W. Avery & Son

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W. Avery & Son was a needle manufacturer during the Victorian Era from Headless Cross, a small village on the southwest side of Redditch, England. Redditch is located 15 miles south of Birmingham, the English city recognized as the centre of the Industrial Revolution. In the 19th century the Redditch area produced the majority of the world’s needles. W. Avery & Son is best known for their figural brass needle cases which were created by the company between 1868 and 1889.[1] Since they produced the majority of these items, collectors refer to all brass needle cases manufactured during this time period as “Averys”. Today they are highly collectable and are usually sold on auction websites such as eBay or by antique dealers online, in shops or at antique shows. Most needle cases produced by the firm have W. Avery & Son Redditch engraved on the case as well as a design/patent registration stamp.

Company History[edit]

From 1865 until 1899, the time period in which needle cases were created, the company was headed by William Avery (1832–1899). Earlier, from approximately 1832 until 1865, the firm was headed by William’s father, John Avery (1807–1865). According to William’s 1899 obituary,[2] the company was founded in 1785, although to date, no evidence has been uncovered to support this. The earliest reference to the company was found in Pigot & Cos 1828-1829[3] directory where it was listed as William Avery & Son, fish hook and needle manufacturer from Redditch.

It seems possible that the founder of the company came from a neighbouring town in Warwickshire. In 1831 the partnership between an older man named William Avery, possibly a grandfather, and a John Avery from the company William Avery and Son was dissolved.[4] According to these records, John Avery was “late of Studley, Warwick, but now of Redditch, Worcestershire, needle and fish-hook manufactures.” Studley is a small village about five miles southeast of Redditch. A year later in 1832 when William was born, his father John was listed on his baptismal record as a needle manufacturer. According to the 1841 UK census, there was only one John Avery in the Reddich[5] area who made needles. Therefore, it is highly likely that the John Avery living in Headless Cross in 1841 was the same man as the one from Studley mentioned in 1831. Unfortunately, since few records prior to 1841 have been found that clearly show the relationships between the various Avery families in the area, one can only speculate about the origins of W. Avery & Son.

The company was listed as a needle and fish hook manufacturer in many business and trade directories throughout the Victorian Period (1835,[6] 1839 [7] 1842,[8] 1850,[9] 1855,[10] 1861,[11] 1865,[12] 1870,[13] 1872,[14] 1875,[15] 1876,[16] 1878,[17] 1879,[18] 1879,[19] 1879,[20] 1892,[21] 1896,[22] 1896-97,[23] and 1900).[24]  After William’s death in 1899, his sons inherited[25] the needle business which they subsequently sold to John English & Son Ltd,[26] another needle manufacturer in the area.

Brass Needle Cases[edit]

Eiffel Tower Needle Case

On January 7, 1868, W. Avery & Son patented their first brass needle case in Great Britain, #58,[27] a flat single packet case named The Golden Needle Case. By November that same year they patented the Quadruple Casket which contained slots for four different sized needle packets. Two years later in 1870, the Quadruple Casket and a Demi-Quad needle case were also patented in the United States.[28] Within eight years the firm had created at least twenty-seven needle case designs, mostly figural, which were displayed at the London (1873),[29] Vienna (1873)[30] and Paris exhibitions. In 1875 the company was highly praised not only for their quality and workmanship, but also for the artistic appeal of their needle cases which were mentioned in exhibition reports sent to the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce.[31] Several years later in 1878,[32] W. Avery & Son appeared in an exhibition catalogue as needle and pin manufacturers and inventors from Headless Cross, and needle, pin and needle case manufacturers from 192 Great Hampton Row in Birmingham. By the time the Liverpool Exhibition opened in 1886, the firm had added at least 30 more designs[33] to their repertoire, including a souvenir Quadruple Casket needle case with a drawing of the exhibition hall embossed on its exterior. During the Royal Jubilee Exhibition in Manchester in 1887[34] their booth was noted for another invention, a machine that could stick pins in rows of paper. A year later the firm won a gold medal for their participation in the 1888 World’s Fair in Brussels.[35] At the Exposition Universelle (1889)[36] in Paris the W. Avery & Son booth displayed needles, pins and fancy pin and needle cases, as well as the machinery for sticking pins into paper. Also for sale in their booth that year was a new brass needle case in the shape of the Eiffel Tower,[37] a miniature scale replica of the exhibition’s main attraction, the architectural masterpiece of French structural engineer Gustave Eiffel.

