1907 Manufrance Hirondelle Modele No 5 pour Homme

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Manufrance was France’s first mail order company, with an annual catalogue, known as la Manu. It offered a wide range of products, the most famous being guns, bicycles and sewing machines. Its TSF radio, made in 1930, had an essential role during the German occupation of WW2.

Manufrance was a pioneering company, based on a unique business model and, at least for the first half of its existence, was the leader in its field.

La Manu pre-dates the American Sears-Roebuck Catalogue, so I assume it’s the oldest mail order catalogue in the world. With the wide range of products on offer each year, it now offers us a unique glimpse into French homes over an entire century.

1907 Manufrance Hirondelle ‘Modele No 5 Pour Homme’

24″ Frame

28″ Wheels

Inch pitch & fixed wheel

‘Selle a Coussins’ saddle

(Now sold)

This Hirondelle was a barn find in good unrestored original condition. The saddle is an interesting style and has the Manufrance name stamp. The company name is also stamped into the steering head. Both the saddle and the machine itself are of a style common in the late 1890s, that continued in France unchanged up to the 1910s. I fitted new tyres and tubes so it’s now ready to ride.

























Etienne Mimard and Pierre Blachon bought Manufacture Française d’Armes et de Tir from Mr Martinier Collin on 10th November 1885. They renamed it Manufacture Française d’Armes de Saint-Étienne.

The company rapidly expanded: by 1898 there were 1000 employees, and Etienne Mimard built a new factory (Cours Fauriel) and formed a limited company under the name Manufrance. When Peter Blachon died in 1914 he became the sole director.

There were problems in 1937, with a strike for 100 days, and the municipality of St. Etienne subsequently took over the management of the company.

After the death of Mimard, in 1944, the mayor of Saint-Etienne became the new boss of Manufrance, a novel situation, especially considering the size of the company (3800 employees by 1976) and its influence in the life of the Saint-Etienne. Unfortunately, by the seventies the company was running into trouble. Eventually, the company started to get behind with their orders and, in 1979, Manufrance went into liquidation. Though it was saved for a while by turning the company into a co-operative, by 1985 that too ran into trouble. Exactly one hundred years after the initial acquisition of Manufrance, the company ceased trading.

I created an online museum for Manufrance in 2009 (I’ve not updated it). You can see it here –