Home of the Sewalot Site

 

By Alex I Askaroff 

 

For antique and vintage sewing machines

 

 Skylark Country

Index

 

Index

Home

Fault Finder

Machines for Sale

Valuations

Books

Our Collection

Reviews

Stories

Pictures

Links

 

   

Renovations

New Stories

Poetry

Crows Nest Publications

       

 

Sewing Machine Fault Finder                     Sewing Machine Tension Problems

The Moldacot Sewing Machine

The

'Perfect Pocket Portable'

 

          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.

 

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.

 

See Alex Askaroff and his Moldacot on Youtube

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8-NVWFkm0sA&list=UL

 

The Moldacot Sewing Machine

Advertised as

'The Most Useful Invention of the Century'
or
'The Perfect Pocket Portable'

MAGNIFICENT MOLDACOTS


Moldacot lock-stitch rotary sewing machine of 1885

Moldacots are my all-time favourite antique sewing machines and I have one of the largest collections of them in the world.

See Alex Askaroff on Youtube

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8-NVWFkm0sA&list=UL

The Moldacot sewing machine is one of the most sought after and widely collected Victorian sewing machines of all time. There are just about enough of them floating around in collections, boxes and drawers to satisfy most collectors.

The Moldacot appeals to sewing machine collectors but also collectors of Victoriana and engineering enthusiasts. It is a fascinating small piece of engineering that took the Victorian era by storm.

So where do we start with this superb mechanical marvel that was patented in December 1885.

The Moldacot will accomplish all kinds of work from Muslin to sacking.

The Moldacot burst onto our markets on July 17th 1886. Prices seemed to vary from as high as 50 shillings to under three shillings and sixpence at the final sell off.

The Moldacot sewing machine took the sewing machine market by storm. Described by the Financial News in glowing terms "As the most useful invention of the century." They soon changed their tune when the full discovery of the Moldacot scam came to light...

Other sewing machine manufacturers must have been seriously worried that all of a sudden there was a cheap, small and easy machine that could be carried in the pocket, bolted to any surface and sewn with. The chunky machine oozed quality unlike the tin-plate toys. Also it was a lock-stitch.


From every angle the Moldacot is a masterpiece of unique Victorian engineering

Within weeks the share issue was vastly over subscribed and £100,000 poured in from investors hoping to make a killing with this little gem. £100,000 was a vast sum in the Victorian era, when the average weekly wage was a few shillings. When the Moldacot company fell apart many investors sued the business to try and get their money back.

The advert read "The Moldacot is a perfect lockstitch sewing machine that will take any kind of material from the finest linen to the stoutest cloth."


Moldacot Sewing Machine Tins came in several different colours.

Wow, was that an exaggeration! One of the reasons why this ingenious machine fooled so many people was the fact that it was a superbly engineered piece. No stamped-out piece of tin-plate this baby. And the idea was great, a sewing machine that you could put in your handbag or pocket, wonderful.

" At last a machine well within the reach of the classes" the papers of the day stated. The reality was much further from the truth along with hair-loss treatment and snake oil the Moldacot was a well engineered but a scam. Whether it set out as a scam we shall probably never know.

Now don't get me wrong they are fantastic machines I have one of the largest collections of them in the world but they just do not sew well at all. In fact 99% could hardly make a stitch except in trained and skilful hands. Read on...

The latest marvel
To be exported all over the world
As recommended by the London Times.
So wonderfully simple a child could use it!

Oh if only it were true...

We are surrounded with questions about the Moldacots. In the centre of our web are the almost invisible inventors, partners and directors, Rosenthal, Albert. D. Moll and John C. Cottam. The last two names combining to make the Moldacot stamped on every machine.

Sally Adolph Rosenthal
American Moldacot Patent 353970 granted December 7th 1886

What was their connection with S. A Rosenthal, the main inventor possibly from Berlin?

I can't wait for the Internet to develop further so that I can track these people down.

Recent developments at the Smithsonian have shown S. A Rosenthal was Sally Adolph Rosenthal. She applied for the original Moldacot patent application here and in America in December of 1886 (though never marketed in America).

