A Letter from Brussels
This letter on the state of the sewing machine industry in Belgium and France, was sent to the editor of the 'Sewing Machine Gazette' in 1877. Interesting times! Bradbury's agent is bankrupt with his property auctioned off, and Jones' agent has an arrest warrant issued against him!
The reason I have not written to you lately is simply because moves in the Sewing Machine trade are slow, and the business never quieter.
The event of last month was the collapse of Bradbury and Co.'s agent, who evidently was determined not to leave Jones and Co. represented in his misfortune. The latter has a mandate d'arret (arrest warrant), out against him, and the former was sold up on a public place by impatient creditors.
The once important firm of Page, Godfrein and Ancieux have closed their books, and reduced their volume to a single Page. What's food for one may be starvation for three. Simple mortals cannot be holy trinities; they may be three or one, but can't be both to mutual advantage.
The "Société Anonyme pour la fabrication de Machine et Uhli de precission" have at last found their title rather long, and have compressed it to "The Companie Janus", much to their correspondents' delight. They have taken the finest house on the Boulevards, and have added to their sewing machine trade fret saws, small printing presses, screw cutting, and other tools. They have now the finest sewing machine premises in Belgium.
Wanzer's agent has given the best half of his shop to more or less fire-proof safes. Fire or burglar-proof as they may be, he evidently thinks he is making a safe move, and the proof is in the importance he is giving the article during this commercial lock in sewing machine affairs.
The Howe Company's head store is well fitted up with washing and other machines. They also give a good part of their window the American Electric Pen, or, rather, pricking machine, which perforates the paper as the hand may guide the instrument, so that stencils are made to print from. It is an ingenious little machine, but no more a writing machine than the Remington type printer is one.
R. B. Turner & Co. have gone extensively into roller skates. This firm seems bound to take to something that moves. They first opened with the Skating Palais in Brussels, and then, when bought out, they laid down a splendid red marble floor at the Renaissance Theatre, and completely shut up the other three establishments. I am told they have consented to break their contract, the theatre being wanted for "Une Voyage à la Lune" (A Voyage to the Moon), a grand fairy piece, for 900 francs a month. This seemed pretty well. They are now engaged to open the "Royal Skating Rink", which is to be the finest establishment of this description in Belgium. Besides this they have the lease of the Skating Palais at Liége, where they have laid down a white marble floor with slabs of 36 inches wide, and 5 or 6 feet long. If their contracts are judiciously made , they must be coining money; but we have little faith in skating rinks, and don't believe they will last much longer than they did in England.
The Singer Machine is forging to the front and into favour, and German Elastic Machines have driven every vestige of the English makers out of the market. In the way of Hand Machines, Wanzer's are sprinkling the town with a few bills; but Smith, Starley & Co., and the Germans seem to divide the market.
The only American-made machine to be seen here is the Wheeler & Wilson, and the Webster. They are also rare in France, but as the French charge the American the same duty that they (the Americans) would charge on French machines going into America. This is easily explained. English sewing machines entering France pay 6 francs per hundred kilogrammes weight (or 2s 6d per hundred pounds), whereas the American goods must pay abot 70 per cent on the value, which is the tariff they would impose on French goods of like description going into the States.
The result in France is that few American machines are known there except the Wheeler & Wilson, Willcox & Gibbs, and the Philadelphia.
The Howe and Singer Companies avoid this tax by manufacturing in England, and sending them in as English goods. Whatever protectionists or free traders may say it is pretty certain that if England had adopted a reciprocal tariff the Americans would not be so far ahead of the British makers as they undoubtedly are in the number of their sales.
On the other hand, if that foreign competition had been prevented, English machines would certainly not be so well made as they are. So let us conclude with the consoling idea that "everything is for the best in the best of worlds", notwithstanding that the sewing machine trade is flat!
Bruxelles, October 26, 1877