I have three machines of the White vibrating shuttle design. One is made by White (model VS2-b), one is by Jones (Medium CS) and one by A.G. Mason (Defender). They were all made some time between 1889 and 1911, they all have a long arm vibrating shuttle design, but other details vary. So how do they compare?
That’s a bit of a weird model name. White did not actually assign their machines a particular model, they were all VS machines in different variants. If you like, the model name is “VS”. However, modern collectors and enthusiasts would like to tell the variants apart, and so they started assigning labels to what they’ve found, see Wikipedia. Model 2-b was an in-betweener, it was discovered after labels 2 and 3 were already assigned, so it became 2-b.
There should be a better, a more formal identification system for White models, and in fact I know that one lady is working very hard putting together a book on this matter. But until this book is published, label “2-b” is likely to stick around. Wikipedia puts the year of manufacture to 1889-1892.
It is coming up to two years since I rescued this beauty, and she’s still in the rough… Life does like to interfere with people’s sewing machine restoration plans. 🙂 She’s stiff and rusty, so I cannot test her sewing abilities, I can only look at the structure at this stage. I cannot even read the serial number because it is engraved on the slide plate. Her time is yet to come.
Jones Medium CS
This beauty was made after 1901 as we can surmise from the decal mentioning Queen Alexandra, the wife of King Edward. The serial number is 53076 and I estimate that it puts it to 1908, based on data from fiddlebase.com.
This is my heavy duty machine – she has a tremendous punching power. She does a good job on finer fabrics too, but so do others as well, but none other can sew through a 1mm steel bone! Ok, that was not what I intended, but she did it anyway!
A.G. Mason’s Defender
This is the latest addition and a bit of a rarity, at least for us Europeans.
According to the “Encyclopedia of antique sewing machines” by Charles Law, A.G. Mason Sewing Machine Company was a small manufacturer from Ohio, USA. It appears that Mr. Mason bought Florence Sewing Machine Company when it went bankrupt in late 1870s, then started up his own business in 1880s and continued manufacturing machines until 1916 when A.G. Mason company was bought by Domestic Sewing Machines which in turn merged into the White company in 1920. So A.G. Mason was not a mere distributor as you might read elsewhere on the Internet, but was an actual manufacturer, albeit a small one. This explains why they mostly produced badged machines for various retailers and department stores.
However, there is some controversy about this. Apparently someone discovered that there was a law suit in late 1920s well after the deaths of both A.G. Mason and Thomas White, which accused Mr. Mason of being a fraud and only selling machines made by others while claiming that his company manufactured them. But I could not find any evidence of this law suit or of any other document proving that Mr. Mason was not a manufacturer, and neither have I found any proof to the contrary. Charles Law’s book is the only published reference that I was able to access with any information on A.G. Mason, and he didn’t provide any documents either. Choose what you prefer to believe. 🙂
My machine hasn’t got a badge of any kind, not on the arm and not on the case, but I’ve seen them with the model name there – Defender. I’ll be putting that on. (I’ve also seen any number of other names – those must be the retailers for whom the machines were made.)
I have found a trade mark registration by one Albert G. Mason for the name “New Defender” on 17 April, 1906 and subsequent renewal by the White Sewing Machine Corporation 40 years later, as published in the Official Gazette of the United States Patent Office, volume 588, July 1946, page 220, entry 51,531. In fact, if the White Corporation hadn’t renewed it in 1946, we would have probably never known about the original registration either. I can only assume that the name “Defender” was registered earlier because I’ve seen a photo of a treadle machine with serial number 5129891 that was badged “Defender” on the arm with a subscript “Registered in US Patent Office”. But then again I’ve seen another photo of a machine badged “New Defender” with the same subscript and serial number 5084298, which is earlier. Have they gone from “New Defender” to “Defender”? Or has the word “New” gone out of fashion? Who knows… Both these machines have the serial number stamped on the slide plate, just like White machines. But my machine has it on a raised plaque behind the main column.
The serial number of my machine is 6303142. I’ve seen another machine with a serial number behind the column, and it was later than mine: 8108180. It had very different decals and was badged “New Defender”. Back to “New”? Evidently.
None of it helps me to date my machine though because nobody knows exactly when theirs were made. Ah! But here I’ve seen a rotary machine by A.G. Mason with serial number FR 7118511 where the slide plate was stamped 1912. Now we’re getting somewhere! The business was booming at the time, so let’s assume mine was made a year or two earlier – in 1910-1911. Yes, I think I can go with that.
