Alex I Askaroff
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 two decades Alex has been painstakingly building this website to encourage enthusiasts around around the Globe to continue with research.
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The Singer 12 New Family Sewing Machine of 1865
The Singer 12 was the last sewing machine that really had the fingerprint of the great Isaac Merritt Singer on it. He was a genius at seeing potential and the model 12 had limitless potential. The world was still waiting for the perfect machine and at last it was nearly here.
The machine that the Singer Company brought onto the market in 1864-5 changed the world we know. It was one of the first really reliable and easy to use lockstitch sewing machines in the entire history of the planet. WOW.
There are some wonderful legends about one of its several designers, James Bolton (1832-1916) who ran the Singer Chicago office at 50 Clark Street. The tales goes that James Bolton, after failing to thoroughly impress Isaac Singer tried to flog the design of the Singer model 12 to Elias Howe who was apparently to broke to buy it. Really!
Of course this is just a good tale (apparently told by James Bolton himself after Isaac's Singer's death) and is not backed up by a single fact...so far.
Elias Howe was fast becoming one of the wealthiest men in America (before handing much of it away to relatives shortly before his death). He loathed Isaac Singer and would have bitten someone's hand off for the chance of getting one-up on his business counterpart.
The truth is that many people were involved in the designs of sewing machines at Singers, including Isaac Singer himself. In truth James Bolton's own version is as fanciful as one of Singer's mistresses. James Bolton was employed by Singer and would not have been free or able to sell Singer products to anyone without ending up in prison.
Bolton's fable that Isaac Singer wanted to smash up his greatest machine after years of development is simply absurd. James Bolton wrote detail memoirs (after Isaac's death when he could not be sued by Isaac) trying to rewrite his part in the Singer company and portraying Isaac Singer as a blundering fool who would have destroyed the company. Isaac was many things but never a fool.
Reading in between the lines and knowing how Isaac used to upset people I can assume that at some point James Bolton and Isaac came to loggerheads and James lost. From that point on his memoirs are severely biased.
So let us stick to the facts that we do know, The Singer Model 12 was well into production by the early 1860's, prototypes coming on line well before the mass marketing of the machine in 1865. Its shape and size was altered until the designers, including Bolton, were happy with it and patents sorted. Isaac Singer had made mistakes with some of his earlier machines and learnt a bitter lesson as manufacturers like Willcox & Gibbs stormed ahead of him in the market place. A few of these early prototypes are worth a mint today.
The Singer 12 carried on with many modifications over the following years, slowly improving until it was completely replaced with new models at the end of the Victorian period.
The Singer 12 or Singer New Family Sewing Machine hit the main market towards the end of the American Civil War in 1865 and lasted right up until 1902. It was in production for nearly 40 years.
Other manufacturers all over the world were gobsmacked when they first saw the machine, nothing even came close to the amazing Singer model 12. Even today it is one of the most widely sought after and collected sewing machines.
Years later, once the patents ran out, nearly every manufacturer of sewing machines in the entire world made an identical copy to the Singer 12. It was simply the best of its kind at the time, The Apple iphone.
In Europe it hit the markets in 1866 and was later made at Kilbowie in Scotland as well as Elizabeth Port New Jersey, USA. The last model 12's came out of Kilbowie in 1902 with the Ottoman Carnation design and R registration.
It was to be the finest sewing machine the world had ever seen at the time and the pinnacle of inventive genius from the design team at Singers, including Bolton and Isaac Singer.
The Singer 12k incorporated the best of every sewing machine idea and was the first sewing machine in history that sewed multiple thicknesses and fabrics with ease and anyone could use it without a degree.
In pre-production no less than eleven patents were used including Elias Howe's 1846 patent, under licence, of course.
The Singer 12 sewing machine was also the first sewing machine that was easy to demonstrate as it was so user friendly to the masses. It ticked all the boxes.
Designed partially by Isaac Singer between 1861-5 The Singer 12 came onto the market at the end of the American Civil War. the Singer model 12 was the modern marvel of 1865 and would become the best selling machine of the age.
It was the formidable Singer 12 or 12k (K, made in Britain) that added huge wealth to the coffers of Isaac singer in his old age. Well that's before he had a heart attack shortly after arranging one of his countless children's weddings. You'll have to read the fascinating history of one of America's most remarkable men. Isaac Merritt Singer.
The K after the 12 denoted that it was made in Kilbowie in Scotland just over the border from the other Elias Howe patents that held power over sewing machine production in England.
It is a funny point but some of the Singer 12 hand wheels to some countries were painted black to avoid import duties into some countries that considered plated metal a luxury and taxed it!
From the Singer 12 machine almost every manufacturer copied the transverse shuttle, straight needle and countless other innovations. The Germans carried on with similar designs and high-arm models for over 40 years finding it difficult to improve on.
Almost every manufacturer produced a similar machine once the Singer patents ran out and by 1880 a hundred clones of this machine existed but none beat Singer for shear quality and reliability.
I can just imagine seeing all the competitors faces in 1865 when they saw this machine for the first time. It must have taken their breath away. Even today a Singer 12 sewing machine will stitch most fabrics with ease.
Singer New Family model 12 sewing machine of 1865
Values Singer 12 new family
Many collectors will have at least one Singer 12 sewing machine in their collection and good quality ones always fetch excellent prices. They represent a period in our evolution and are a part of living history.
The hands that turned the machine just after the American Civil War were our distant relatives. The machine clothed a nation, made wedding dresses, christening gowns, husbands work trousers and a million other daily items. They were all were made on the fabulous Singer 12 New Family Sewing Machine.
Collectors today think that they are paying a lot for their Singers sewing machine but in 1865 a new Singer 12 sewing machine would cost a years wages and was often bought over a 10 year period on hire purchase. No wonder they were so good they cost more than a new car does today!
The highest price I have seen so far for a standard Singer 12 was $1684 in April 2011. That will probably be beaten soon.
Remember this, the only thing that truly lasts is quality and no sewing machine ever made beat the Singer model 12 New Family for sheer quality.
That is why today they are still with us. Name anything made in the1860's that is still in regular use today.
Some useful dates for the Singer 12 and other pre 1900 Singers.
The amazing story of
Singer 12k New Family Fiddlebase bobbins
I have a handful of original perfect Singer 12 new Family Fiddlebase bobbins in stock. They are $6 each. Let me know if you need any. When the stock is gone they are gone for firstname.lastname@example.org
Also I have a handful of needles left for the same model Singer 12, 12k New Family Fiddlebase 12x1 size 14/90 general purpose use.
Well that's almost it, I do hope you enjoyed my work. I have spent a lifetime collecting, researching and writing these pages and I love to hear from people so drop me a line and let me know what you thought: email@example.com.
Also if you have any information to add I would love to put it on my site.
All Alex's books are now on: www.crowsbooks.com
Both Sussex Born and Bred, and Corner of the Kingdom
Alex's latest Book: Sussex Born and Bred, Tales from the Coast
Fancy a funny read: Ena Wilf & The One-Armed Machinist
A brilliant slice of 1940's life: Spies & Spitfires
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