The Return of the Indian Star!

This took a bit longer than I expected, but here’s the result:

Is it perfect? No.

Does that matter? Probably not.

The machine wasn’t in perfect condition when I got it anyway, so it was never going to look as good as brand new. But at least here it looks complete again, with a front panel back on and the missing pieces replaced. All in all, a very pleasing result.

And there you have it. A 1945 Singer 15 ‘Indian Star’ back to working order and saved from almost certain destruction.

Here is the interior of the new base:

And here is the new bed-support, to stop the damn thing from SAGGING whenever it sits down (which believe me is more important than you might think – it prevents you from opening the slide-plate!):

This is what the same machine looked like about two weeks ago, when I got it home:

Back from the Dead: The Rise of the Indian Star!

The Indian Star! It sounds so regal. Like some great diamond hacked out of the dusty earth of the Subcontinent, back in the days of the Imperial Raj, which became the object of desire sought after by thieves and bandits and which played a key role in some dastardly Sherlock Holmes adventure!


THIS is the Indian Star:

It comes from this rather battered-looking Singer 15 sewing machine. My latest sewing-machine purchase:

At just $30 at the local flea-market, this thing was in a SORRY state when I got it. This is what the machine looked like after several hours of hard scrubbing and scouring to remove 70 years’ worth of grime!

That’s right. This machine dates all the way back to 1945! And for a machine that was missing its whole front panel, it was in pretty decent shape, apart from needing a damn good clean and a bit of rebuilding work. It came with its lid as well. Once I get the time I’ll rebuild the front panel and put in a new base for it (the base is absolutely dead), to keep this thing in one piece. It’s barely holding on as it is.

I replaced one hinge, the slide-plate and fixed a few other things, mostly by sanding or scrubbing off rust and grime.

This Singer is a ‘full-size’ machine. That means that it could fit into a treadle-base if I wanted it to. It’s an absolute beast and weighs a ton! It’s hard to believe that something like this (which weighs about 35lbs!) was ever considered “portable” back in the 1940s!!

Will be posting updates as this progresses…

Two-in-One is Much More Fun! Sterling Silver Slide-Action Pencil-Pen Combo.

Sometimes you find the most unassuming things when you go into antiques shops.

While out recently I discovered a new place, and I just had to go in and have a look around. Inside a cabinet of odds and ends – chains and pens and knives and nick-nacks, I found this:

I was umming-and-aahhing over it, checking it out, admiring the beautiful engraving, when I noticed a panel on it which read: “S. Mordan & Co”.

Be still, my beating heart.

As you may recall from my last post on a similar find, the name S. Mordan (that’s Sampson Mordan) is pretty big in the history of both silver, and writing instruments!

I was so thunderstruck to find another item made by such a famous company, and within a year of finding the last one! And it was half the price of the previous purchase. The shopkeeper was generous and chipped the price down a bit more, and I trotted out the door with an 1874 sterling silver slide-action pen-pencil combination!

Granted, not in perfect condition (hey it’s 140 years old, give it a break!), but all the major components functioned, and that’s all I cared about!

It is hallmarked [SM] (Sampson Mordan), sterling silver (Lion Passant) for London (Leopard’s Head), in 1874 (t) and had the duty mark stamped on it of Queen Victoria (Monarch’s Head).

So what is this thing?

Well, it’s got two slides on it, with two slide-knobs sticking out the side of the barrel. Pushing one slide-knob draws out the pencil:

And pushing the other slide-knob draws out the pen:

This being 1874, what we have here is a dip-pen, not a fountain pen. The pen-point could be removed if it wore out or was damaged, and a new nib would replace it.

Of course, you could draw out the pen and pencil together…

Although you wouldn’t be able to do much writing with it!

It’s a mark of the quality of Mordan silver that this piece was purchased as a Christmas present, which I think is incredibly sweet. I know this because it’s been engraved on the cartouche:

It says: “F.E. EASTEN. Christmas, 1874”

I haven’t managed to find out who Mr. or Mrs. or Miss Easten was (although I assume this was bought for a guy), but obviously, someone thought enough of them to buy what was surely not a cheap present back in the 1870s!

Once I got it home, I ran it through the ultrasonic cleaner with hot water and soap, and just watched all the gunk and grease and grime inside this thing come oozing out like oil! You wouldn’t think something so tiny (about 3.5in. long, closed up) would expel so much gunk when it was washed, but the water was the colour of weak tea by the time I’d finished! But, it’s polished and clean now, and it’s in my writing instrument collection, safe and sound!



Antique Jewelry Case (ca. 1890-1910). Two lift-out trays and original key.

Isn’t this adorable?

