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The Agenoria
Sewing machine
And a few others thrown in!

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.

 

 

 

  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 world wide.

 

 

 


How to sharpen an old needle by Alex Askaroff, click on video.

 

 

 

The most beautiful sewing machine in the world


The Agenoria sewing machine by Arthur Isaac Maxfield

Considered by many as one of the most beautiful sewing machines ever made.

Agenoria or Agenora was the Roman Goddess of Silence and Industry giving relief from pain and anxiety. 

She was a popular goddess among the industrious Romans and also the protector of Rome. She was offered prayers and worship when Rome was under threat.  Her annual festival was held at sunset on the Winter solstice, December 21, the shortest day of the year. She was often shown with a finger to her lips as if imploring silence.  

   
The Goddess Agenoria she later appears on some Agenoria machines

The goddess has inspired many people over the centuries with ships, steam engines and many others being named after her.

                                       

Now, researching the Agenoria was no simple task. I first fell in love with the stunning machine when I bought a near perfect example from Maggie Snell some 25 years ago. The machine was a balance of beauty and functionality. She was made not only to do a job but look fantastic while doing it.

Unfortunately there were several firms that made the Agenoria which makes research tricky. Possibly one of the prized possessions of the failing companies the plans and tools passed to several businesses and the names of the partners who made the Agenoria changed several times.

There were seven main culprits or rather businesses involved and many more directors and investors in the complex life of the Agenoria. The main ones were Maxfield, Harris, Franklin, Fowke, Cole, Imperial and Royal.

The person who turns up most was an ex-employee of the sewing machine pioneer Newton Wilson, one Arthur Isaac Maxfield.

Arthur Isaac Maxfield gave the Agenoria name to his factory and to his most stunning sewing machine.

Arthur Isaac Maxfield's family

On the 1871 census records Arthur Maxfield is listed as 'Sewing Machine Manufacturer' with his wife Betsy Maxfield and seven children, John, Harry, Amy Mary, Emily. Arthur, Adeline, Alfred. Now he may have had more children as I was sent other names from family members, Betsy Eleanor Maxfield and Isaac Maxfield, who was apparently the black-sheep of the family and caused a lot of problems. There is a small mention of John Maxfield later on.


 Adeline Maxfield

Now, back to the beautiful Agenoria sewing machine.

It was designed in the middle of the 1860’s when beauty and practicality went hand in hand The Victorian Agenoria has often been called the most beautiful sewing machine ever made.

The superb sewing machine design was born in 1867 and first registered in 1869 and the shuttle movement patented on Aug 20th 1870. The Agenoria sewing machine was originally manufactured by Arthur Isaac Maxfield at his Agenoria works in Birmingham later using the Harris & Judson patented movement and had a balance wheel that could be completely disengaged for bobbin winding.

In fact they actually advertised the machine as the Patent Loose Wheeled Model.

The first models went on sale for the princely sum of £4. 4s. (Four pounds and four shillings) around two months average wages in 1870! Wow can you imagine paying that today for a sewing machine. It just goes to show how important they were. Having a hand wheel that disengaged was not new in America but in England it was a positive boom not having to unthread the machine just release the hand-wheel when winding a bobbin.

Maxfield Patent 2301, 20th August 1870, shuttle motion.

Arthur Isaac Maxfield was just one person in a long line of people and companies that made the Agenoria and I will try to explain as best I can. To make things easier I will first list the main companies, who, over a period of 20 years produced this stunning and highly collectible machine.

The Franklin, Maxfield, Royal, Imperial and Harris companies all had a hand in manufacture so lets look at the facts.


A super rare Maxfield marked Agenoria circa1871

On the brass needlebar cover was a Registered Design lozenge for 24th February 1869 (just beneath the machine's name). Below that is an image of the Goddess Agenoria herself sitting beside a lion while quietly working. I can't see anyone doing that really. I would run a mile. I suppose the God's are different!

20 August 1870

Maxfield's trade mark of George and the Dragon on the needleplate and later on the brass head plates. The images show St George riding astride a stallion with a sword stabbing at a writhing fire-breathing dragon below and was on all early Maxfield machines. This was to cause trouble later with Newton Wilson who used a similar mark.

