Having an English sewing machine that was made in 1897 (the year my house was first occupied), I am keen to source English made attachments and accessories for it that are authentic to that period. As it needs oiling regularly, I particularly wanted to find an appropriate oil can for it. 

Many dome type sewing cans are sold on ebay as being 1920s or 1930s vintage. However, I thought that there must surely have been dome cans made for oiling sewing machines before that. I then found auction pages for oil cans that included patent stamps from the 1890s.  However, these were US made. What about England? What kind of oil cans were sold for using with Jones sewing machines? 

Eventually I came across this picture, labelled as being C Lockwood, a Jones sewing machine and sperm oil (the recommended oil for sewing machines) agent. In the window I could clearly see lots of shiny dome type oil cans (bottom left).

It looked to be an old picture.  Could I date it? Sure enough, digging around in Ancestry I found a John Lockwood that was a sewing machine agent in the Dewsbury area in the late 19th century. But a J is not a C! His eldest son was called Gladstone. Was the shop sign actually for G Gladstone? Yes, closer inspection convinced me that it was. Further searches in censuses supported my guess that Gladstone took over his father’s business when his father retired, sometime between 1901 and 1911. So I think the image was probably taken around 1910, when Gladstone was about 40 years old. It’s reasonable to assume that’s him in the photograph.

What about the oil cans though? Were that type of oil can being made in England much before this? Eventually I learned that many British patents from the late Victorian period are in the European “Espacenet” database. This one by Charles Arthur Allison is from 1897, the patent application being for a needle mechanism connected to the thumb press at the bottom of the can. 

So I’ve gone ahead and bought this thumb oiler from Ebay. It may well date to the period when my sewing machine was made. 

The oiler standing upright
The thumb press underneath the can

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