The Royal Sewing Machine Company was formed by Thomas Shakespear and George Illston in 1868, the factory was at Herbert Road, Small Heath, Birmingham.
In 1877 The Royal Sewing Machine Company became a limited company and purchased the Imperial Sewing Machine Co. which had been formed by John Judson and Joseph Harris in 1873. The latter became a director of The Royal Sewing Machine Co. Ltd in January 1878.
Principle machines manufactured were The Royal, Royal Alfred, Shakespear, Avon, Challenge, Eugine, Milton, Windsor, Agenoria and the Times.
In early 1882 The Royal Sewing Machine Company Ltd became the Royal Machine Manufacturing Co. which ceased business in 1888.
No production records for the company survive however I keep a register of the most common Royal machines and it appears in total some 50,000 Shakespear/Challenge/Avon machines were produced which were numbered sequentially. However in late 1877/early 1878 the serial number was modified by adding a one as the first digit so serial numbers jumped from 38,xxx to 138,xxx.
The Shakespear Serial No. 16179.
This machine was probably produced in about 1873. The machines name - The Shakespear appears on the brass needlebar cover along with an embossed image of the bust of William Shakespeare with sits on top of a plinth bearing the legend "Not for an age but for all time". The timber framed house in the background appears to depict Anne Hathaway's cottage.
The company name appears underneath and a Registered Design lozenge for 19th September 1871 appears at the bottom left of the needlebar cover with the name J. Moore just above (not shown on the photographs).
Engraved on the cloth plate is W H Shakespear 122 Bold Street Liverpool who was the Company's agent. The machine stands on a heavy cast iron base, sadly the decals are worn but the Company's Trade Mark is still visible under the arm.
The Shakespear Serial No. 19941.
A slightly later example of the Shakespear this time on a wooden plinth. The image on the needle bar cover now depicts the bust of William Shakespear in profile on a pillar with Anne Hathaway's cottage on one side, a church the other, and at the base of the pillar are four books.
The cloth plate is engraved with C. Isted & Co 16 Above Bar Southampton. Charles E. Isted was a retailer of sewing machines and the earliest documentary evidence we have for his business dates to 1868 when he was an Agent for the Florance Sewing Machine Co. The business appears to have been taken over by his son Albert Ernest Isted between October 1884 and February 1886 before closing in 1891.
The Shakespear Serial No. 144208.
This is an early example of the improved Shakespear probably manufactured around 1879. Whilst it retained the overall shape and used Shakespear & Illston's patented shuttle movement, it featured a take-up lever, improved bobbin winder with level wind an a fast & loose balance wheel.
Less than 1,400 of this improved model were produced by the Royal Sewing Machine Co Ltd before it became the Royal Manufacturing Co. Ltd in early 1882. The new company continued to produce the this model in limited numbers with just around 4,500 machines being made before the company closed in 1888.
The casting for this particular machine seems to have been manufacturered for the earlier model and various holes which had been drilled have been plugged - These are visable on the top of the needlehead, arm and between the two spool pins.
When I purchased this machine I had no idea that some 140 years ago this Shakespear and the Avon below would have been assembled at the Small Heath factory almost certainly on the same day being just six machines apart. Now after all those years they are have been reunited - is that coincidence?
The Avon Serial No. 144215.
Made by The Royal Sewing Machine Company Ltd. The Avon is a renamed version of the Challenge sewing machine which used Shakespear & Illston's patented shuttle movement. The Challenge had been specially commissioned by Joseph Harris in 1872 and over 2000 machines were made a year.
In 1873 Joseph Harris entered into partnership with John Judson to manufacture sewing machines trading as the Imperial Sewing Machine Co. and in 1874 Harris & Judson patented a new shuttle movement which also included a stitch length indicator this was then incorporated into models of The Challenge made by the Imperial Sewing Machine Co.
It appears that The Royal Sewing Machine Co. freed from its contract with Harris decided to continue producing the Challenge model but changed the name to The Avon and machine was probably produced c1879. The name The Avon appears on the brass needlebar cover along with Sole Patentee's and an embossed image of William Shakespeare - the company's Trade Mark. Engraved on the cloth plate is company name and address along with the machines serial number. The decals are heavily worn and it is missing its slideplate although the shuttle is present.
Very few examples of The Avon appear to have survived.
The Windsor Serial No. 2505.
Although this machine has no identifying marks we believe it is an early version of The Windsor sadly the needlebar cover which would have confirmed this is missing.
The Royal Sewing Machine Company produced machines such as The Shakespear and The Avon (see above) which were already outdated at the time they were made. The Windsor appears to have been an attempt to produce a more modern machine along the lines of the Bradbury Wellington and although it is sometimes referred to as a Jones Hand look alike it certainly was not a direct copy of that machine.
This machine was probably produced in c1877. The main differences between this and the later versions of The Windsor machine (see below) are the design of the balance wheel and the location of the bobbin winder. On the later machine the bobbin winder is mounted on the gear guard and runs on the inside of the balance wheel. On the early machine it "sits" into the bed and runs on the outside of the balance wheel.
The Windsor Serial No. 21776.
A later version of The Windsor made by The Royal Sewing Machine Co. Ltd probably in the late 1870's.
Although the centre decal has long since gone the remaining decals are in reasonable condition with the name 'The Windsor' visible on the arm. This name is repeated on the brass needlebar cover along with an embossed image which represents Windsor Castle which is a Royal Palace. The Company name, address and the machines serial number are engraved on the cloth plate.
In keeping with the Royal connection a labelled version of this machine called the South Kensington was produced for the sewing machine distributor Charles Todd, 10 Elm Park Terrace, Fulham Road, London who used an image of the Albert Memorial on his machines.
The Albert Memorial stands opposite the Royal Albert Hall on the South side of Kensington Gardens, in London. Completed in 1876 it was designed by Gilbert Scott and paid for by public subscription.
The Windsor Serial No. 23936.
This is an example of the improved version of The Windsor made by The Royal Sewing Machine Co. Ltd probably around 1880. Note the introduction of a take-up lever, with the tension discs mounted on the face plate instead of the arm. The bobbin winder has had a level feed device added.
The centre decal shows the head of William Shakespeare which was the company's trade mark. This machine came in a wooden case with various attachments and a poor condition manual.