Sally was also connected to another toy machine called La Queen. La Queen sewing machines, similar to the Tabitha sewing machine are very rare.

La Queen Sewing Machine courtesy of Don Shepherd

 

Although little else has turned up to date. Also the names of, C J.Croft, F.Dowling, J J.Robinson, and John Holroyd. Wm.Bown (not Brown) and F S.Sharpe are all connected with other various Moldacot patent and business applications.

This makes things as clear as London pea soup.

Yet another patent application appears by Moll and Cottam in July 1886 when they applied for improvements to the Moldacot, mainly for hand wheels that were later attached to the machines. However, they were certainly not on the board of directors and no trace of them turned up in the liquidation hearings. They seem to fade away into history. Did they all run off together and live happily ever after in a suburban semi-near Chelsea?

The South Australian Advertiser August 1886

 Elected chairman of the recently floated
Moldacot Pocket Sewing Machine Company,
 Mr. Howard Spensley hopes that he will
presently be reaching the colony of Victoria, Australia, to dispose of the reserved shares in the successful company.

 

The Moldacot bobbin and case are the smallest in the world! The German ones were stamped from steel sheet, the British ones were milled from a solid block.


Was the Moldacot bobbin and case from the American Mitchell Patent of 1859, 26511?


The brilliant design detail is what made the Moldacot stand out. The Moldacot had adjustable stitch length and tension.

The Moldacot offices were temporarily based at Blomfield House, London Wall and 58 Coleman Street London. The chairman Mr Arnold Pye Smith looked as if he just sat by with the company secretary, Mr William.Irving whilst the company fell apart around them. They seemed to have spent their investors money on plush office apartments and buying foreign patents.

The company started to crumble quickly and to begin with the directors blamed the inability to manufacture the machines as the cause of their demise but we later find that thousands may have been produced.

What is obvious is that none of the manufacturers could make the Moldacot for the price that they were being paid. There is little doubt that several manufacturing companies had a go at making them and it would explain all the little differences on the models that turn up. If China had been manufacturing in the 1880's they could have easily made the Moldacot and probably within budget.

A possible scenario

It all starts with a brilliant mind and a brilliant idea. A small beautifully made sewing machine that would appeal to the masses. Sales would be world wide and enormous.

Imagine money men in London. Entrepreneurs looking to make money out of new inventions. Along comes a fantastic new sewing machine with patent protection and there is nothing like it on the market. The entrepreneurs grab it and run. Moll and Cottam then improve the machine, add a hand wheel and name there little marvel the Moldacot. The entrepreneurs set up business. Everyone agrees, the papers, the public, its brilliant, and the shares fly of the shelves. All of a sudden the entrepreneurs are sitting on a pile of cash bigger than their wildest dreams.

Now the problems start. Manufacturers are having problems producing the machine under budget. Even worse, the machine had major flaws in its design. Making a hand wheel is one thing, working out how to make the smallest shuttle in the world stitch is a whole different ball game.

From this point on there is two ways to go. You can invest time and money in improving the product or you can take what you have and run. The money men already have piles of cash in their plush offices, why bother wasting it on development. Quick profit is the name of the game.

The money men faltered, what did they know about manufacturing, nothing. They had farmed the machine out to several companies here and abroad and supplies were unreliable, even worse they didn't work! The product was faulty and they had no idea how to fix it. Time to grab what you can and head for the hills with your winnings.

This is probably where the split happened in the company and the people necessary to improve the Moldacot to make it a success never materialise.


Soames & Richardson of Chancery lane, London, were one of the earlier Moldacot retailers.

June 1888 The Argus, (Published daily) NSW

All communications regarding the improved Moldacot pocket lockstitch will receive immediate attention please contact The Manager 354 Ĺ George Street, Sydney NSW, or in writing to Box 34, GPO, Melbourne.

Even with agents and supplies on the other side of the world from this point on the writing is on the wall. It is a sad scenario (great for us collectors I might add). The business goes into liquidation flogging any stock they can. Some of the factories making the Moldacots dump them in sales or rename them and sell them off to pay their outstanding bills.