The shuttle arm
This is the heart of a vibrating shuttle mechanism – the shuttle arm. Different arrangements of the centre of rotation is what separates various VS designs into distinct groups: short arm (after Singer), medium arm (after New Home) and long arm (after White). See this separate post comparing these designs. All three machines in this post follow the White design with a long shuttle arm, so their underbellies look similar.
The difference with respect to the shuttle arm is in the way it is driven and in the type of mechanism in the “ramp” of the machine where the movement is transferred from the balance wheel to the lower and upper mechanism.
White VS machines have a universal joint in the “ramp” of the machine to transfer movement from the balance wheel to an intermediate joint inside the main column and then to the rod that moves the shuttle arm. The intermediate joint also connects to the feed driver ensuring synchronous movement. The balance wheel rotates anti-clockwise (towards you) and there is a joint where the driver rod connects to the shuttle arm.
A.G. Mason’s Defender follows the same design and action.
Jones CS machines also have a universal joint in the “ramp” of their machines, but further construction is simpler. The universal joint drives the shuttle arm directly. The feed is rocking on the same central joint in the underbelly that is also the centre of rotation for the shuttle arm. The balance wheel rotates anti-clockwise.
White VS and Mason’s Defender have the same kind of feed, albeit with a different stitch length adjuster. White VS has a roller while the Defender has a slider. The mechanism underneath is essentially the same though. It is a bar with the feed dogs attached in the middle, the bar is being rocked by a shaft at the back of the machine through the intermediate joint inside the main column.
Jones CS feed is rocking on the central joint of the shuttle arm similar to the feed mechanism in Singer VS.
Mason’s Defender is very similar to my version of White VS – the “2b” model – it’s got a tension assembly at the bottom front. The head screws a920re not on the face but on the side of the arm of the machine, and the head comes away in your hand not unlike a transverse shuttle machine, except that the White head stays together.
This is actually very practical for cleaning!
The take-up lever rides on the same disk that drives the needle up and down with the V-drive (see this separate post on head arrangements). The cut out part on the disk corresponds to the lever dropping down, with a spring pulling on the lever to make sure it stays with the disk.
The knob on the disk that rides in the V-groove is not just a knob, it is a rotating disk which makes for a smoother motion of the needle bar.
The presser foot lifter points to the right when the foot is up. There is also a tension release mechanism which is being pressed by the foot lifter lever when the foot is raised.
The head of a Jones CS machine follows a Singer design however.
The head is self-contained and is covered by a face plate. The take-up lever is also driven by the main disk, but it rides a groove in its side. The knob sliding in the V-groove is just a fixed knob. Otherwise the mechanism is in essence similar to the White design. My Jones CS doesn’t have an automatic tension release mechanism, but it was added in later models.
White VS and Mason’s Defender have the same kind of shuttle with a pin inside. The bobbin has a hollow centre to fit around it. These bobbins are very rare! Jones CS shuttle has no pin, so it takes Singer-style VS bobbins. These bobbins are common and there are now even modern replicas that work well enough. A big plus for Jones for sustained usability.
However, apart from the pin, the Jones shuttle is very similar to the White/Mason shuttle. So similar in fact, that they are interchangeable!
The key is in the notch on the head of the shuttle that has to match the holder in the cradle. White/Mason and Jones shuttles have the same notch, but Singer shuttles don’t. The notch on the old style Singer 27 shuttle is too low while the new style Singer 127 shuttle doesn’t have a notch at all.
I have inserted Jones Medium CS shuttle into Mason’s Defender and it has sewn just as nicely as with its own shuttle. The shuttle arm on Jones Medium CS is longer, so the race curvature is slightly flatter than on the Defender, however the difference was too small to cause any issues. A shuttle from Jones Family CS would have been an even better match. The only thing to note is that the Jones shuttle was a little noisier because it is slightly shorter than the original and was rattling a little more in the cradle. But this is a small price to pay for a shuttle with an abundance of bobbins!
All of these machines have a thing about their needles, that is only Jones Family CS from late 1930s or later uses our common 15×1 needle, all the rest of them use obscure needles that are either no longer made or are difficult to find.
White VS and Mason’s Defender
My White VS came with a 15×1 needle, but as the machine is still in the rough, I don’t know whether it would sew.
Mason’s Defender came with a needle which I identified as something very similar to 127×1: flat shank 1.75mm in diameter, 39mm butt to eye, 43.6mm overall length. It was sewing fine but brushing against the needle hole on the left.
At a closer inspection both White and Mason had the same problem: the needle was brushing against the needle hole on the left, the needle plate could not be adjusted, and actually in both cases the needle wasn’t strictly vertical – it was slanted to the left!
