Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Early 1950s Nelco Sewing Machine

My early 1950s Nelco was manufactured by Riccar Factory in Japan, 
imported by Tacony Corporation, and distributed by Leon Jolson of Nelco.

Sometimes, importers and distributors selling identical models all built by Japanese factories offered several choices of brand names.  It was up to the dealers to choose between 2 or 3 brand name plates sent along in product envelopes.

I inquired about casting numbers underneath the bed,  but only one number was a significant clue--the one number under the lip said JA3 indicating Riccar Factory was the manufacturer in Japan.  My Nelco is model 1603, serial number 0070.  

She runs beautifully.  I'm calling her "Miss America."

When I bought her at a thrift shop, she was covered with an orange-y ear wax consistency of kitchen grease inside and out.  It took warm water, a bit of Murphy's oil soap, soft cloths, soft toothbrush, cotton swabs, and round toothpicks to gently remove the sticky film.  

The internal cleaning/oiling took some time to accomplish.  Supervised by my husband Jon, he enjoyed showing me areas that required more cleaning, and single drops of oil in each of the moving parts.

I let the oil sit for 24 hours.  The following day, I did short test runs.  Eeeeee--I wasn't expecting the machine to run so noisy at first, but I'd been advised to let her run for at least 5 minutes steady.  As I continued to run the machine for longer and longer periods I wasn't worried any more--the oil was getting distributed throughout the machine and sounding smooth.  I am really impressed how great it is running now.  

I tested the upper tension many times, but always ended up with intermittent loops forming underneath.  I turned the bobbin case screw clockwise 1/2 turn from 12 o'clock position to 6 o'clock position to adjust the lower tension.  The stitches are looking great now.  

My Nelco was likely imported by Nick Tacony who was still operating as Western Distributors, Inc. of St. Louis, Missouri before he changed the company name to Tacony.  Tacony Corporation makes the modern Babylock sewing, serging, and embroidery machines. 

Mr. Tacony sold my machine to a distributor Leon Jolson who started his own sewing machine company/brand name Nelco.  

Interesting history of Leon Jolson--a Polish immigrant to the U.S. in 1947--arrived penniless, but eventually developed a distributor deal with Necchi an Italian sewing machine company, and then another similar business deal with Elna, Tavaro Geneva Switzerland.  Both of those relationships dissolved unhappily, as Leon Jolson crossed the line so to speak, creating his own company NELCO derived from the letters NE from Necchi, L as in sounding like Elna, and Co.  This infruated Necchi and Elna.

Jolson was able to keep his company name NELCO after a legal suit settled out of court.  But bold Jolson continued to advertise to his dealers using every angle to mix together the names Nelco, Necchi and Elna, finest makers of sewing machines. 

Later on, rivals Elna and Nelco imported identical machines from a Japanese manufacturer. The problem was Jolson named his identical machine Nelco Prima Vera after Elna had already named their machine Elna Primula.  Elna sued Nelco.


Mark Ruffner said...

Hi, Mrs. D. — What an interesting story; I could see a TV mini-series on the theme of such name borrowing. I'm betting that Jolson might have gotten a different ruling today.

momto1 said...

Thanks for the info! My neighbor just gave me her mother's Strawbridge and Clothier's Super Deluxe ZigZag machine that looks just like yours, right down to the model number/serial number plate. I'm glad to hear that you're so satisfied with yours. I wasn't sure how much effort to put into cleaning this one up. It's in pretty good shape, but hasn't been used for 30 years, so everything is very sludgy inside. Clean as a whistle outside, though. That helps a bit. Thanks again for sharing the info of your machine!

Patty Graham said...

Hi thank you for the history of this machine. I'm starting a mini collection of vintage machines. I'm at two ( a kenmore and a singer) and came across a third for $30 with the table and had never heard of Nelco. It's an interesting history. I really like the photos you've included too. Thank you for taking the time to share. Hoping to contact the seller today to pick up the Nelco. ( another challenge for myself as I learn the art of maintaining and fixing sewing machines).