when I was a kid that when James retired to follow his
yearning for politics he wound up his business. It was only many
years later that I came across a receipt from Columbine in the
1890's that it showed that his business, and sewing machines,
had carried on. From then on more research brought more facts to
light and now we are closer to the truth.
literature from 1891 proudly states:
Sewing Machine Manufacturer to
Her most gracious Majesty the Queen.
It was the pinnacle for the Weir
James G Weir was know as Galloway
Weir in Parliament probably to accentuate his Scottish roots
And so James Galloway Weir disappears from our
Of all the very early sewing machines the
Raymond/Weir, which had a short production run, many hand-painted,
undoubtedly one of the prettiest, compact and beautiful,
with soft flowing lines and delicate profile.
The machine appeals to all
collectors even outside the sewing machine world.
The machine would
perfect on a ladies dressing table in Victorian London.
The little gems have crossed the world and made men
rich, Weir's 55-shilling machine is what collectors dream
Weir/Raymond machines vary in value but they always fetch good prices.
I have seen nice models go for over $1500. The machines can only get
older and rarer.
Well I do hope you liked my
brief history of the man and his machines. As
the Internet allows us to learn more I am sure others will go far beyond
what took me 30 years to acquire.
You should check out
history. Now there's a man, he had
more children than hot
dinners and more wives than King Henry VIII!
My hair has gone grey since this
picture in 2008 anyone got some Grecian 2000, Brylcream don't seem to work?
A brief history of J G Weir
and Raymond sewing machines
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My name is Mandie Raymond, and my husband and I
were recently in an antique store near our home in Clarkston,
Michigan, and ran across a "New Raymond" sewing machine. Obviously
with the tie to my husbands last name, we jumped to buy this
machine. Thanks to the help of your site, we were able to learn
the history behind the machine, and place a guesstimated age on
the machine of 1895. Thanks for your time and effort
that you have put into this site. Have a
I enjoyed your site. P Frank of Liverpool was my
great-grandfather. I was named after him!
We don't have much family history but apparently they were very
rich and then they lost the lot somehow.
Anyway, thanks for the interesting site,
This is just a note to thank you for your research into Raymond
Sewing Machines. I thank you for elucidating the history of this
wonderful piece, and I am now inspired to work on it anew.
Thank You for Your very informative article on the web site
regarding the Raymond Sewing machine.
I just rec'd my Great Grandmothers machine, which for some reason
i always thought was a Singer. i googled and found Your site and
discovered it was actually a Raymond,.
My Great Grandmother bought it from a Door to Door salesman when
she lived on the farm up near Listowel, Ontario
Again, Thank You for You research and information, i found it a
very interesting read.
researcher just came across your article on Charles Raymond.
It’s timely for us because, as the historical cemetery in
Guelph, his monument is within our grounds. It is a magnificent
family lot with a fence around it, as was the style in those
days. We are gathering information on the family and the lot in
an attempt to preserve the fence. Some suggestion has been made
to have it removed. We are putting information together on the
family to ensure the historical value of the lot is recognized,
even if it is in bad condition, We believe it would be worth
fund raising to preserve it. In the photo, it actually doesn’t
look too bad, but we will not repair unless it is in the same
format as originally used when the fence was made, and that
makes it a little more difficult. Thought you might like to know
that your interesting article is being put to use.
Memorial Designer & Officiant
Woodlawn Memorial Park