 

The brass end-plate showing the Goddess Agenoria

Arthur Isaac Maxfield had previous experience with Newton Wilson so he would have used his knowledge to forge his new machine.

On its launch in Britain the Agenoria machine was an instant success winning the silver medal of excellence at the International London Exhibition of 1870. Also the Working Men's Exhibition. But who was making it?

The earliest names I have found so far are Arthur Isaac Maxfield, Isaac Cole and Richard Wood. I believe, at the moment anyway, that it was these three men who had the original plans and made the first Agenoria machines.

The best and most perfect machine for the colonies
Patronised by the Nawab Nasan of Bengal

The Agenoria continued gaining popularity and a special silver plated model was presented to Her Royal Highness the Princess of Wales. She loved the machine and later gave her seal of approval to the Agenoria. The Agenoria then became by Royal Appointment.

Ayr & Cooper agricultural show medal winners

Copies of these silver plated models were sold for £6. 6s. The attachments were silver plated on all models. I have never seen a silver plated model!

 

Winners of the silver medal in 1870

 

Maxfield Visits the Queen

Family legend tells that at the height of Arthur's success he was summoned by the Princess of Wales to Buckingham Palace.

The Princess of Wales was the daughter of King Christian IX of Denmark. She married Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, and became Princess of Wales on 10 March 1863. On 22 January 1901 Albert became King Edward VII and she became queen consort after 37 wait. Queen Alexandra died 20 November 1925.

Now while Princess and queen-in-waiting she became an enthusiast of the modern sewing machine and ran several sewing and training schools for young ladies, always using British machines such as the Jones sewing machine.

Around 1870 Princess Alexandra invited Arthur Isaac Maxfield to Buckingham Palace to demonstrate his award winning sewing machine. Arthur travelled down from Birmingham with his daughter, Mary, to the Palace.

Family legend tells that while at the Palace Queen Victoria showed an interest in Maxfield's machine and was given a demonstration of it by Mary.

After the successful visit to the Palace, Princess Alexandra, The Princess of Wales gave her seal of approval to Arthur Maxfield's sewing machine and from then on his machines were clearly marked with royal approval. It was a wonderful boost for business and Birmingham as a city.

 

By Royal appointment to H.R.H. Princess of Wales


This rare Agenoria is identical to the Royal machine and was kindly sent in by Andrew Wilkinson. Notice the beautifully engraved needleplate.

A Sewing Machine for a Princess
Messrs Maxfield & Co of Agenoria Works, Spencer Street, Birmingham, have just completed two machines for H.R.H Princess of Wales and a friend. The highly finished work should please even a Royal Lady. The Agenoria will reflect honour upon the Birmingham manufacturers when in use at Marlborough House.
The Birmingham Daily Post Feb 27th

Things turn sour

Maxfield must have run into financial problems or been offered a price he could not refuse for as I mentioned earlier he became involved, with his baby the Agenoria, with The Franklin Sewing Machine Company of Park Road, Soho, Birmingham with new partners.

Minor changes to the casting appeared around this time which means he may have had to leave some of his foundry tools behind and start afresh.

They produced Maxfield’s machine at the Franklin Works, Birmingham, England.

Engraved on the cloth plate during this period was the company trade mark, a bobbin with crossed needles with The Franklin Co around it.

Arthur Isaac Maxfield and Isaac Cole continued with the Agenoria under the name of Franklin at the Franklin Works along with Charles Fowke. Although they were not there long they did boast of producing  thousands of their Agenoria machines at their Park Road factory in Birmingham.

All this came to an end quite quickly for in November of 1872 the company was dissolved. Isaac Cole decided making machines was too hard and tried to sell them instead setting up in South Charlotte Street. He remained of good terms with Arthur Isaac Maxfield and became an agent for the Agenoria. Several of the machines he sold including the Challenge bore his stamp Cole & Co on the steel needleplate.

Cole also traded out of premises at 104 Princess Street Edinburgh and Glasgow. By December 1876 Cole's business was wound up.


Agenoria No5 complete with ornamental stand for an extra £2.2s.

As usual I am jumping all over the place so keep up!

By 1873 old Maxfield was on the run again. I have images of him scurrying along a cold Birmingham street with his family and his only treasure, his beloved Agenoria, tightly grasped under one arm.

