WHEN William McWilliams, the proprietor of the London-based Sewing Machine and Cycle News, decided to hold what he called the first exhibition of sewing machines in 1887, he immediately ran into trouble in the editorial columns of the rival Sewing Machine Gazette. In its report of the event, the Gazette pulled no punches in deriding its rival’s exhibition.
First, it proved that even its title “first international sewing machine and appliances exhibition” wasn’t even that. It pointed out that a previous proprietor of the Gazette, Mr. Messeni, had conceived the idea of an exhibition in 1881 which was held at the Agricultural Hall in Islington. What’s more, he repeated the event a year later making, in the Gazette’s eyes, it’s rival’s exhibition not the first but the third.
It then pointed out that the 1881 exhibition had had 12 sewing-machine companies exhibiting their wares, whereas the 1887 show had only seven. Even counting the smaller number of exhibitors, there were at the first exhibition 148 and only 62 at the 1887 event.
Asking itself why the event had been a failure the Gazette went on in these terms:
” The sewing-machine exhibition can only appeal to two classes: 1) dealers; 2) the fair sex. The dealers as a trade will not come to see a sewing machine and the public will certainly not pay a shilling to see a collection of them.
“The dealer has travelers calling upon him daily and can see every type of machine in the market without any traveling or hotel expense.
The public need only visit the city and they have within an arm’s reach every class of machine which they can inspect under far more favorable circumstances .”
This third exhibition was held at the Royal Aquarium in London and it can be surmised from the gist of the Gazette’s report that the area had a less-than savory reputation.
“Of all places in the world to hold an exhibition of articles intended for ladies, the Aquarium should be the last.”
To bolster this argument, the Gazette tells of overhearing a conversation on a stand where a gentleman asked that if he were to buy a sewing machine for his wife, could the bill be made out so that she did not know he had bought it at the Aquarium.