Monday, 2 September 2013

Old but perfectly preserved

Dealing with antiques and "collectibles" sometimes makes one really appreciate quality. 

I'm not talking about the passing appeal of certain products that achieve desirability when people become nostalgic for tokens of periods in their (or their parents') past lives - Larva Lamps or Commodore 64's, for example, are not necessarily appreciated for their intrinsic brilliance as for their representation of a period of hope and excitement and the memories they evoke.

 I'm really talking about items that were so well made that you are left bewildered at the cleverness, ingenuity and graft that went on so long ago when life was a lot less comfortable than it is today. (Mike will file this post under "stating the blinking obvious" as that's what he deals in all the time as a Horologist.)
I'm talking about products like this:

This little beauty, recently serviced and restored by Mrs Rine, is a Singer 12 Sewing Machine made in Glasgow in Singer's first UK factory near Queen Street Station. It sews an absolutely perfect line, as good as any modern electric machine, yet it was put together in 1876. Singer kept up a tradition of giving a unique serial number to every machine produced and thanks to the internet that database information is now freely available.

1876 was a long time ago. Benjamin Disraeli was Prime Minister, Queen Victoria adopted the title "Empress of India" and Alexander Graham Bell was experimenting with some wires. Port Vale football club was born. It was 137 years ago.

This machine is still working today exactly as it was intended. Admittedly it cost then the equivalent of a year's average wages but in those pre-Primark days it could really pay its way in terms of clothing output for the family. How many things which are being built today, I wonder, will be capable of performing exactly the same in the year 2150? From iPhones to iKea, I suspect I already know the answer. Possibly Ikea tea-lights will be one of the few items left with any longevity at all. The concept of "useful" has become very transitory.

And talking of well preserved old bobbins, I had a luncheon appointment last week on the Norfolk Coast with ten (count 'em!) Grandchildren! Yes iDid!


Tim said...

What a lovely selection of various smiles!
And is it a bit sad that aesthetic craftsmanship of that kind doesn't seem to happen any more? That machine has a purity of care that has somehow got lost.

Z said...

I still have an old Singer sewing machine. I've never had an electric one. It made all the curtains in my last house, which was Edwardian with big sash windows and high ceilings. Two rooms each required nine curtains 12 foot long. The Singer dealt with them very capably.

Ten grandchildren! - lucky you. How lovely.

Rosemarie Blackthorn said...


My gran had a Singer sewing machine. She used it well into late 80's.

It was a thing of beauty. The modern ones don't fill me with the joy.

Rog said...

Tim: The pic was a fluke of luck as you normally get at least 3 people with eyes shut. I love the gold blocking on these old singers and the way they retain their surface bloom is fantastic.

Z: I bet you could knock up a fabulous Indian dress for your next trip with it! (It's the Singer not the Sarong)

Rosemarie: Purity of purpose in design - one feels one is being stitched up my modern products!

Nota Bene said...

Isn't it glorious..I put things like that on the mantlepiece, and The Cat's Mother despairs

Mike and Ann said...

Firstly my congratulations on your'quiverful' of grandchildren. I beat you by one - having eleven. Aren't they a JOY?
Secondly Ann had a cousin (twice removed) who was born in 1875. When, in 1892 he was putting his kit together to go out to India, the major item he purchased was a Singer sewing machine. When we were kicked out of India in 1949, Cousin Robert brought the sewing machine home with him. Ann still has it. When Ann's high tech electric sewing machine gets an attack of the staggers, Cousin Robert's old machine is dragged out and put back into harness. It still performs splendidly whilst the modern one is being repaired. Yours is sixteen years older than Ann's and looks a beauty. I do admire Victorian engineering. Besides which they were works of art. I think it was William Morris who advised us never to buy anything that we didn't know to be useful and believe to be beautiful.

Mike and Ann said...

P.s. Love 'the Singer not the sarong'. One of your best; and that's saying something!

Rog said...

Nota: I think you may have to reinforce the mantlepiece!

Mike & Ann: "Send for cousin Robert!" - lovely tale! I didn't mention that this model was assembled from all imported parts from the USA but the case still stands - I think your William Morris quote is wonderful and intend practising it next time I'm in Sainsburies!

broken biro said...

How fortunate you are that your life is full of such wonders ( and i refer to both pictures here!)

...although I'm a bit worried what might hatch in a 'larva lamp'. ;-)

Anonymous said...

They are such a beautiful design - my Mum and Grandma both had singer sewing machines that folded down into a wooden desk type thing, so you could put them away when finished and it looked a bit like a desk. Great photo too :)

Curry Queen said...

I love the colours on those old Singers and bitterly regret getting rid of my Granny's old treadle machine :-(

Pat said...

I never mastered the Singer sewing machines and was always nervous of machining my fingers.
My mother had a larva lamp - floating blood clots. Yuck!

Rog said...

Biro: Well put! It should be Lava shouldn't it - you're never too old to learn new things!

Gab: My Mum had one of those as well. We've got enough Singers between us to form a choir.

CQ: "Granny Treadle" sounds like a character on Last of the Summer Wine.

Pat: Weren't you too busy showing off sewn goods on the catwalk to be making them as well?