Look who's counting...

How many Moldacots were made?

There has been a furious debate raging amongst collectors as to actually how many Moldacots were ever produced. Let me just start off by stirring the pot and say that in my opinion all the numbers stated about totals in manufacturing are guesswork and the totals vary depending on who you talk to.


Here I am with two near identical, none hand wheel, early production Moldacots (with the poor bobbin system that was soon modified). They came out of different factories early in the life of the Moldacot Company BUT there is a 100,000 difference in serial numbers which is just not impossible. A much more likely explanation is that the different factories started at different block numbers. This would be one explanation as to the weird serial numbers of the few Moldacots that do turn up.

Considering how few Moldacots have turned up in the last 150 years and how creative accounting is prone to exaggerate in companies that have been purposely formed to raise investment, we probably cannot rely on any figures coming out of their head office. Also taking into account the early floatation of the company their production figures are possibly just an optimistic forecast or a bit of dubious accounting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two of the 'plunger' Moldacots in my Sewalot collection twins in every way but number.

We know that the very first Moldacot were the plunger style machines with no hand-wheel attached. the hand-wheel was an after-thought (and for a time sold as an optional extra on the first models that could be drilled and retro-fitted with them). There is no doubt that a hand wheel can help stitching.

Now this is what is really interesting, here are two models from different manufacturers denoted by the moon and the star. They are both the earliest type of plunger model, no hand wheel and no holes for them. BUT look at the serial numbers. Both these machines were made at almost the same time in different factories and it is just not possible that Moldacot could have produced numbers in these amounts simultaneously. They would be out-doing Singer for production levels who had factories all around the world.

What this does is go along way to proving that the Moldacot Company simply added a few digits to their numbers to make shareholders believe that they were on a boom. "here is our 100,000 model madam, they have been an international bestseller, now even available in the colonies. Would you like me to gift wrap it?"

Interestingly the London star model is far better engineered and as smooth as silk and stitches. the left, moon model, is rougher and struggles with every plunge.

I have also seen identical machines with the same forensic engineering marks with, once again, a 100,000 difference in serial numbers. That is just not possible BUT what is possible is that the eager directors, under no legal obligation at all, put a much higher production number on their machines. This was a bit of reverse advertising as people would think that the machine must be good as so many had been made. It is still a commonly used practise today.

The other possibility is more obvious. Factory A started at 1, Factory B started at 50,000, Factory C started at 1,00,000.


Most Moldacots had the London patent and stamped Made in Germany if they were German and sometimes left plain.

The possibility that 60,000 to 100,000 Moldacots were produced is highly unlikely. They are not the sort of thing that people throw away, they don't take up space, they have little scrap value and they look interesting and feel expensive. I would make a guess that the manufacturers simply lied about the numbers they produced and not a fraction of the exaggerated total were actually made. It is the only credible explanation as to why so few turn up today (unless there is another hoarder like me somewhere in the Australian Outback stroking Moldacots in his shed).

By now the company was also advertising itself as the

 Moldacot Colonial & Foreign Pocket Sewing Machine Company, Ltd.

This is one of the earlier Moldacots to surface, serial No 348 in a leather deluxe box. This is the example of the London Patent machine. It is pre hand-wheel circa 1886, now in my Sewalot Collection.

Who made the Moldacot Sewing Machine?

There were at least five main manufacturers. I have found that two were in Britain and one in Germany, possibly the Ubrig Company of Berlin. However there is no doubt that there with the smaller makers there were possibly as many as ten manufacturers of Moldactos.

The British companies that made the majority of Moldacots were J.Holroyd of Tomlinson Street, Hulme, Manchester, who were large jobbing engineers capable of making just about anything from a lathe to a knitting machine and W.M.Bown of Brearley Street Birmingham.

(The Argus NSW 24 Dec 1887)

The Improved Moldacot Machine with rotary attachment is declared by the whole press of England to be the highest form of mechanical skill and ingenuity.

