Moldacot lock-stitch rotary sewing machine of
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. They also happen to be my all time favourite sewing
machine (even though most don't sew).
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.
This is an
incredibly complex and twisted story with several missing pieces
(but aren't all scams?). So where do we start with this superb mechanical marvel
that was fist patented
in the UK in December 1885
by Sally (often called Sigmund) A Rosenthal.
The Moldacot will accomplish
all kinds of work from Muslin to sacking. Really!
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
had taken the 19th
Century 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...
machine manufacturers must have been seriously worried. 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 available at the time). Also it was a lockstitch
with a tiny bobbin inside.
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. They didn't get very far.
The first 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
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 reality was much further from the truth along with hair-loss
treatment and snake oil the Moldacot was a well engineered but a
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% hardly make a stitch, except in trained and skilful hands. Now,
although the main perpetrators of our machine may have all had some
practice in scamming the public, I genuinely don't believe the
Moldacot started out that way. Basically it is just too well made,
with constant improvements to try and get it working well. If it
were a scam the investors could have made a much cheaper model and
much more profit!
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...
The Moldacot Royalties Trust Ltd
17th July 1886
We are surrounded with
questions about the Moldacots. In the centre of our web are the
almost invisible inventors, partners and directors,
Frederick Nevill Clarke, Albert Douglas
John Charles Cottam. And
the money man, American, W E Dando.
The Mol-Da-Cot was born combining the names of the
three main partners. The name was Moldacot stamped on every machine
except the later Bonita export or Spanish models.
shares and forms may be obtained
from Bankers, brokers and company offices.
6,000 shares at £5 each are now on offer.
S A Rosenthal
patent 15513 granted 17th December 1885.
American Moldacot Patent
353970 granted December 7th 1886. German patent 36617 granted 13th May
1886. Don't forget this model probably did not work! It just
showed the principles that Rosenthal wanted to protect. This was not
uncommon, many patents actually need improvements before working
It's just a rush to get your idea protected as fast as possible
before anyone else.
from the Smithsonian
show, S. A Rosenthal was Sally
Rosenthal the son of a German Immigrant who
was living in London. He applied for the original Moldacot patent application
here the UK in 1885 (Patent 15513) and was successfully granted it
on 17th December 1885.
In America, Rosenthals' patent was granted on 7th December of 1886 (though
I have never found any marketing for it in
America). It shows that Rosenthal, Moll, Dando, and Cottam were already on a roll,
offering shares in their new company before the machine was even
patented in the US.
There is speculation that
Moll, Dando and Cottam, paid Rosenthal a one-off payment for the
patent and moved him along. I'm not so sure. the Moldacots underwent
constant changes and improvements over its short life, leading to
Sally Rosenthal was also connected to another brilliant little
machine called La Queen. La Queen sewing
machines, similar in rough looks to the
sewing machine are very rare. La Queen Sewing Machine
image courtesy of
Sally, much like Evelyn, Alex, Leslie, Vivien,
Hillary and many more was a popular name of the period that could be
used by either boys or girls.
While Sally did not have
much luck getting his Moldacot to sew well (possibly due to
disagreements with the other partners or the complex lockstitch) he
cracked it with his La Queen Sewing Machine.
The La Queen was a much
simpler chainstitch. Although the La Queen Sewing Machine sold in
tiny numbers (making it one of the rarest and most collectible
sewing machines), it sewed a perfect chainstitch. The part brass and
steel pressed machine was well constructed, clamped to a table for
use and is dearly sought after today. There was not one piece on the
La Queen that wasn't well made. One major flaw was the unique short
needle. Similar to a Willcox & Gibbs but 2mm shorter. You can grind
the end of a W&G needle and it will work perfectly on the La Queen.
