Saturday, September 10, 2016

Sewing Machine Stitchery Advertising Premiums

Sewing Machine Stitchery Advertising Premiums.......Wow, that’s a mouthful, but what else could one call them?

Author’s note:
I haven’t been able to find anything written about sewing 
machine stitchery sample advertising.  I corresponded with
existing sewing machine companies asking about stitchery 
samples and only Singer responded; telling me there was 
nothing in their archives however, the Singer representative
added they were “probably made by independent dealers.”


The first practical sewing machines were sold to the public in the 1850’s.  They were only the second machine (the first being firearms) to use standardized parts, making manufacture and repairs significantly easier than for non-standardized machines.  In the early to mid-19th century many people believed women would be unable to operate machinery.  Marketing sewing machines required that belief be countered.  Showrooms were setup in cities and exhibition halls with pretty, young women demonstrating the machines, disproving the above fallacy about women and machines.  Sewing machines were sold on installment plans, the first household items to be sold that way; and trade-ins were offered for older and competitor machines.

Trade cards became a popular advertising media during the 19th century.  This was fueled by a scrapbooking craze of the era.  Advertisers competed to offer the most beautiful and interesting cards, hoping their cards would attract attention and would be retained.  Singer Sewing Machine, Davis, Howe, New Home, Wheeler & Wilson, Domestic, and other major sewing machine companies all created traditional attractive and novelty cards, but unlike trade cards for non-sewing machine goods, some of the sewing machine cards depicted “fac-simile” printed pictures of beautiful embroideries and costumes made on their machines.  A small number of cards were even engraved with pictures of embroidery stitches that could be done on the advertised sewing machine.

The next step was to put an example of the stitching directly on the card, some with fancy embroidery stitches and others with trim or ruffles sewn onto the card.  This led to cards being published with blank sections for embroidery (usually flowers or hats) to be added.  However, unless these cards found their way into a collection (either an album or an emptied cigar box), most likely these cards would be trashed. 

During the late 1800s someone decided that sewing machine advertising might be more effective if premiums were offered that would be retained and perhaps used, serving as constant reminders of the quality of their sewing machines.

I believe the first premiums were late 1800s doll bonnets.  Each bonnet was shaped and had attached ruffles, requiring much machine-work. I have two of these: a 7 X 3.75-inch one, stamped on the inside with “From the Standard Sewing Machine Agency, 326 No. Wash. AVE., Scranton, PA” and a 6.4 X 4.3-inch one stamped “Stitched on ‘No. 9’ Wheeler & Wilson”.   Standard was in operation from 1884 until 1929.  Wheeler & Wilson produced the No.9 Sewing Machine between 1887 and 1905.  I haven’t seen any other sewing machine advertising bonnets---perhaps because all stampings are on the inside or because multiple washings may have obliterated those stampings; but I also suspect that because so much work went into making each of these bonnets, their original distribution was minimal.

Another popular premium, offered by advertisers of many products, and especially popular before the advent of electric fans, were cardboard hand-fans.  However, some of those advertising sewing machines had added sewn-on embellishments.  The two in my collection: one made by “White Sewing Machine Company” of Cleveland, Ohio (White moved to Cleveland in 1866.) and another by “Standard” have ruffled ribbon edgings and bows.  Due to frequent use and weakened cardboard where embellishments were sewn-on, few of these fans appear to have survived, although I suspect they were fairly common during the turn of the century.

The most common (or perhaps, the most saved) sewing machine sample stitchery advertising premiums seem to be miniature (doll-sized: 2.7-inches to 6-inches long) aprons.  These were made from at least the early 1890s until about 1940.  Davis, Domestic, New Home. Singer, Shryock, Wheeler & Wilson, White, and perhaps other sewing machine manufacturers, all offered these premiums.  I have seen 16 of these, 13 of which are in my collection.  Most of these simple little aprons are stamped or printed with Sewing Machine Company information, although a small number are made with special Singer Sewing Machine logo fabric and/or have business cards sewn into the waist or into one of the ties.

The last type of premium I have found is an embroidered silk or rayon book mark of unknown date still attached to a paper imprinted with “Made on the ‘White’ Sewing Machine with Shaded Corticelli Sewing Silk” and “White Sewing Machine Co., Cleveland, Ohio”.

If you have any additional information on Sewing Machine Stitchery Advertising Premiums or examples to show I would love to hear from you!