1874 James Starley ‘Queen of Hearts’ Sewing Machine

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Starley in Royal Pavilion Brighton 18771877: JAMES STARLEY AT THE ROYAL PAVILION, BRIGHTON

James Starley was one of the world’s greatest inventors. Before he made bicycles, he built and sold sewing machines. Even after cycle production started, his sewing machine business was thriving so he built sewing machines as well as cycles and tricycles at his Trafalgar Works factory. The company made around 20,000 sewing machines between 1871 and 1881, and won awards at international exhibitions at Lyons in 1872, Vienna in 1873, as well as in London and Manchester. The ‘Queen of Hearts’ is his most famous sewing machine.

1874 James Starley ‘Queen of Hearts’ Sewing Machine

Manufactured on 7 November, 1874, by Smith, Starley & Co


WIDTH: 7.5″


(Now sold)

William Borthwick Smith and James Starley filed patent no 3090 (above), on 20 September 1873, for a new sewing machine design. It was sealed on 17 March 1874. This design formed the basis of their famous ‘Queen of Hearts’  machine.

 This is one of a handful of surviving Queen of Hearts sewing machines. It was found near High Wycombe by Danny, during the clearance of a garage alongside a house. The other items in the garage were of much more interest to him – including a large collection of rare 78rpm records – so he took what he considered the ‘junk’ items, including this sewing machine, to his local Sunday market. He put a £20 price tag on the Starley sewing machine, but nobody wanted it. A few days later, in September, 2013, he put it on ebay. I recognised the ‘Queen of Hearts’ name soon after it appeared and contacted him. We negotiated a price over the phone and I arranged to pick it up the next day. Unfortunately I had to go to hospital in the afternoon, and didn’t return until the following morning. Luckily nothing serious transpired healthwise, but the price of the sewing machine had to be re-negotiated as, within those 24 hours, Danny had received higher offers. I collected it on 20 September, exactly 140 years after the original 1873 patent was filed. Rather than restoring it in any way, I’ve decided to leave it exactly as it was found.

The Queen of Hearts transfer (decal) is faded at the edges, but is still intact.

According to the ‘kite mark’ underneath the sewing machine, it was made on 7 November, 1874


As you can see below, the ‘kite mark’ is situated underneath the sewing machine, in the centre.


The ‘kite mark’ on this sewing machine has a letter ‘U’ on its right side. The chart below shows this to correspond to the year 1874.

The chart above shows the month to be November (letter ‘K’).

There appears to be a number 7 at the top of the ‘kite mark’ meaning its date is 7 November, 1874.












1865_ The Queen's Croquet-GroundTHE QUEEN’S CROQUET GROUND

This is John Tenniel’s original illustration in ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,’ which was published in 1865. Charles Dodgson was inspired by Oxford Botanical Garden, and you can see the Water Lily House in the background.

The book was an immediate success, with its sequel Through the Looking Glass was published in late 1871. Bear in mind that, in Victorian times, authors were accorded the ‘celebrity’ status afforded these days to rock stars; the chartacters of their books were just as famous. So I assume Smith, Starley & Co used the name Queen of Hearts as an astute marketing gimmick.












Messrs Starley Bros, of St John’s Works, Fleet St, Coventry, had adequate representation in Brighton to sell their products. The testimonial, above, comes from the prospectus for their 1879 tricycles. It appears that one of their agencies was The Southern Bicycle & Tricycle Agency, of 14 Queen’s Rd, Brighton.

Queen’s Rd is a major thoroughfare running from the station down to the seafront. It was widened in 1878 (below), and was reported to be ‘lined with hotels, public houses, shops and warehouses’. *

James Starley paid his respects to the Royal Pavilion when he rode his tricycle in Brighton, so this seemed an appropriate location to photograph the Queen of Hearts next to The Tangent.







Registry of design / kite mark dating chart with thanks to – http://www.aw-antiques-collectibles.co.uk/kite-marks.php

* Brighton history and photo with thanks to – http://www.mybrightonandhove.org.uk/page_id__8550.aspx