The Mystery Hand Crank

So the old girl arrived intact, miraculously, and with some oil in the lock and some careful maneuvering (and the highly technical piece of equipment, the butter knife) I was able to get the cover off without damaging anything. It was unlocking fine, but had been kind of jammed at a weird angle at some point, and just needed a teensy tiny bit of force in the right direction.

I felt like I was opening Tutankhamen’s tomb as I opened it up and found everything pretty much intact under a thin layer of dust. The decals are in gorgeous shape.


But no name or badge! It says “Charles Barker, 21 Bridge St, Banbury. Cutler and Cycle Maker.” on a small plate in the front, but I am willing to bet this is just the shop that sold these rather the the manufacturing party. There is a faint “A” visible with some wings or something around it, but it looks as if there may be more letters that were there originally. I thought maybe it was a Pfaff with a post WW1 paint job, but the bobbin winder and stitch lever don’t seem to be right for that. The case looks very much like a Pfaff or Gritzner of the era, but small details seem to conflict with that hypothesis. It’s a puzzling combination of typical German details–white porcelain handle, fine inlay in the the wooden case, stitch length lever that allows for reverse and  is labeled R/V (“vorwarts” is forward in German) instead of R/F–and a Singer or maybe Vesta style bobbin winding assembly. The hand crank mechanism is also different than the Singer style I’m familiar with, and seems actually better engineered.



IMG_16911I can’t quite figure it out. It does turn, but despite its pristine appearance, internally it’s a gunked up godawful mess. It looks like someone lubricated it liberally with carriage axle grease or something.

IMG_16931 IMG_16941IMG_16991   IMG_16961IMG_16951I’ve been obsessively chipping away at it all weekend. It’s surprisingly smooth after a good oiling, but there is a catch when cranking at slow speeds at the point at which the needle is at its highest. If cranking quickly, the momentum takes it around with no problem. But the slower one cranks, the more noticeable it is. I think it’s probably gunked up old oil somewhere I can’t reach, but I’m hesitant to try it much until I can eliminate that catch.

Also: want to see what 80-100ish years of not cleaning the lint out of feed dogs looks like?


A hard, solid mass of fibers matted and gooed up into something I had to scoop out with a screwdriver. I’m still working on cleaning, of course, but this is what it looks like with some of the barnacles removed:

IMG_17081It’s funny, but this piece will probably be mostly just for display. When the decals look this nice I’m hesitant to actually use a machine. I prefer them well worn and broken in so that when I drop something and ding the surface or something I don’t feel like I’ve damaged a piece of industrial art so much as I’ve just made a tool more my own. I have another Singer 28 hand crank that has a lot of wear and faded decals and so far I prefer it because it feels less precious and more of this world than a history display. But I’m weird that way. I had similar feelings when buying a hand cranked coffee grinder recently. (I’m subconsciously preparing for the gridless zombie apocalypse.) I saw a lot of pristine ones online but went for a broken in, beat up one with a cracked base and some rust issues because I can steel wool off the rust, reseason the cast iron, and use it without feeling like I’m wearing down an antique. I like the idea of rescuing something from a scrap heap better.


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