Okay, maybe not NOW, but once upon a time, this was a very smart, black Moroccan leather jewelry box. And it’s my latest find.

It came complete with its two original…

…lift-out trays…

…and a surprisingly large amount of storage for something so compact…

The box also came with its original key. It’s a bit old and grimy, but the lovely, green velvet and silk linings are both in spectacular condition. And the box and both trays are in excellent structural condition.

A box like this features storage for chains, bracelets, cufflinks, earrings, a small pocketwatch (the circle on the top tray), rings (the two ring-grooves either side of the watch-hole), and much more besides!

I’ve no inkling who the maker is, but it’s in stunning condition for something over 110 years old!

Vintage Sewing Endeavor – A New Bag

I know this blog hasn’t been updated in over a month. That’s what happens when real-life affairs take precedence over online activities. From family events, looking for work and writing other stuff, I haven’t had much time to write much for here.

Well today I do.

I don’t drive. Never have, never will, can’t do it. Eyesight won’t allow it. Joy of joys. This greatly limits my mobility obviously, and I gotta rely on lifts from friends, public transport of questionable reliability, and a good pair of shoes. It also means I need a good bag. One that’s strong and which lasts. I don’t have the luxury of hauling half my house with me, dumping half of it in the car, taking what I choose, and then walking off somewhere and coming back later to get something else if I forgot. When I go out, I have to take everything I need with me, in one bag. This means that the bag has to be a decent size, good quality, and strong!

…What a pity that most of them aren’t.

In five years, I’ve had three bags, and they’ve all proved unsatisfactory in one way or another. They rip, they tear, they wear out, they fall apart…

I was so fed up with it that I decided to try and make my own bag. I researched fabrics and looked up designs online to try and figure out what my eventual bag would look like. I found a fabric warehouse in town which sells huge rolls of fabric to the public. They’re surplus from clothing-factories and they sell it off at so many dollars a square meter.

I showed up and got myself a healthy supply of denim fabric. I picked denim because I wanted a bag that was – first – blue, and – second – strong! Leather dries and cracks and flakes. And cotton just rips apart. I would’ve used canvas but I couldn’t find any, so I decided that denim would do as a suitable substitute.

I’ve never been much of a sewer, but I learned the basics from my grandmother – how to fold raw edges, how to sew seams, how to cut buttonholes and sew them by hand. How to measure, how to cut, how to make seam-allowances, and so-forth. I only do this stuff occasionally, so I’m still learning, but I felt that I had enough skill to try and make something which I would be comfortable using in public and carrying around. And so, I set to work.

Measurements and Calcuations

Before I did any cutting, the first thing I did was sketch what the bag would look like. I drew up a rough diagram and penciled in measurements on how wide, long, deep and high I wanted it, how many pockets, what the over-flap would look like, and so-forth. Now that I had the chance to make my own bag, I wanted to try and do it as best as I could. It wouldn’t look THAT professional, but still, I had a plan.

If you ever make a bag for yourself, like I did, one important thing to keep in mind with measurements is to decide what you’ll be putting in the bag, and to have those items near you when you’re doing your measurements. Measure the items you intend to put in the bag (laptop, iPad, umbrella, dead body, whatever…) and then proportion the bag accordingly so that whatever you put in will be housed securely and neatly. My big issue with a lot of my older bags was that they weren’t big enough to hold my bulkier items without compromising by chucking out other things which I might’ve needed. I was determined to make it and shape it to fit in everything I wanted.

Cutting the Fabric

To cut the fabric, I used my grandmother’s 8in. WISS tailor’s shears from the 50s. To get accurate measurements, I used one of those big, old-fashioned folding rulers made of wood, which have the measurements in inches. A modern plastic ruler warps and bends too much to be reliable when you’re cutting massive amounts of fabric. And this old wooden ruler extends to three feet long! More than enough for what I needed!

To try and minimise screw-ups, I measured how big I wanted the bag to be, then measured again, adding on extra inches, for seam-allowances, folding raw edges and for errors in my own calculations. To give the bag as much strength as possible, I used as few pieces of fabric as I could, and which pieces I did use, I tried to make them as big as possible.

The bag has eight pieces of fabric.

The first, huge piece was about a foot and a half wide, by three feet long. This gave me enough space to fold over the edges half an inch or so, to make space for mistakes, if there were any. The body of the bag is deliberately made of one big piece of fabric. The fewer seams there are, the fewer things there are to rip and tear, and the longer it’ll last.

Next came two side-panels for the end-walls of the bag. Then came pockets.

The bag has two pockets at the front, one big one at the back, two interior pockets, and one side-pocket for pens. I also cut extra red velvet fabric to act as a partial liner inside the bag, and some of the pockets. I didn’t have enough velvet to line the entire bag, so I just did the key areas. On top of that, I cut extra fabric for stuff like buttonholes, straps and so-forth.

