Royal Reels: Gambling


The advertising cover has a picture of a small machine, but no textual description other than THE “LITTLE WANZER’. It is addressed to Mr. Ramsay, Dobroyde Nursery, Ashfield. The orange ‘ONE PENNY’ stamp of New South Wales was cancelled with a duplex cancel of SYDNEY/ I/ JY 8/ 73/ P with a vertical 4-ring oval N.S.W., as an obliterator of the stamp. Whereas I first thought the ‘I’ was a ‘1′, all 4 examples of this duplex had a letter, not a figure above the date. This example with a ‘P’ below the date is shown by Tobin and Orchard as Figure 123, which was previously known from 30 October 1873 until 17 April 1875. Thus this postmark is an ERD (earliest recorded date). The reverse was not seen but had an ASHFIELD/ JY 9/ 1873/ N.S.W. postmark (Figures 1 & 2).

The recipient of the letter was almost certainly Edward Pierson Ramsay*, prominent zoologist, ornithologist and Curator of the Australian Museum, Sydney from 1860, who may have written to the company that made the machine shown on the cover, on behalf of his wife and/or daughter.

Richard Mott Wanzer started manufacturing sewing machines in Canada in 1858 in a workshop on James Street, Hamilton and by 1861 the firm was producing 1000 machines per week. By 1868 the company had outgrown its James Street plant an moved to a new 4-storey building at King and Catherine Street (Figure 3).

In 1878 the Wanzer Company purchased the Canada Sewing Machine Company, Barton Street, Hamilton developing the site for its purpose-built factory which was completed c1880 and which was capable of producing over 100,000 machines a year.

The firm seems to have traded as The Wanzer Sewing Machine Co Ltd in Great Britain and France where there were offices in London at 4 Great Portland Street (1863) and 131 Boulevard Sebastopol, in Paris (1867).

The Company’s machines won a number of prize medals at International Exhibitions including the 1867 Exposition Universelle de Paris, The World Exposition 1873 and the Gold Medal, Centennial Medal and Diploma at the 1876 Centennial Exhibition. The Company ceased production in 1892. In 1858 The Company initially produced machines based on Singer and Wheeler & Wilson sewing machines principles. The ‘Family Shuttle’ was introduced in 1862 and this was the first machine to bear the Company name; it was unique in that the Company successfully put a shuttle moving in a vertical arc in a Wheeler & Wilson style machine.

The ‘Little Wanzer’ was introduced in 1867 with 4000 machines being sold in the first year of production. By 1876 half a million had been manufactured. The machine underwent various cosmetic improvements produced but by the 30,000th machine this had been replaced by one which was nickel plated. In the early 1880’s the final version of the ‘Little Wanzer’ was introduced, and it is believed the production of the ‘Little Wazner ‘ was ceased in 1883.  The example of the ‘Little Wazner’ mounted on a block of marble for stability is seen in Figure 4.

Richard Wazner was probably born in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. on 3 September 1818;  he married Electa Ann Lyon, and they had a daughter and a son.  Richard died on 23 March 1900 in New York City, but he was buried in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.

He came from a Quaker family and worked as a teacher, store clerk, and book agent. He was engaged in the book-publishing business in Buffalo, N.Y., and may have had some involvement in the American sewing-machine industry. After severe financial difficulties, he moved ca.1859 to Hamilton to establish a sewing-machine manufactory. The sewing-machine promised opportunity and wealth to those who could claim a share of the market. Hundreds of factories were established in the United States, Canada, and the British Isles. With easy access to transportation routes and large labour forces, Hamilton and Guelph became the major manufacturing centres in Upper Canada.

Wanzer rented a stone building in Hamilton, where in 1860, with the backing of the iron-founding firm of Edward Gurney, he began to manufacture the first sewing-machines made in Canada. He soon went into partnership with John Neil Tarbox, forming R. M. Wanzer and Company, which initially produced machines designed by the Wheeler and Wilson Company, as well as the Singer companies in the United States. Prior to the Patent Act of 1872 in Canada, manufacturers were free to copy American patents or to incorporate patented features into their own machines. They were also independent of the Sewing Machine Combination, a powerful American trust that required all manufacturers using any of its patents to be licensed.

In 1862, claiming exclusive right to its manufacture, Wanzer advertised the “Family Shuttle Sewing Machine,” a Canadian-manufactured machine that combined the best features of the Wheeler and the Singer machines. At the time Wanzer employed 50 mechanics. By 1864 the number had risen to 70 and the company boasted an output of 60 machines a week. In 1868 Wanzer introduced a second model, the “Little Wanzer.” Its compact size, simplicity, and low price ($25 in 1870 or $30 on a stand) made it an instant favourite, and more than 4,000 were sold in the first year alone. Widely advertised and exhibited, Wanzer’s line had expanded to include four additional models by 1874.

Although Wanzer’s efforts were initially directed towards the Canadian market, he soon branched out into exports. He spent much of his time in London, England, where an office was organized to handle the foreign trade for the popular “Little Wanzer,” which cost much less than American machines. Branch offices and warehouses were subsequently established throughout Europe, and in Australia, South Africa, Turkey, Egypt, and Brazil. Parts were manufactured in Hamilton and then shipped to England for assembly.

One of the province’s leading industries, R. M. Wanzer and Company increased its output to 1,500 machines a week between 1861 and 1881, during which period it produced about one and a half million machines. However, increased competition from American manufacturers, poor tariff protection, overproduction, and a sharp drop in demand during the depression of the 1880s severely damaged the company. In an attempt to raise funds to bolster his manufactory, Wanzer patented a lamp and cooking apparatus and in 1885, and purchased a franchise to provide electric light in Hamilton, but in 1890 the largest and most successful of Ontario’s sewing-machine manufacturers went out of business. None of Wanzer’s subsequent ventures – the lamp company, a soap factory, or the Oneida Lamp Company in Niagara Falls – proved successful.

In 1898 a financially ruined Wanzer left Hamilton for Buffalo, planning to open the Wanzer Lamp and Cooker Company there. He died of pneumonia in New York City on 23 March 1900. His body lay in state at Hamilton City Hall and he was buried in Hamilton Cemetery. In reviewing his career and achievements, the Hamilton Spectator described him as the “personification of a perfect gentleman, a large hearted citizen and a most generous employer.” A picture of Richard Mott Wanzer is seen in Figure 5.

In the early 1880s, judging by the advertisements in the Australian colonial newspapers, there was considerable interest in the ‘Little Wanzer’ sewing  machines.  As an example of this was an advert in the Sydney Morning Herald placed by Gibbs, Shallard & Co. of Sydney, where the basic ‘Little Wanzer’ was available for £4, or with a stand, £5 and upwards, a price less than in the USA (Figure 6). 

* The Ramsay Family and Dobroyde Nursery (seen on the cover front) are documented in the paper at my website