I have seen five or six distinct manufacturing makers marks so far and more may come to light. It is said that the Birmingham model Moldacots were stamped with the Birmingham anchor. The London made Moldacots a small star and some German ones a crown or Knights Cross. There is also a crescent moon on many, so the search is on for at least one more country of manufacture, maybe Ireland?


Here is the German Knights Cross or Maltese Cross makers mark. Many of the early manufacturers of Moldacots had their own mark and separate serial numbers to help head office in London distinguish each maker.

Moldacots Makers Marks

Star: Holroyd of Manchester patented London stamp

Large Anchor: Bown of Birmingham

Small Anchor: Unknown maker, Birmingham

Crown: Germany

Crescent moon: Germany.

Knights Cross/ Maltese Cross: Germany.

Plain, no makers symbol: Unknown, possibly London and Germany. The Bonita (rebadged Moldacot) was most probably German as a few have the crown mark on them.

Surprisingly, many of the models from different makers have the London stamp on them. This was possibly to confuse the competition or to allow the French market to buy the German machines (the French were not touching anything German after the Franco Prussian War) or to allow some patent protection.


Instructions in French for the French Moldacot sewing machines.

I am still not ruling out a finding more London manufacturers, I live in hope. It is just discovering which old defunked engineers made some of the little beasties. Almost any skilled small manufacturing or jobbing engineering firm could make the Moldacot sewing machine, though the German ones do seem to be better made and smoother. This may lead some credence to the first models being made in Germany. 

Interestingly the Moldacot was improving right up to the companies collapse with an improved bobbin winder appearing on the very last models.

Webb Bros Drapers, 39-41 High Street Walthamstow
Now showing in our Spring Show, Millinery, Prints, Ribbons & Laces
Also the novelty Moldacot sewing machine.
Best quality, smallest prices, for all dress goods.

 

The machines also sold through a few retailers that did not normally stock sewing machines like Stewart & Co of 249 Oxford Street, London. They sold watches, jewellery and fancy goods.

"Every Moldacot sent out thoroughly cleaned, oiled and in perfect working order"


The Moldacot Company had loads of happy customers. I have pages of testimonials. Were they made up?

Sale of the Century

Within three years (1885-1888) the company had shot to the stars and collapsed into the black pit of liquidation, manufacturing only a fraction of the millions of machines that the chairman had originally promised.

Over £50,000, the equivalent of well over a million today, of shareholders money disappeared in such things as manufacturing costs, patent rights and bonuses.

Was this possibly a nice retirement for our two inventors, Moll and Cottam? At a cost of 8 shillings to manufacture (an unacceptably high amount seeing, as they were only initially selling for 10s 6d and only later at 16s or $1.25) that would have accounted for many thousands of the `lost` shareholders cash. Eventually they were being cleared out for a third of the price.

United Sewing Machine Company

No matter what was going on in the book-cooking department by 1888 the then called United Sewing Machine Company collapsed.

One point of interest is that I believe that Albert Moll lost his first wife and if it was during this period it could explain a lot.

The Surplus machines were auctioned off to try and pay some of the debts.

1888

1888 was the year that the notorious Jack the Ripper stalked the streets of London. Amazing to think that he would have walked near the Moldacot business.

The newest Fleet Street daily, The Star newspaper was the first daily tabloid to dramatise the murderous exploits of who they originally called the Murder Maniac. It was only after the savage murder of Mary Anne Nicholes that the Name Jack the Ripper was born. It would be a name that would live on in infamy across the decades.

Thomas O'Connor, editor of The Star, was not interested in sewing machines, he was interested in mass media sales. The murderous wave of death by a crazed lunatic was just what he needed. All the daily papers would have been full of the frenzied attacks on Whitechapel prostitutes. And so little notice would have been paid to the demise of the humble Moldacot. However legends are plentiful and surround the amazing Moldacot, so our story is far from finished.

Max Lichtendorf
Grand Hotel De Boulevard
Bucharest, Romania,
Now selling the famous 'Charming' by Moldacot of London


This brilliant advert appeared in The Epoca publication, Romania, April 10th 1888
It shows an eager entrepreneur trying to cash in on the Moldacots in a last ditch attempt to sell of machines. Max must have had stock of the Moldacots, did he travel to London and buy up some of the bankrupt stock? Many thanks to Radu Portocala for sending me this amazing clip from Romania.