Assembling the Bag

To put the bag together, I used my antique Singer:

My 1936 Singer Sewing Machine. A V.S. 128 model.

Friends have asked me questions about this machine for years.

“How do you use it?”
“Does it work?”
“How do you control it with only one hand?”
“Does it sew through thick fabrics?”
“Aren’t you scared about breaking it?”

The answers are:

“Yes” (although, not leather).
“No. It lasted this long, it’ll last a hell of a lot longer!”

I prefer using this machine to a modern one for all manner of reasons. It’s easier to set up, it’s much easier to operate, it’s HIGHLY portable and it’s forgiving of your mistakes!

The great thing about a manual sewing machine is that you can set it up literally ANYWHERE, regardless of light, space, and of course, whether or not there’s a power-outlet nearby! You just plonk it on the table, open it up, thread it, and sew!

The other great thing is that, since it IS a manual machine, you, yourself, decide how fast, or how slow, this machine is going to run. Not some electric motor with a gummy power-pedal which is as fidgety as a spooked stallion. This machine can go as slow and as fast as you want. Give it enough speed and a long-enough run-up, and it’ll punch through four, six, even eight layers of denim with no problems at all!

Because I can directly control the machine, I can decide precisely how to use it. I can run it at a snail’s pace if I’m doing something delicate, or as fast as I can turn the handle, to finish a seam. For someone with poor eyesight, it’s good to know that I can operate it slowly and precisely, when I need to get close and personal to my work and make sure that everything is lined up properly, instead of sewing my hands together!

Sewing the Components

Using my Singer, I sewed all the seams and lining and pockets, and then pieced everything together.

It’s easier to work with pieces and piece pieces to pieces and then put it together. That is, it’s easier to do that, than build the bag up, and THEN try and tack extras onto it like pockets and loops. It’s better to build up each component with all its necessities, before building the bag itself. That way there’s nothing leftover at the end to vex you! Some elements were easier to do than others, but I’m glad to say that about 90% of the sewing for this bag was done on my old Singer. The only hand-sewing I did was to sew on the buttons for closure, and to cut and sew the buttonholes by hand (I didn’t trust the sewing machine to stitch in the buttonholes reliably with its buttonholer-attachment, which has failed before now).

There was a time where I had considered sewing in a zipper or two on the bag, but in the end I decided to leave that to another project. I’d rather stick with what I knew for this project, and try that another time. I was much more comfortable with buttons and buttonholes, and I didn’t want the bag to be too ambitious, and screw it up at the last minute! That said, the button-closures I did make have worked very well!

I made the buttonholes vertical instead of horizontal. This would, I hoped, prevent the fabric from tearing from constant opening and closing. At the front of the bag, I made denim tags and sewed rope loops into them, to act as buttonholes, as I reckoned these would last longer than ordinary buttonholes, since they would be opened and closed more often than others. I used large, brass buttons instead of plastic ones. Plastic cracks and breaks and brass is stronger. To sew them in place, I used string instead of thread, so that they wouldn’t snap or wear out easily.

Attaching the hardware came next. To do that, I used more spare denim to cut tabs for holding down the D-rings for the shoulder-strap. I made everything here double-thickness and sewed everything back and forth, over and over at least two or three times on each side, since they would be taking the entire weight of the bag on just two points. I wanted to make sure that everything was secure.

When sewing, I used navy blue thread. I wanted a thread that matched the colour of the denim as near as possible. Admittedly, this was to camouflage my own deficiencies in sewing. If I was better Might’ve used white thread, but I didn’t want any mistakes or obvious screw-ups to stand out. And at any rate, I doubt anybody would be looking closely enough to really care. In the end, this was the result:

The Finished Bag:

The finished bag. The canvas and leather strap came from one of my previous bags which was falling apart.

The back of the bag with a three-button closure on the back pocket. I originally wanted to use brass snaps, but they weren’t strong enough.

One of the D-rings for attaching the strap.

Considering that this is my first real attempt at something like this, I’m pretty pleased at how it turned out, although the proof of quality will be in how long it lasts! We’ll see!

Victorian-era Aide Memoire – Solid Ivory

A recent discovery of mine, and one I never thought that I would ever be lucky enough to own! But here we are.

I love anything old which is connected to writing. Pens, pencils, desks, writing slopes, desk accessories, writing accessories…the list is almost endless. And for a long time I’d wanted one of these things. But I never got the chance. That is, until now…

This thing is pocket-sized. It’s almost exactly the same size as a Zippo cigarette lighter. It’s the same width and the same height, and half the thickness. But what is it?

