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The Shakespear Sewing Machine

'Not for an age but for all time'



  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.

See Alex Askaroff on Youtube


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.


The Shakespear Sewing Machine





The Shakespear sewing machine motto is Not for an age but for all time.

The motto is perfect to describe a sewing machine that is timeless for here we are in the 21st century talking about a machine that was not made in this century or even the last but the one before that. The Shakespear sewing machine has had a fascinating history and today is one of the most sought after and collected rare sewing machines. Above is one of the last side plates used on the sewing machine with Shakespeare in front of possibly his birthplace in Stratford Upon Avon, though some believe it is Anne Hathaway's cottage or Nash House.


This is the best of the five Shakespear models in my Sewalot Collection. I bought her from Graham Forsdyke in the 1990's and he always brings his machines up beautifully. I love the lions paw feet and sturdy proportions, she looks like she will sew forever.


The Shakespear sewing machine is a delight, Victorian 'eye candy' at its best.




 Alex Askaroff, founder of Sewalot





The Shakespear sewing machine was manufactured by the Royal Sewing Machine Co of Small Heath Birmingham.


The Royal Sewing Machine Co




The Shakespear sewing machine circa 1870



Now before we get to the Shakespear (we will find out why there is no 'e' on the end) and The Royal Sewing Machine Company of Small Heath, Birmingham, England, and the machines they produced we must talk about the Agenoria.


The reason is that the Agenoria sewing machine was being manufactured slightly before the Royal Sewing Machine Co bought out the company that made the famous Shakespear. Did that make sense? It will become clear I promise.


I will give you the history of one of the most beautiful sewing machines ever made and then incorporate the Royal Sewing Machine Co into our story. It is brief but interesting period of British engineering.



The Royal Sewing Machine Company was, in its time a successful middle England firm that hand built superb and collectible machines. The ones that survive today fetch excellent money when they do appear on auction sites.


The Royal Sewing Machine Co was responsible for the manufacture of many models. They were patentees and sole makers of the following:


The Royal Milton


The Avon


The Times


The Monarch


The Regent


The Shakespear


The Challenge


The Agenoria (once it bought the rights)


The Windsor


The Eureka


The Eugenie


The Royal


The South Kensington





So now lets get to the Agenoria sewing machine one of my favourites in my collection.




The Agenoria


The Agenoria Sewing Machine circa 1870

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

We are concerned with Arthur Isaac Maxfield who gave the Agenoria name to his factory and to his most stunning sewing machine. Designed in 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 Agenoria sewing machine by Maxfield Pre Royal ownership.

Considered one of the most beautiful sewing machines ever, excuse the dust! I call it protection from ultraviolet .

The superb sewing machine design was registered in 1869 and patented on Aug 20th 1870. The Agenoria sewing machine was originally manufactured by Arthur Isaac Maxfield at his Agenoria works in Birmingham 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.

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. The trade mark of George and the Dragon was always 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.


The brass end-plate showing the Goddess Agenoria

The machine was an instant success winning the silver medal of excellence at the International London Exhibition of 1870. Later 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.  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 must have run into financial problems or been offered a price he could not refuse for he later sold the Agenoria to The Franklin Sewing Machine Company of Park Road, Soho, Birmingham. 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.

By 1875 The Franklin Sewing Machine Co was taken over by Joseph Harris & Co who continued to produce the superb Agenoria and renamed the newly enlarged company to the Imperial Sewing Machine Co. But not for long...


The start of the Royal Sewing Machine Company


Thomas Shakespear


In 1877 this firm was taken over once again. This time it was by the Royal Sewing Machine Company of Small Heath, Birmingham. The company had been making sewing machines very successfully for many years. It was formed by Thomas Shakespear (no e on the end) & George Illiston in 1868. See I told you I would get to it eventually...


The machine was sold with several different treadles

By incorporating the Agenoria they had removed some competition and increased their range, a simple business tactic.

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 and stitch length mechanisms.

In 1882 The Royal Sewing Machine Company Ltd diversified its range of products and 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 Shakespear was a simple lockstitch machine.


The machines were sold to dealers such as Cole & Co of Edinburgh and A. R. Farm of Renfield Street, Glasgow.


They also supplied machines marked with other businesses names to some larger suppliers such as Colliers in London who had their own Collier badged R. M. M. Co machine.

The most profitable agent was E. Pepper of Crescent Buildings, Bridge Street, Newcastle-Under-lyme.






All these machines are immediately identifiable as made by the Birmingham company due to the similarities of design.


Boxes were pine or walnut depending on the price

The company out paced by the giants such as Singer and Jones finally ceased trading in 1888. It 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 company may have faded into history they have left behind a legacy of some of the most beautiful sewing machines of all time.  

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, I do hope you enjoyed my work. I spend countless hours researching and writing these pages and I love to hear from people so drop me a line and let me know what you thought: alexsussex@aol.com

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

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