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Alex has spent a lifetime in the sewing industry and is considered one of the foremost experts of pioneering machines and their inventors. He has written extensively for trade magazines, radio, television, books and publications worldwide.
Over the last few decades Alex has been painstakingly building this website to encourage enthusiasts around around the Globe.
James Galloway Weir
Sewing machine manufacturer to her majesty The Queen
Incorporating Chas Raymond sewing machines
A brief history by Alex I Askaroff
Most of us know the name Singer but few are aware of his amazing life story, his rags to riches journey from a little runaway to one of the richest men of his age. The story of Isaac Merritt Singer will blow your mind, his wives and lovers his castles and palaces all built on the back of one of the greatest inventions of the 19th century. For the first time the most complete story of a forgotten giant is brought to you by Alex Askaroff.
This is a link to an early Raymond Walking Foot machine with a clever automatic tension device made in Brattleboro.
James Galloway Weir
J G Weir 1839-1911
The son of builder, James Ross Weir, James Galloway Weir was born 6 July 1839, one of four children, to James and Margaret Weir.
The entire family moved to London after James finished at the highly acclaimed Dollar Academy in Clackmannanshire. James was a young 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 and cheaper machine. He found a beauty in Canada which would make him rich!
In the 1860ís James Galloway Weir (a young Scot with a canny business sense) knew there was huge potential for a cheap machine in the expanding Victorian market. At the time 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 Sussex.
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 was to be the first of many sewing machines that J G Weir sold under his own name. To begin with Weir wanted something simple and no sewing machine came any easier to use than the Raymond chain stitch, advertised as the simplest sewing machine in the world!
And So 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 supply and demand.
I have a short Youtube clip on the Raymond chain stitch sewing machine
(For the complete history of Charles Raymond Raymond Sewing Machine history)
The Canada connection
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.
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. There is
no doubt that when James Weir started out he was just an agent,
importing and selling machines and it was not until much later that he
started to say he manufactured them.
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. We are all aware of his Raymond machines but initially he had at least four sewing machines that he supplied from his Soho Square premises.
The Lady's hand
chain stitch sewing machine,
The fact 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. He certainly claimed that he made sewing machines for Queen Victoria! As an importer it would seem like a whole different profession. Few importers bother to manufacture, even today.
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
Raymond Co initially produced just chain-stitch machines. They were exported
world-wide with several European agents including William
B Moore in Dublin,
Ireland, P Frank in
After the Weir-Raymond split, Frank took almost all of Raymond's imports straight into his main port depots in Southampton, London and Liverpool.
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, made in Canada.
Highbury Sewing Machine Co
Raymond had sold his London machines through the Highbury Sewing Machine Co of 75 or 73 Holloway Road North, London, but soon supplied Weir exclusively (until they fell out). 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
The Raymond Lock-stitch sewing machine
Interestingly Raymond sold his pretty machine to just about anybody who wanted them around the world and they turn up today from many countries. During this time the same machine was sold under many names from the Household Fairy to the Star.
What we do know is that James and Raymond had some sort of falling out and supplies from Canada to James Weir ceased.
Once the 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.
Raymond, 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.
I guess it was not by mutual agreement!
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.
Now we can surmise a little here and ask ourselves did the split occur because Weir was actually setting up and manufacturing the Raymond machine? Waiting for supplies from Canada must have been tedious and making his own simple machine was a real possibility.
One manufacturer that Weir used was Seeling's of Paris possibly in partnership with Ms Goodwin of Paris. Seeling's were making bases for Weir and he may have made the whole machine but we don't know for sure. The only 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' base in his collection.
We know that when Seeling died his widow married Henry Vigneron. Henry took over Seeling's business and by the late 18870's was producing his own sewing machine.
'La Favorite Des
I do know that after Henry Vigneron took over Seeling's business he won a big payout from a law suit against Wheeler & Wilson and started seriously producing his own sewing machines. By 1884 he was producing nearly 8,000 machines a year.
Compagnie Francaise des machines a coudre Vigneron
There was also a company in Dublin called W B Moore who were making parts and bases for the James Weir machine. However William Moore's bases, though super rare, are quite rough in their casting and it would be a big leap in quality to produce the Weir 'dream machine' fit for a queen!
I have been searching for definite proof of weir's manufacturing business for 30 years and have yet to discover any hard facts. So if you happen to find out where he was making Queen Victoria's favourite sewing machine please mail me this instant and I'll blow you kisses all day (not if you're a bloke!) email@example.com. For a more complete history of Charles Raymond click here: Raymond Sewing Machine history
It is not impossible to make the connection that James Weir got one or the other firms to copy the entire machine after he split from Raymond. Maybe this is when Raymond found out Weir was in the process of getting his own machine (in a country where Raymond did not have patent protection) that the whole ruckus started, ending in the split! Oh, this is so confusing but I promise it does get easier from now on...