Manufactured from the mid-1800s to the turn of the century, this is called an Aide Memoire. They are meant to be pocket-sized weekly planners. The majority of the really old ones are made of ivory, such as this one…tortoise shell…or in later models…celluloid, which was much cheaper.

The average aide memoire is comprised of a front and back cover, and six or seven sheets of ivory, all riveted together through one pivot-point, and held shut by a clasp at the top. The sheets inside are headed with the days of the week, usually Monday through Saturday (although examples did exist with Sunday included).

Aide Memoires are fairly rare. One reason is their fragility. The sheets of ivory are sliced extremely thinly, and this makes them prone to cracking, chipping and breaking. The leaves of ivory in this example are perfect and are without any serious damage or defect, but they’re so thin that light passes through them!

Aide memoires came in a variety of styles. What you see here is kind of the basic style. There were other variations which had silver plaques on the front (for engraving initials), pencil-slots down the side, for holding the pencil, ones with tortoise-shell or sterling silver covers and ones with rings or hooks added to the pivot-point rivets, so that they could be attached to chatelaines worn by women.

How Do You Use an Aide Memoire?

You never write on an aide memoire in ink. The ink stains the ivory and it cannot be easily washed off. Aide memoires are designed for use with pencils. In an age before a portable, self-filling writing instrument (a fountain pen) was available, people used dip-pens. As these needed their own external ink-supplies (inkwells or ink bottles) they couldn’t be used on the move. Pencils, with their own interior supplies of graphite, could be used anywhere.

To prevent wasting paper, people who could afford it, carried aide memoires around. Notes and to-do lists could be written inside the aide memoire in pencil, and then at the end of the week, the graphite marks could be easily erased using a damp cloth.

Aide Memoires varied in size. Some were larger than this, some were smaller. This one’s probably approaching the smallest practical size. I did see one smaller one in an antique shop once, which about half the size of this, which is absolutely insane!

The Aide Memoire opened and fanned out, on the right. On the left, a standard ZIPPO cigarette lighter.

The largest aide memoire I’ve ever seen was at a flea-market. It was about the size of a pack of playing cards. It was something I’d dearly love to own, but the price was just out of my reach…that, and one of the ivory sheets was cracked and chipped! If I was going to spend that kind of money, then I expect things perfect!!

Anyway, just wanted to share this little gem :)


S. Mordan & Co. Sterling Silver Dip Pen & Pencil Set w/Original Box. Ca. 1880.

You do find the craziest things when you have to run errands on terrible days…

In preparation for a family reunion, I’d been running myself ragged for two weeks, buying food and cooking ingredients and all other manner of things to prepare for the big day ahead. It didn’t help that the weather lately has been absolutely GHASTLY. Raining nonstop, blowing a hurricane and freezing cold almost incessantly.

I had to go to another suburb to pick up a fresh gas-cylinder for my home-carbonation kit, along with a whole heap of other things. The weather was patchy and rainy all day…Oh God…

To make the most of a bad situation, I stopped in at one of the several charity shops in the area (there’s three or four of them, all within a few blocks of each other) to look around.

In one of these shops was a very dark case inside a display-cabinet. Inside the case were something long and thin and shiny.

At once my interest was piqued.

I thought the items to be not worth much – items in charity shops rarely are. Anyway, I asked to have a look. They were removed from the cabinet and presented to me…

…inside the case was…

“Are they silver?”
“Maybe…I dunno. There’s no hallmarks on it”.

I had a look and sure enough…no hallmarks.

But there was a name. A manufacturer’s name. Hidden in amongst the forest of engraving.

“S. Mordan & Co”.

My heart went flitty-flutter…

I’d heard a friend of mine talk of this company, once or twice, a few years back. But I couldn’t quite remember why she found it so interesting. I suspected the set might be worth something…they thought it was junk. Cheap stuff not worth bothering about…but I decided to take a chance.

They were on sale, anyway, I noticed. There were two prices on the tag. And I got a bit confused, until the guy who showed me the set explained that the second price meant that they’d been reduced. I snapped up the set and carried it home. Today, I sent an email to my aforementioned friend and she sent a reply, dating the set to the 1880s or 1890s (which lines up with the research I did) and said that they were almost certainly sterling silver, since S. Mordan & Co didn’t start making silver-plate pens and pencils until the 1910s.

I think I need to sit down for a minute…

What’s the significance of S. Mordan & Co?

Well…S. Mordan is Sampson Mordan Snr. He lived from 1790 until 1843. He’s the man who invented the propelling pencil. The great-grandfather to every mechanical pnecil in existence today.

As a result, anything bearing his name in the writing world can carry a hefty value along with it…Wow!!