William Avery (1832-1899)[edit]

William Avery was born in 1832 in Feckenham, a civil parish in the Borough of Redditch in Worcestershire, England. He was baptized [38] at St. Stephens, a branch of the Church of England, located in the centre of Redditch. He was the eldest son of John Avery (1807–1865),[39] a needle maker/needle manufacturer from Headless Cross and Catherine Johnson (1806–1888). William had at least three brothers and a sister: Charles (1834–1911), Benjamin (1834–1846), Joseph (1839–1915) and Catherine (1842–1875). His two brothers that survived to adulthood were also employed in the needle industry.

William Avery married Maria Proctor Dingley in 1855[40] at the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel in Sherborne, Dorset. Shortly thereafter they returned to Headless Cross where they lived for the rest of their lives.[41] They had at least three children: William John (1859–1869), Benjamin Ricardo (1862–1947) and Charles Harold (1867–1943). In addition to creating needle cases, Mr. Avery wrote a book entitled “Old Redditch Being an Early History of the Town from 1800-1850”.[42] His youngest son, Charles, who wrote under the pseudonym, Harold Avery, was the author of over 50 children’s books. After suffering from deafness and heart problems for many years, William died of heart disease in 1899[43] in Headless Cross at age 67. He died suddenly but peacefully while sitting in the garden at his residence. A special memorial service was held at the Wesleyan Church in Headless Cross on September 17, 1899, at which a 21-page pamphlet[44] entitled “In Memoriam William Avery, J.P. of Headless Cross, Redditch,” published by the local newspaper, was distributed. It sold at the service for three pence, for the benefit of the Unsectarian Benevolent Society of the Poor of Headless Cross which was founded by Mr. and Mrs. Avery in 1856.

Mr. Avery was well known in the Redditch area not only for his commercial success as the head of the W. Avery & Son firm but also for his philanthropy. Soon after his marriage, he and his wife established a fund for the poor of Headless Cross. Together they organized musical concerts which, because of his reputation as a musician, attracted large influential audiences which added to the organizations coffers. The Avery’s also created a clothing club so they could literally “feed the hungry” and “cloth the naked”. William helped to establish the Redditch Literary and Scientific Institute and the local School of Art. He served on the Feckenham district school board and was a staunch supporter of public elementary education. He delivered a series of lectures on Old Redditch to enthusiastic crowds which were eventually published in 1887 and continued to give lectures on a variety of topics. In politics he was a liberal. Later in life William was appointed as a Justice of the Peace for Worcestershire and sat for a short time on the bench at Redditch, however had to give it up due to his increased deafness. He was an active member of the Wesleyan Church where he played the organ for 50 years, taught Sunday school for 40 years and attended numerous Wesleyan meetings and conferences. He was a prominent citizen in all aspects of life in the area in which he lived, being known and beloved by friends and neighbours alike for his sincerity, integrity, humour and wit.