I find it very hard to believe that this could be right. I rather think it points to a common fault with the needle clamp which is the same on both machines.
There is a flat groove in the needle bar that is 3mm wide (wow!) and a round hole in the needle clamp of the same diameter, with a narrow round groove opposite the flat groove. So this indicates that the clamp would take a needle with a thick flat shank.
But what about the slant of the needle? Looking closer at the needle bar, I notice that when I hold a needle with its shank flat against the groove, it is already coming out slanted! How very bizarre! If it was just on one machine, I would have put it down to a faulty something, but it’s on both the original White and the Mason copy, so this must be intentional. But what on earth for? And anyhow, if I am to sew with the Mason, I’ll have to make the needle vertical because as it is, nothing fits – every needle apart from the one it came with, hits the needle plate well to the left of the needle hole.
The answer to that was in the head. The lower screw that fixes the head to the body got a build-up of dirt and grime in it, so it was tilting the head to the left a little. I cleaned it and things improved somewhat but not enough to actually work. I took decisive action and converted this machine to 15×1 needles: I lowered the needle bar and dremeled the bottom of the needle bar groove a little until the needle was straight. Job done! 😃
Jones CS machines use Jones CS needles, but god forbid that they should be the same for their Family and Medium machines. Jones Family CS machines use round shank needles, and the closest match available today is type 128×1. These are industrial needles used in some rather old Singer machines, and they are on their way out, but are still being made. Alternatively, many Family CS machines work with Schmetz DBx1 needles, but beware that it must be Schmetz because the shank thickness is not fully standardised among different manufacturers. These needles are a bit too thin, and Schmetz has the thickest shank which just about works, while others don’t.
Jones Medium CS machines take Jones Manufacturing needles with a flat shank, not to be confused with Jones Manufacturing needles with a round shank. Huh? I know. But the good news is that in many cases 15×1 needles actually work, so try that. I have never seen a flat shanked Jones Manufacturing needle, so can’t give a better comparison. I think here too Jones Medium CS wins in sustained usability.
Both White VS and Mason’s Defender use White foot fittings which are quite common in the USA, although they are no longer considered standard. But it is not too hard to find feet for them.
Jones CS machines use what looks like a Singer low shank foot fitting, but looks are deceiving. This is in fact a Jones low shank foot fitting, naturally. It is about 2mm shorter than the Singer foot fitting, so if you try using “standard” feet on Jones CS machines, you’ll find they give you an incredibly high foot pressure. That’s because they are much too high. Use Jones feet instead, but not from any of the post-WWII machines – you need original Jones feet from before the war.
The power source
How is the machine driven? Both White VS and Jones Medium CS were meant to be treadles, so they have no boss for a hand-crank or a motor. My Jones machine had been updated professionally back in 1980s (I found a receipt from a Singer service centre), and at the time they’ve added a boss and mounted a motor. Not too big a job, I’ve done it myself with another machine. But my White hadn’t been converted. Jones Family CS machines came with a hand-crank or later also with a motor already mounted.
Mason’s Defender is a large machine, yet it came with a hand-crank mounted on a boss. Hurray! The boss is not central on the column but is displaced towards the back, so you’d need a very short bracket to mount a motor. However, it’s present, and that makes all the difference. Most brackets for Sew-Tric motors have a slider, so that the motor can be placed quite close to the mount point, if required.
Ah, yes, the important bit.
Again, I can’t say anything about White VS because mine is not in working order. But because Mason’s Defender is so similar to White VS, I think we can surmise that it has similar sewing properties. Jones Medium CS, on the other hand, is significantly different from the White/Mason design, what with the way the shuttle arm is driven, the construction of the feed, the head, and of course the size, so I think it is fair to compare Jones and Mason, while taking Mason to be a representative of White.
Mason sews much smoother than Jones. This goes both for Medium and Family models. Medium is larger than Mason while Family is slightly smaller. The smoothness of Mason comes from the extra joints inside the main column and at its exit, while Jones just uses one single curved arm to drive the shuttle directly from the universal joint of the main shaft.
In fact, when White says in their manual that theirs is the best vibrating shuttle machine in the world, I tend to agree with them. 😲
Mason’s Defender is not only smooth, it produces significantly less vibrations than Jones, Singer or Mundlos (New Home design). It is also the only machine with those extra joints in the main column.
Vibrations aside, however, the quality of sewing across all my VS machines is the same – it is superb. Even stitches without skipping, flexible stitch up to 40% stretch on fine jersey (more on thicker jersey), steady performance on any kind of fabric. I can’t fault them, really. 😍