Rumours & Legends

                                         Bonita Sewing Machine

A few machines were renamed Bonita, (beautiful) probably as a novelty more than anything. All the Bonita machines that I have seen have a much thinner name plate with the name Bonita. Possibly the original side plate was skimmed and re-stamped. No Bonita machines I have seen carry a makers stamp.

These are amongst the most sought after models and as rare as hens teeth.  

I have been told that all the Bonita machines were from Germany. Was the German plant getting some of its money back by selling bankrupt stock after the British firm failed to pay them?

Bonita or 'beautiful' Moldacots were probably old stock bought, modified and renamed then sold off as novelty machines, perhaps to South American or Spanish markets.

Years later some more machines were discovered in a disused London warehouse which led to the most amazing story of all.

 

 

The Titanic

The strangest story of all, quite unlikely but definitely my favourite, is that a stock of Moldacots found boxed in oilcloth and stored in a building about to be demolished several decades later in 1911, were sold to an American entrepreneur at scrap value. He then shipped them, a year later, to the States aboard the ill-fated Titanic only to disappear in a watery grave. I don't know if that is true, but I love it.


The smallest working lockstitch bobbin and case in the world.

The New York based paper the Sewing World noted; "The machine will not be remembered as the magnificent, but more likely as the notorious Moldacot".

The London Times chipped in renaming it "The Mouldy Cat".

The advertising for the Moldacot was a laugh...


The final 1,000 Moldacots were sold off by the specialists J Theobald & Co of London for 6s 6d. The price would fall further!

The real reason for Moldacots demise was very simple, the machine did not sew well, it was temperamental and full of design flaws. This is lucky for collectors as it means that many Moldacots survive with very little wear and tear.

The Moldacot was rushed onto a waiting market before it was perfected. All the advertising and huge fanfare was as the old saying goes... the pride before the fall.

Perhaps the pressure from the shareholders was so intense they rushed forward with manufacture and distribution. I remember researching Elias Howe and how he struggled for years trying to get his sewing machine to stitch spending precious months building each machine while others like Isaac Singer overtook him and stole his market.


Note the improved hand wheel on this model.

While the Moldacot company was collapsing in Europe agents were still being acquired around the world all the way to Wellington in New Zealand. Today with computers and mobile phones the company would have wound up its staff around the world in a matter of minutes. I can guess that some agents were half way around the planet by the time they heard the news that their company had collapsed.

Moldacot stockists
Whitelock & Son, Draper's
Castle Bay, Somerset
.

The flaws that stopped the Moldacots from sewing well were passed on from manufacturer to manufacturer. Because several factories were producing the Moldacot they would have simply have done as instructed and made the machine to exact specifications. They would not have improved or modified the machine simply filled the orders.


Theobald's advertised in many local papers, publications and magazines around the country to sell off the final Moldacots at 6s 6d, just a fraction of its original price.

And so our poor Victorian beauty, the perfect pocket portable, bites the dust for one simple reason it won't sew.

"I remember my father trying to get it to work, I watched with fascination as he attached it to the kitchen table . He played with the Moldacot trying to get it to sew. It was not long before he started his cursing!"

On studying the mechanism a few simple improvements would work wonders, a take up spring to remove slack thread from the shuttle area, an adjustable shaft to allow individual timing for each machine, a stronger action on the foot to allow the work to feed better, bobbin case tension springs and so on. It is easy for a sewing machine engineer today to say this with a 120years of sewing machine mechanisms to fall back on.

The Moldacot may be seen and tested at
F. J. W. Fear's
Willis Street,
Wellington
New Zealand

But the fact remains that Albert Moll, John

 Cottam and Sally Rosenthal seemed to stop at the final hurdle and never got there beautiful sewing machine quite right. Were they so pleased with the influx of money they became side tracked? Did they believe it was finished? I doubt it; after all, if the machine were easily operated, there would have been public exhibitions and displays; the public seemed more than willing to invest in the company.