Maxfield then set up at his New Street Works, still in Birmingham. What happened between Fowke's and Maxfield is unknown but more was to follow.

During this period when Maxfield sold the machines under his own name the main arm of the machine bore the Maxfield name not the Agenoria. So there is really a Maxfield machine in its own right. Well in name anyway.

Inventors, Patentees and sole manufactures
Maxfield's patent loose wheel Agenoria
Pronounced to be the best lock-stitch
yet
 produced with over 12,000 units already sold
A Maxfield & Co
Agenoria Sewing Machine Works
71-72 Spencer Street, Birmingham.

Also in 1873 a partnership was formed between Charles Fowke, John Judson and Joseph Harris. The company was called the Imperial Sewing Machine Company, Park Road, Birmingham. The premises was the same as the previous partners traded from. But no mention of Maxfield? Was he finally bought out?

Whether the Franklin company, under Fowke and Maxfield, was still stumbling on during this period, or they had already sold out to the expanding Judson & Harris is unknown.

Joseph Harris
Wholesale & Retail  Sewing Machine Dealer
Bull St, Birmingham

What we do know is that in 1875 The Franklin Sewing Machine Co was properly taken over by Joseph Harris & Co who continued to produce the superb Agenoria under a renamed company (the Imperial Sewing Machine Co). Did Harris just absorb the old business under some financial scheme and rename the business, under new ownership?

We do know that Harris had joined forces with Wanzer in Canada and was selling their Little Wanzer with the Harris badge, so the company was constantly changing. Were they making part of the best selling Little Wanzer as well as distributing and selling it?

The Imperial Sewing Machine Company
Joseph Harris & Co beg to call attention
to the celebrated and genuine
Agenoria
Now manufactured solely by
J. Harris & Co
Franklin Works
Park Road
Soho
Birmingham

Joseph Harris did not have the Agenoria for long and their offices and showrooms at Oriel House, 41 Bull Street Birmingham soon stopped selling the model. Incidentally they also made the Challenge sewing machine.
 

Now back to Arthur Isaac Maxfield. A court case in 1875 shows Maxfield protecting his George & Dragon trade mark against his old employer Newton Wilson. This shows he was still connected with his beloved Agenoria and he won his case.

In 1877 the Harris & Judson partnership was over and the firm was taken over by the Imperial Sewing Machine Company and stamped The Original Franklin Sewing Machine Company!

So what is going on now? Franklin stamped Agenoria's are the most likely to turn up and so I assume that during the Franklin connection most Agenoria's were made.

Funnily the few Imperial and Fowke Agenoria sewing machines that do turn up have two bobbin winders. I wonder why? Probably just an advertising gimmick, if one breaks just carry on with the other...

On the main bed they were clearly marked C Fowke, Franklin Works,  or Imperial Sewing Machine Co. Agenoria were sold through agents like Hay & Shaw of Soho, London.

 

Finally. Praise the Lord we get to the Royal Sewing Machine Company.

The Royal Sewing Machine Company

The Royal Sewing Machine Company of Smallheath, Birmingham, had been going for many years and in 1878 it acquired  the rights to the Agenoria from Harris & Co.

I have more history on the Royal Sewing Machine Company here.

The Royal Sewing Machine Co was formed by Thomas Shakespear (no e on the end) & George Illiston in 1868.

After the acquisition of the Agenoria and Challenge models they stamped their new machines with the Imperial Coat of Arms possibly to help with guarantee claims from the old companies machines at dealers around the country. By now over 17,000 machine had been produced.

 

 

The Agenoria machine was sold with several different treadles

Their factory was at Herbert Road, Small Heath, Birmingham and from then on the Agenoria had some of the Illistone patents on the model incorporating changes to the shuttle mechanisms and stitch length mechanisms. If you look at the two models you can clearly see the underneath changes but above the needleplate the machines looked very similar to Maxfield's first 1867/9 model.

The Royal Sewing Machine Company trademark became the bust of William Shakespeare taken from his likeness at the church in Stratford upon Avon where he is buried.