In August 1887, S A
Rosenthal had patented his La Queen. It was modified for production
with further improvements by John James Robinson and Edward Hanff of
Old Street, Middlesex, England. It is possibly these two that were
going to manufacture the La Queen in England. However it is only the
French model marked with French technical patent mark (Brevete SGDG,
Sans Garantie Du Gouvernment) on the plate, that seems to appear, so
they may not have managed it. Their model would be easily recognised
as it had a lifter arm for the presser foot. I bet there is one out
By 1890 the La Queen
Sewing Machine was being produced in France in limited numbers and
soon faded away. I only have one in my Sewalot Collection, though
many say it is the most complete and finest they have seen. I have a
little clip on YouTube with the Moldacot if you can find it. So
let's leave Sally and his spectacular La Queen Sewing Machine.
Moldacot sewing machines
Messes Smith, Payne & Smiths
1 Lombard Street
Now back to our
little beauty, The Moldacot. Besides Rosenthal, Moll and Cottam, the names of, C J.Croft, F.Dowling, J
John Holroyd. Wm.Bown (not
Brown) and F S.Sharpe are all connected with other various
Moldacot patent, trademark and business applications. Oh doesn't this makes things as clear as London pea soup.
Yet another patent application appears by
the group in July
of 1886 when they applied for improvements to the Moldacot, mainly for
hand wheels that were later attached to the machines. However, the
three main men
were certainly not on the board of directors and no trace of them
turned up in the liquidation hearings.
their earlier scams Moll & Cottam seem to fade away into
history. Did they all run off together and live happily ever after in
a suburban semi-near Chelsea?
Australian Advertiser August 1886
Elected chairman of the recently floated
Moldacot Pocket Sewing Machine Company,
Mr. Howard Spensley hopes that he will
be reaching the colony of Victoria, Australia, to dispose of the
reserved shares in the
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
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 up
started to crumble quickly. To begin with the
directors blamed the
inability to manufacture enough machines as the
main cause of their demise, but
we later find that thousands may have
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!
"We are not
Queen Victoria not having much luck with the
Moldacot sewing machine! Actually this wonderful image is Carol
Allman a specialist in Victorian re-enactment.
starts with a brilliant mind and a brilliant idea. A small
beautifully made sewing machine that would appeal to the masses.
Sales would be worldwide and enormous!
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, Dando 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. Well the early profits anyway.
Moldacot sewing machines
T. Norris Oakley Esq
London Stock Exchange
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
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 becomes the name of the
game and these boy were experts at cut-and-run.
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
can and head for the hills.
probably where the split happened in the company. The people
necessary to improve the Moldacot to make it a success never
materialise. Oh, if only they had persevered.
Soames & Richardson of Chancery lane, London,
were one of the earlier Moldacot retailers.
June 1888 The
Argus, (Published daily) NSW
communications regarding the improved Moldacot pocket lockstitch
will receive immediate attention please contact The Manager 354 ½
George Street, Sydney NSW, or in writing to Box 34, GPO, Melbourne.
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. The
liquidators flog any
they can. Some of the factories making the Moldacots dump them for a
pittance or rename them and sell them off to pay outstanding
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. The totals vary
depending on who you talk to.
Here I am in 2016 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. Some of the genuine early London nameplates are rectangular
on the Moldacots without the curved bottom.
We know that the very first
Moldacots 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
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 'moon model', on the left is rougher and struggles with every
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. People
would think that the machine must be good as so many had been made. It is
still commonly used today.
The other possibility is more obvious. Factory A started at 1,
Factory B started at 50,000, Factory C started at 100,000.
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
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
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
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
45 Brearley Street Birmingham
who specialised in attachments and binders but could also make
shuttles for all the popular models available at the time.
(The Argus NSW
24 Dec 1887)
Moldacot Machine with rotary attachment is declared by the whole
press of England to be the highest form of mechanical skill and
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
Moldacots Makers Marks known so far
Holroyd of Manchester patented London stamp
Large Anchor: Bown of Birmingham
Anchor: Unknown maker, Birmingham
Cross/ Maltese Cross: Germany.
makers symbol: Unknown, possibly London and Germany. The Bonita
(rebadged Moldacot) was most probably German as a few have the crown
mark on them.