In all probability the person who had originally designed the amazing machine did not have any further input into its manufacture and so did not cure the minor problems that destroyed it.


You can see that the price of the Moldacots falling, here to 16 shillings down from 50s at its peak and was now being sold through a jewellers rather than a sewing machine shop. The price was falling and falling fast.

Problems, problems, problems...

Any one who tries to operate a Moldacot soon discovers the pitfalls; only with careful manipulation can you give the impression of successful sewing. I know there is the odd one that does sew but not the majority. This has never put collectors off in fact it means many Moldacots survive in excellent almost unused condition.


The Moldacot sewing machines came with a host of instructions. They were even printed on the tin.

Funnily this makes no odds to collectors who treasure them for their rarity, quality and workmanship. The fact that they have not been sewed with means many survive in great condition unlike many other sewing machines. Even the reels of thread had to be specially made to fit the machines by Kerr & Co Ltd of Paisley, Scotland.

J. Theobald & Company

At the company headquarters there were specially trained girls that knew just how to sew with the machine and could give a good impression of the machine sewing. However, they would not allow anyone else to have a go. Even when the press turned up no one else was allowed to operate the machine.

Were Moll and Cottam removed by greedy businessmen who only realised too late they were still needed? I live in hope that the truth will out but we may never know.

The machine is driven by a winch handle. The needle-bar reciprocates and its upward motion is assisted by a spring. The presser foot is rocked by a projection on the needle bar at each extremity of the stroke, so providing feed motion which is toward the operator. To have the feed in this direction is a matter of convenience in a small machine

What we do know is Moldacots turn up in an amazing variety of different boxes, green, red, blue, cardboard, wood, and my favourite, leather. On the side of the metal tins were adverts for Horrockse's finest cotton.

Needles were produced by Joseph Perkins, Henry Milward & Son and A Booker & Co, all from Redditch. The machine used a No1 tapered needle.

There is a brilliant needle Museum in Redditch and well worth a visit if you are in the area. Charles Dickens once visited and was impressed to see boys no younger than six working there!

The famous East End London matchmakers Bryant & May also made the cardboard boxes with the metal strips on each corner. Bryant & May still produce matches to this day under far stricter regulations.

Back in Victorian London factories employed children. The sulphur and chemicals gave rise to many illnesses. This was the London of Charles Dickens and Jack the Ripper where a poor child's life was only measured in their working ability. Dr Bernardo was so stunned on passing through London that he stayed and helped the poor orphans rather than go on with his journey to Africa.


Bryant & May made some of the rarest Moldacot cardboard boxes this isn't one of them it was plain or with advertising like W Morley & Gray of 36 Gutter Lane, London who were a drapers and fabric supplier.

John Charles Cottam

John Charles Cottam was born in Nottinghamshire in 1860. He was the son of a railwayman from Long Eaton and was orphaned at an early age. Growing up in an orphanage Cottam became tough and ruthless and by the time he came across Sally Rosenthal's machine he knew how to raise easy capital and became the company promoter. Cottam concentrated on elderly widows, wealthy patrons and clergy. People who would not create too much fuss when they realised that they had been scammed.

The Moldacot was a brilliant marketing success but by 1888 the scam was out, Moll escaped to Canada and was not heard of again but Cottam turned his gaze toward a Yorkshire inventor and philanthropist, one Samson Fox. Samson Fox was riding the wave of his success, gifting to the nation the Royal College of Music in Kensington with a cheque to the sum of £46,000 paid to the Prince of Wales.

Cottam charmed his way into Fox's circle and promoted his latest money spinner, the corrugated boiler flue. Fox's ability to manufacture these flue's and his other ideas, allowed him to create a vast fortune. Unfortunately for him Cottam had got his grips into him by acting as a fund raiser for his latest products.

Cottam used similar methods to his Moldacot scam by mass advertising of Fox's products, citing testimonials from the rich and famous, including a few 'royals'. Within a short period huge sums were raised and by 1895 it all hit the fan and ended up in court with shareholders and investors crying out for blood. Cottam had already gone bust in 1893 and hit the road, leaving Fox fighting alone in court.