In 1882 The Royal Sewing Machine Company Ltd diversified its range of products and in 1883 became the Royal Machine Manufacturing Co. They produced other beauties such as the Shakespear, (no ‘e’ on the end as in William), Challenge and Avon. 


The Royal Sewing Machine Company Trademark

They also supplied machines marked with other businesses names on the plates to some of the larger larger suppliers and agents such as Colliers in London and Norton & Co who had their own Collier/Norton badged R. M. M. Co machines. All these machines are immediately identifiable as made by the Birmingham company due to the unique manufacturing design.

T. Norton & Company
Sewing Machine Makers
1880

 

Boxes were pine or walnut depending on the price

Tracing the roots of your Agenoria can be tricky but I would look at the side plate and needle or stitch plate and look for the makers name. Here you will find a host of information sometimes dealers also stamped their mark.

The plates may be marked anything from Maxfield to Franklin to Harris & Judson to Imperial or Royal Sewing Machine Co. These marks are the best way to identify its age but in reality many of the machines came out of the same premises over a 10 year period, just under different ownership.

When the Agenoria was being made this was the high-fashion of the period

The Royal Sewing Machine company, out paced by the giants such as Singer and Jones, finally ceased trading in 1888. Their beautiful but out-dated machines were too expensive and old-fashioned.

The collapse of The Royal Sewing Machine Company made little news at the time as all the papers were focused on the brutish murders in Whitechapel by the infamous Jack the Ripper.

While the weird and wonderful history of the Agenoria may have faded into the distant past the companies left behind a legacy of some of the most beautiful sewing machines of all time.  

Some say that Arthur Isaac Maxfield went down to London to start another sewing machine firm called Maxfield & Co in Islington. One of his son's John Maxfield became a senior director dying of a heart attack in 1918 after severe pneumonia.
 

 
 

News Flash!

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.

 

Both my latest books, Sussex Born and Bred, and Corner of the Kingdom
 are now available instantly on Kindle and iPad.

      

Fancy a funny read: Ena Wilf  & The One-Armed Machinist

A brilliant slice of 1940's life: Spies & Spitfires


Alex's stories are now available to keep. Click on the picture for more information.

 

CONTACT: alexsussex@aol.com

Hi
Arthur Isaac Maxfield was an ancestor of mine, his daughter Betsy Eleanor Maxfield married 
Joseph Meider who was from my Grandmother's family.  I have spoken 
with the daughter of Joseph and Betsy who told me about the Maxfield 
connection and I was delighted to see the beautiful sewing machine 
that Arthur Maxfield invented on your site

She also told me that she was related to Otto Goldschmidt through her
Mother's family.  He was married to Jenny Lind the opera singer.
I have almost made the connection but 
have not quite been able.  I would be grateful if you can shed any 
light on this.  My grandmothers family were tailors so sewing machines 
played a bit part in their lives.

Susan Santoro.
susan.santoro@sky.com

 

Hello from Toronto, Canada.
I am a descendant of Arthur Maxfield and wanted to thank you so much for the amazing history and imagery of the Agenoria sewing machine on your site.
With gratitude!
Angela
 

Hi Alex,

My name is Veronica and I just wanted to say that you site is very
informative.  I am only just starting on my journey collecting beautiful
old sewing machines, yesterday I bought my first Wilcox and Gibbs
machine, I'm collecting it tomorrow and can't wait to see it for the
first time.  My final comment to you is that you are right the Agenoria
is the most beautiful sewing machine, well that I have seen anyway. 
Maybe, one day I will be lucky enough to own one.

Thanks for the great site.

Kind regards, V

Alex,
Thank you so much and I'm so thrill to have found your site.  Your writing is wonderful
I found myself reading instead of doing research for my homework. 
I saved your site as one of my favorites so I can go back and read again and again.
Julie USA

 

Hi Alex!
As everybody else says, THANK YOU for the amazing website and all of the education that you have shared with the world. I cannot count the hours I have spent on your site, learning and enjoying your wealth of information. Mary and I really enjoy your you-tube videos also! We always check your site prior to purchasing a machine, and it has proven to be an invaluable tool in our purchasing decisions
Mary and Murray Bainbridge
Dansville MI USA

Agenoria
A brief  and confusing history by
Alex Askaroff

 

 
   

 

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