1879 White & Co ‘Peerless Hand Machine’
Siegfried Bettmann arrived in England from Nuremberg in 1883, aged 20. After working for Kelly & Co in 1894, using his translation skills to compile foreign directories for its publications, Bettmann started work as a commercial traveller for White Sewing Machine Co, whose European office was at 19 Queen Victoria St. His manager was George Sawyer.
When trade slowed for the White Sewing Machine Company in 1885 Siegfried lost his job; fed up with the uncertainty of working for other people. and having experience of commercial travelling, he decided to start his own business selling the German Biesolt & Locke sewing machine in Britain, and British bicycles in Britain and overseas. George Sawyer, his manager at White Sewing Machine Co, invested in the new company and became chairman.
He named the company S. Bettmann & Co in a partnership form, in the hope that some good friend, preferably Schulte, would join him in the not-too-distant future. Business did not materialise as Siegfried had hoped for his new company, so in December he returned to the unfilled position of foreign traveller for the White Sewing Machine Company while still operating his own company.
Thomas White started making sewing machines in 1858, selling them for $10 each. Soon he took a partner and, with $350 between them, they started their own company. Funds were scarce in the early years, and they had to sell machines before they could afford the materials to make more. They moved production to Cleveland, Ohio, in 1866. Ten years later they incorporated the White Sewing Machine Co, launching a new vibrating-shuttle lock stitch sewing machine. This became a very popular model, and they sold around 80,000 over the next four years.
They opened their European office at 19 Queen Victoria St, London, in 1880. Eventually, with good quality products and further investment, White Sewing Machine Co became one of the world’s top quality manufacturers, second only to Singer. The ‘Peerless Hand Machine’ is a portable version of their larger machine.
In the 1890s, the company diversified into other products, making bicycles from 1896, its first automobile in 1901, as well as steam-powered trucks.
1879 Peerless Hand Machine
Mfg by the White Sewing Machine Co
Serial Number 331046
This early Peerless Hand Machine is in good original condition. (White’s other model of the era was a treadle machine, i.e. a ‘foot’ machine, hence this model’s description as a ‘hand’ machine). I’ll update its photos and details soon. Many of these machines bear the plaque of one of White’s leading agents, E.G Benford of Brighton. This local connection was one of the attractions when I spotted this particular sewing machine for sale. There are no known surviving Triumph bicycles of the Bettmann & Co era, so owning one of the models of sewing machine that Siegfried himself would have been selling is the next best thing.
WHITE SEWING MACHINE CO
Cleveland, Ohio, USA
16 CASTLE SQUARE, BRIGHTON, ENGLAND
Castle Square became the commercial hub of the town in the late eighteenth century when the Castle Inn, after which the square is named, became established. When the inn was demolished in October 1823 the square was opened up into a broad thoroughfare which became the main coaching centre of the town and later the terminus of the many horse-bus routes.
Nos. 1-8 on the south side are all listed buildings. No. 1a faces the Steine and was probably designed by Wilds and Busby in the 1820s, as was no. 4, a narrow four-storey building with balcony and pilasters; nos. 2-3, with bows, date from slightly earlier, while nos. 5-6 were probably erected in the late eighteenth century …The Royal Pavilion Tavern, nos. 7-8, was established in about 1816, but was altered somewhat in 1820 by A.H.Wilds; it has a shallow bow-front and an ironwork balcony adorned with dolphins. In Steine Lane at the rear of the tavern are the Pavilion Vaults Wine Bar and the Shades Bar. It was upon the latter that former proprietor Edmund Savage erected a sign referring to a ‘Gin Palace.’ Mrs Fitzherbert, residing opposite in Steine House, objected to this and so Savage substituted the word ‘shades’ which subsequently became a local word for a bar.
Standing on the northern side of the square is the Royal Bank of Scotland, an elegant Art Deco building decorated with the borough arms. Originally known as Electric House, it was opened on 20 January 1933 as offices and showrooms for the corporation’s electricity department. It was built on the site of Needham’s Stores and some four-storey houses which were themselves erected on the site of the Castle Inn.