Unlike the Moldacot scam, with the Fox trial no one could conclusively prove that Samson Fox had set out to scam any investor and 13 of the 14 charges were dismissed outright. Samson Fox was a ruined man and his reputation was in tatters. It could not have been all bad as at the age of 61 he married a 27yr old.

John Charles Cottam was a ruined man and died in 1905 at the young age of 45.

Back to the Moldacots.

The machines themselves differ quite considerably, plungers, hand wheels, closed and open (open being the more popular amongst collectors), many different stampings on the plates and other parts, crowns anchors, moons and crosses. These markings were to signify which factory had made the machines so, for example, the anchor models were coming from Birmingham.


A rare dark leather Moldacot sewing machine box (now in my Sewalot collection). There are also a few red leather Moldacot boxes made in Paris.

Be careful

The rarest of the Moldacots did not have a hand wheel at all. Although you have to be careful that someone has not just removed the hand assembly. You will note there are no mounting holes on the side of a genuine non-hand-wheel Moldacot, also a single thread guide wire hole and no quick release for the bobbin case. This is easy for an expert to see. Make sure if you are paying for a rare early, non-hand wheel model, that it is the real deal.

Hand Wheels

After the first year of manufacturing all Moldacots, both German and British, had the holes in the side regardless of being supplied with a hand wheel or not.

The hand-wheels, in open or closed form, were an optional extra priced at 2/- and 3/-(shillings). The machine can operate without the optional extra but it was a nice little earner for the company to sell the different hand wheels after the original purchase.

Some Moldacots survive complete without the hand-wheel, some early models not even having the mounting holes for the extra assembly. These are the rarest and most collectible of all the Moldacots.

You will note, if you have an early Moldacot, in its original tin, the instructions on the tin make no mention of the additional hand-wheel, just the plunger operation.

Also it is almost impossible to cram a Moldacot with a hand wheel into the tin. It makes me wonder if the tins were made in one go by another factory at an earlier date by one manufacturer and the machines subsequently fitted into them.

Bobbins

Some bobbin cases were machined from solid steel, others made from pressed sheet steel depending on which manufacturer they came from. The British cases were mainly solid. Both types work fine. Roughly, from serial No 1 to 11,000 the bobbin case was pushed out of the sewing machine with a pointed object. Tricky and frustrating as I always drop the bobbin and case.

Sometime after the first 11,000 Moldacots, production modifications were made and the 1886 Isaac Patent, allowed the bobbin case to be removed with an extra hinged locking bar (No32 in the picture below), which was far easier. It saves me bending over to pick up the bobbin and case as well!

One other technical point to note is that the British Moldacots had an extra hole in the side of the main block (of the machine) which you pushed the wire bobbin winder stem into. This locked the needlebar assembly at the correct height to set the needle when replacing it. The German ones did not have this very useful feature and came with a needle gauge. I wonder why? It is a great way to quickly tell which country made the Moldacot you are looking at.

The Moldacot Colonial & Foreign
Pocket Sewing Machine Company Ltd
Blomfield House, London Wall
London East Centre

 

The different markings on the machines may lend some credence to the chairmanís report stating the original difficulties they had in securing reliable manufacturers. Were they hoping that the manufactures would sort out the fine-tuning? Whatever the truth there is no doubt a lot more will come to light about the machine.

Discounted from 50shillings to 16s to 3s/6d
 A massive discount to clear stock

In effect, what do we have? One of the most sought-after small sewing machines of all time, made for just a few years and collected by toy and full sized sewing machine enthusiasts. The Moldacot is also treasured by other collectors as well for its superb quality and unique design. It is always a great talking point in any collection.

Priest & Holdgate
Sole Agents for
Moldacot sewing machines
South Canterbury

With a little more effort the Moldacot could have become a fine sewing machine carried by seamstresses and tailors in their pockets all over the world. Instead, the Moldacot disappeared for over a century to reappear as a unique collectors item.