Interestingly on the German crescent moon models they also made a
few that cold take Moldacot attachments such as hemmers and binders.
I have only ever seen the crescent moon mark with these extra
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.
Pocket Sewing Machine
Maison de Vente
Rue de Caumartin
Instructions in French for the French Moldacot
I am still not
ruling out a finding more London manufacturers, I live in hope. It
is just discovering which old
engineers made some of the little beasties. Almost any skilled small manufacturing or
jobbing engineering firm could make the Moldacot sewing machine, though
some of 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.
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.
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
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
Over £50,000 (the
equivalent of well over a million today)
of shareholders money disappeared, supposedly in such things as manufacturing
costs, patent rights and
Was this possibly a nice
bonus for our inventors?
In truth at a cost of
around 8 shillings to
manufacture (an unacceptably high amount seeing, as they were only
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 cost 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.
Surplus machines were auctioned off to try and pay some of the debts.
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
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
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
Grand Hotel De Boulevard
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.
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
Years later some more
were discovered in a disused London warehouse which led to
the most amazing story of all.
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 New York based paper
the Sewing World noted; "The machine will not be remembered as
the magnificent, but more likely as the notorious Moldacot".
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. To clear stock the price would
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.
pressure from the shareholders was so intense they rushed forward with
manufacture and distribution. I remember
Elias Howe and how he struggled for years trying to get his sewing
machine to stitch, spending precious months building each machine, while
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. Also around the world, all the way to Wellington in New Zealand.
Today with computers and mobile phones the company would have wound up
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. It
must have been baffling as each maker would have been played of
against one another. Well so-an-so's machine works why doesn't our?
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
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.
may be seen and tested at
F. J. W. Fear's
But the fact remains that
Albert Moll, John Cottam,
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.
In all probability
had originally designed the amazing machine did not have enough further
input into its manufacture. He did not cure the minor problems
and 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.
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
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 &
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.
The machine is driven
by a winch handle.
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.
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.
in Victorian London factories employed children. The
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
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
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
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. Sally Adolf
Rosenthal became an electrical engineer, but also died young at 47
in 1902. Interestingly he was calling himself Sigmund at the end as
Sally (for a man) was probably proving awkward anywhere but Germany!
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
in my Sewalot collection). There are also a few red leather Moldacot
boxes made in Paris.
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.
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.
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
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.
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!
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 chairman’s 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, especially with the ease of
online research today.
Discounted from 50shillings to 16s to 3s/6d
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
Sole Agents for
Moldacot sewing machines
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.
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
There are a
handful of super-rare crescent moon Moldacots made in Germany that
have an appendage that, to date, no one has managed to identify. The
machines with these extra bits also have adaption's for binders and
Here you can see one of the Moldacots in my
Sewalot Collection with the unusual hemming foot adaption. Below is
the same machine with the unidentified curved block (just to the
right of the tension adjuster). It has an oil hole in the drilled
engineering has shown that these appendages were made at the same
time as the main block of the machine. However they remain a
mystery. If you have any information about what it could possibly be
for please do email me:
email@example.com. It appears that a few 'special' Moldacots
were made with hemmers, binders and even a bobbin winder. In over 40
years I have only come across six of these.
Here you can see the hemmer in
The hemmer was a bolt on
accessory. Strangely it is only the Moldacots with French
instructions and crescent moon stamps that seem to have these
The strangest accessory of all,
a Moldacot bobbin winder.
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. As always 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
collectors have a Moldacot or two in their collection some like me have
many. They reflect an historic time in our history.
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. Keep an eye out as some still can be
grabbed for a bargain.
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
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built on the back of one of the greatest inventions of the 19th century.
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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: firstname.lastname@example.org
All Alex's books are now available on Amazon in digital or paperback
If this isn't the perfect book it's
close to it!
I'm on my third run though already.
Love it, love it, love it.
F. Watson USA
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