– ‘Encyclopaedia of Brighton’ by Tim Carder, 1990
Edward Gillman Benford was born in 1841, probably April, the son of Edward Benford and Lucy probably Gillman. Edward Sr was a gardener.
In 1861 Edward G was a bookseller’s assistant. He married Alice Farrar in July, August or September 1865, and by 1871 they were living in 16 Castle Square Brighton, possibly over the shop, where he was a dealer in Berlin Woolwork. 10 years later he was a dealer in domestic sewing machines. By 1891 he was living elsewhere in Brighton but still trading in domestic machines.
As can be seen from the excerpt above, E.G Benford was an exhibitor at the 1882 Brighton Domestic & Scientific Exhibition. Science was the latest fashion in Victorian England, and Brighton was no slacker in the scientific stakes. In the same year, Robert Hammond created one of the first British power stations in Shoreham, by hooking up an iron foundry’s steam engines to a dynamo and started generating electricity. This was used to power sixteen Arc lamps on a circuit around Brighton town centre, operating from dusk until 11pm every day.
In 1901 E.G Benford was in the same house but now selling house furnishings. 16 Castle Square was a haberdasher’s before Edward moved in, was empty in 1891 and a hairdresser’s in 1901. Edward and Alice had 3 daughters and a son. Alice died in October, November or December of 1906 aged 67. Edward G lived until 1933 when he died aged 91. Their son died in 1937.
The postcard above from around 1912 shows the corner of Castle Square by the entrance to the Pavilion. E.G Benford’s premises were presumably in the bank buildings just out of sight on the right of the picture. This building became Needham’s Department Store, and was demolished in 1930.
1886 E.G BENFORD PATENTS
1882 WHITE SEWING MACHINE CO TRADE ADVERT
While smaller companies selling cheaper products employed commercial salesmen for direct selling, larger companies like the White Sewing Machine Co searched for agents to resell their products. The above advert is from a trade newspaper, ‘The Journal of Domestic Appliances & Sewing Machine Gazette.’
1880s WHITE SEWING MACHINE BOOKLET:
CURIOUS ADVENTURES of the MAN with the SEWING MACHINE
Our hero was an artisan,
Who toiled from morn to e’en.
Until, one day, he met a man
Who sold the White Machine
19th century racist attitudes are clearly outdated in the 21st century. The above excerpt about trade in Egypt reveals that even Americans were mocked by the British press; I’m not sure of the derivation of the term ‘Jonathan’ for an American, but it was no doubt offensive in its day. Likewise, the booklet below is offensive in its portrayal of local people around the world.
Travelling merchants first appeared in Great Britain in the eighteenth century. At first they were employed by wholesalers, so they sold a variety of goods. They travelled around rural areas by horse or wagon. However, by the 1880s, many manufacturers had started employing their own commercial travellers, to promote particular branded products directly to the consumer.
With an increase in mass-produced goods, shops opened in towns to supply local needs, taking out agencies with the major suppliers. The sale of industrial equipment for the home, such as sewing machines, was a more upmarket operation than merely servicing the agents: a major task for salesmen employed directly by the companies was to create a market in new areas. The office of the White Sewing Machine Co in Queen Victoria St, London, covered the whole of Europe, so Siegfried Bettmann had to travel extensively.
This humorous pamphlet was one of the ways the company advertised for new staff. It encourages ‘artisans’ to abandon their hard toil and, instead, become a travelling salesman for the White Sewing Machine Co.
When he was looking for a job in 1885, Siegfried Bettmann did just that!
1887 WHITE SEWING MACHINE Co
E.G Benford info with thanks to Rosemary, first published on this website – http://quiltville.blogspot.co.uk/2013/02/more-machine-history.html
Castle Square history with thanks to – http://www.mybrightonandhove.org.uk/page_id__7911.aspx
Commercial travelling – http://eprints.gla.ac.uk/55782/1/55782.pdf