The last we hear of the Moldacot was down in Australia as late as 1889. An advert appeared in The Argus looking for agents to handle the new stock shortly arriving of the Moldacot Pocket Sewing Machine.

Occasionally Moldacot sewing machines do turn up in Australia mainly in New South Wales and there is no doubt that from the first arrival of the company director Howard Spensley in 1886, Moldacots were sold in Australia and New Zealand.

Scam or no scam in 1886 the Moldacot was greeted by an excited Victorian public as
 the perfect pocket portable.

Values


This beautiful early Moldacot set a new record in April 2016 fetching £1,108 ($1,650) plus postage. Many thanks to Jonathan from Jayo Emms Antiques for the photo.

Made so long ago and now so rare, Moldacots come up now and again. All depends on condition. For example one missing a part is practically useless as you will probably not find a spare part for a machine made around 1886.

All serious collectors have a Moldacot or two in their collection some like me have many. They reflect an historic time in our history. 

Perfect and complete Moldacots have fetched great prices so if you see one going cheap grab it while you can they will only get scarcer, rarer and more valuable as time goes by. Make sure it is complete it is almost impossible obtain any spare parts. In March 2012 one sold for $1,400 then another Moldacot was sold for $1,500 complete with blue tin and the prices still keep rising and the latest $1,600. Keep an eye out as some still can be grabbed for a bargain.

The most valuable Moldacot you'll ever find will be either the very first or the final few. Some came in a leather case, possibly stamped Patent-London, very low or high serial number. The earliest had no hand wheel, plunger only, no mounting holes for one and no release catch for the bobbin case. I have only come across two of these in 40 years of searching.

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.

Well that's it folks, just about everything I have ever learnt about this wonderful little marvel. If you enjoyed my research or have anything to add I would love to hear from you (especially the spelling mistakes, don't forget I spell in UK English). alexsussex@aol.com

Elvis has left the building!

I do hope you enjoyed the Moldacot history, It has taken many years to compile. Do drop me a line if you have anything to add: alexsussex@aol.com

News Flash!

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

      

Home Time for a great story: Spies & Spitfires


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

  Home            Index                Books

Dear Alex

I have just read your very interesting article on the Moldacots.  I 
have one used by my great uncle during the First World War.  It is a 
Moldacot Patent London with an anchor104669.
I have wondered about it for years and thought it 
about time I found out more about it.

Many thanks for your article

Stella Lodge

Amazing work man, keep it up.

F M Dyke USA
 

G'day Alex,

Just came across your article on the history of the Moldacot sewing machine while researching the one that I have, very interesting and informative.

I am rather glad to hear that they never worked properly as I am a fitter and turner with 30 years experience and while I can appreciate the mechanism and what it is trying to achieve, I have never been able to get it to actually sew without getting a tangled mess of thread.

The machine was my Grandmothers and I have been fascinated by it for at least the last 40 years.

Regards

Chris Blake
Tasmania, Aus
 

Hi Alex
 
Your site has the most info I have ever seen!!!  Thank you for making a site regarding the Moldacot as I have never seen one before! My Great Grandfather's name was Albert Moll.

Albert Moll had two sons and a daughter from his first marriage in London. After his first wife passed away, he remarried.

His son, my Grandfather, was John Samuel Watson Moll who emigrated to Canada. I recently located my Grandfather's grave in North Vancouver and found there was not even a grave stone to mark his burial plot (or his brother's).  I had two grave stones made up and placed.  I am interested in finding out more about my English heritage and the Moldacot Company
Kind regards....
 
Chris Sihota
c.sihota@hotmail.com 

 

WOW, I have to say that the work you have done is second to none. Thank you for your time and effort it is much appreciated.

Lucy W, Glasgow

Dear Alex, What a wonderful surprise to find your amazing blog. I can only guess how much time you have spent collecting and working on these pages. All I can say that this new collector in London is very grateful.

T Page, Notting Hill

 

See Alex Askaroff demonstrating on You Tube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8-NVWFkm0sA&list=UL

 


 

 

CONTACT: alexsussex@aol.com

 

 Skylark Country