For now Henry Vigneron is the most likely suspect to have been making and supplying Weir after his split with Raymond, time will tell.
James 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 designs.
In 1972 K R Gilbert, of the Science museum, kindly supplied this information. Possible improvements were based on the original Frederick William Parker patent of 1859 (No582). 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 for improvements to hook. February 23, 1872 Weir patented the spool holder below. Further improvements were made in 1873 (No 2738).
The Weir Manufacturing Company
I have the London manufacturing base as, The 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. Now this is not written in stone but a good lead.
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.
We also know that in the early years of his business he personally fixed many of the faulty machines in his own workshop.
Anyway in 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! Raymond got busy picking up other agents to sell his machines...
Whight & Mann
The same year Weir launched the Zephyr (£4.4s) 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. If you want an exciting night out in London...say no more!
In a very short period, with manufacturing secure, Weir's 55-shilling dream machine became a great success.
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 little.
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 explosive.
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.
On 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.
And finally Edison was sorting out how to put moving pictures onto a screen. Watching paper pictures skip round inspired many, especially popular was what the maid saw through the keyhole!
No Weir was genuine without his bed-stamp, notice the later cross-cut gears for smoothness.
Illustrated London Almanac 1871
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 it."
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!
James 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 Zephyr
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.
Note on 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.
This 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.
James Galloway Weir, Zephyr sewing machine.
Machines ready for shipment to the colonies
After close examination of many models over the years let me tell you what he did improve upon (this bit is for the nerds among us, me included).
Weir improved not only the tension, which was now all incorporated so that it did not fall apart every time you changed a reel of thread, but also the needle bar slide. He added a thumb nut for regulating the stitch length. The machine became far more practical and easy to adjust. He also he added more oil holes for longer life. Another clever thing was that Weir offered these improvements to all the old models as well, so you could return your old machine for a refit to bring it up-to-date.
Weir also cut all the gears in a spiral pattern rather than straight which made the whole machine smoother and far quieter, plus the gears lasted longer as there was more wearing surface on each gear.
Easy Terms of Payment
All in all he did a great job on improving a best selling machine. Then there were the boxes in different woods and some 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, weight and price that made it so appealing and of course its simplicity. Even today there is no machine made as easy to thread as Weir's little marvel.
There must have been several copies of the Weir sewing machines around as Weir 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 the 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. £4,4s, treadle base 30s more.
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 Husqvarna Freja 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 story.
Now back to the relevance of all this and the Argus sewing machine.
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 Homeís Nelson model.
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 Weir 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!
Back to 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 machine, 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...
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!
Anyway James Weir leaves the business to relatives and goes into politics full-time.
In 1892, 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.
James's first wife Mary Anne Dash, from Brighton, Sussex, had three daughters with James before her death. Edith, Alice and Amy.
Amy, an 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.
Mary Ann 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 market was.
Now I need to be corrected on this leap...Much later in life as an old man James Weir married again to Marion Jolly from Northumberland. They had two children a girl and boy, Margaret and James. James George Weir (1887-1973) was born in Lanarkshire and became an early aviator and went on to become Air Commodore J G Weir CBE GMC. Please email me if you have any details that I can add: firstname.lastname@example.org
Also many moons ago I bumped into one James Galloway Weir offspring's wives, 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 relatives in the Siege of Paris, probably the same siege that made Isaac Singer head for England from France in 1870, and another relative was killed in Spain. Interesting gossip for sure but no facts to back it up yet...
After James Weir retired from the sewing machine world, he handed over the firm to James William Columbine, 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:
James G Weir was know as Galloway Weir in Parliament probably to accentuate his Scottish roots
And so James Galloway Weir disappears from our industry.
Of all the very early sewing machines the Raymond/Weir, which had a short production run, many hand-painted, is 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 look simply 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 about.
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.
You should check out Singer's 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
Most of us know the name Singer but few are aware of his amazing life story, his rags to riches journey from a little runaway to one of the richest men of his age. The story of Isaac Merritt Singer will blow your mind, his wives and lovers his castles and palaces all built on the back of one of the greatest inventions of the 19th century. For the first time the most complete story of a forgotten giant is brought to you by Alex Askaroff
Please do let me know what you thought of my efforts: email@example.com
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Please ask before copying
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
Our researcher just came across your article on Charles Raymond. Itís 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 doesnít 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.