  1. ^ Meinke, Terry. My Avery Needle Case Collection, 2012; Horowitz, Estelle and Mann, Ruth. Victorian Brass Needlecases, 1990
  2. ^ Redditch Indicator obituary dated August 5, 1899
  3. ^ Pigot & Co.’s Directory of Ches, Cumb…, 1828-29 (Part 2: Notts - Yorks & N. Wales), page 872 at http://www.historicaldirectories.org
  4. ^ The Law Advertiser for the Year 1831 Vol. IX, No. 31, Thursday August 4, 1831, page 279 at Google Books
  5. ^ 1841 UK Census - Headless Cross, Parish Feckenham, Worcestershire, District 10, page 10 at www.ancestry.com
  6. ^ Pigot & Co.’s Directory of Derbys, Herefs…, 1835, page 651 at http://www.historicaldirectories.org
  7. ^ Robinson’s Birmingham & Sheffield Directory, 1839, page 505, 507 at http://www.historicaldirectories.org
  8. ^ Pigot & Co.’s Directory of Derbys, Dorset…, 1842, page 20 at http://www.historicaldirectories.org
  9. ^ Post Office Directory of Birmingham, Staffordshire & Worcestershire, 1850, page 437, 634 at http://www.historicaldirectories.org
  10. ^ Billing’s Directory & Gazetteer of Worcestershire, 1855, page 363, 375 at http://www.historicaldirectories.org
  11. ^ Corporation General and Trades Directory of Birmingham, 1861, page 866, 868 at http://www.books.google.com
  12. ^ Jones’s Mercantile Directory of S. Staffordshire and E. Worcestershire, 1865, page 135, 415 at http://www.historicaldirectories.org
  13. ^ The Handbook to the Manufacturers & Exporters of Great Britain, 1870, page 198, 342 at http://www.books.google.com
  14. ^ The Commercial Directory and Shippers’ Guide, 1872, page 359, 364 at http://www.books.google.com
  15. ^ The Commercial Directory and Shippers’ Guide, 1875, page 409 at http://www.books.google.com
  16. ^ Post Office Directory of Worcestershire, 1876, page 986, 987, 1160, 1176 at http://www.historicaldirectories.org
  17. ^ Post Office Directory of Birmingham, 1878, page 68, 259, 527 at http://www.books.google.com
  18. ^ Post Office Directory of Birmingham, 1879, page 69, 273, 554 at http://www.books.google.com
  19. ^ The Commercial Directory and Shippers’ Guide, 1879, page 999, 1000, 489 at http://www.books.google.com
  20. ^ The Trades’ Guide for the Midland Counties and Universal Buyers’ Guide, 1879, page 2, 50, 194, 202 at http://www.books.google.com
  21. ^ Kelly’s Directory of Worcestershire, 1892, page 108, 338, 361 at http://www.historicaldirectories.org
  22. ^ Kelly’s Directory of Worcestershire, 1896, page 121, 407, 431 at http://www.historicaldirectories.org
  23. ^ Peck’s Trades Directory of Birmingham, 1896-97, page 109, 111, 195, 207, 316 at http://www.historicaldirectories.org
  24. ^  Kelly’s Directory of Worcestershire, 1900, page 126, 414, 440 at http://www.historicaldirectories.org
  25. ^ Worcester Family History Centre, Trinity Street, Worcester - Will of William Avery proved September 29, 1899
  26. ^ Worcestershire Record Office – 705:414/8189/34/ii 1883-1913 and – 705:414/8779/11/iv/5-11 1861-1914, documents related to the sale of Sherborne Cottage to J. English & Son Ltd
  27. ^ The Journal of the Society of Arts and of the Institutions in Union, Volume XVI, 1868, page 222 at http://www.books.google.com; Horowitz, Estelle and Mann, Ruth. Victorian Brass Needlecases, 1990
  28. ^ United States Patent Office at http://www.uspto.gov/patents/process/search - Search the USPTO Patent Full-Text and Image Database (Pat FT) patent #98,904 dated January 18, 1870 and #102,471 dated May 3, 1870
  29. ^ London International Exhibition of 1873 Official Catalogue, page 140 at http://www.books.google.com
  30. ^ Reports of the Vienna Universal Exhibition of 1873, Part 1, page 30 at http://www.books.google.com
  31. ^ The Reliquary Quarterly Archeological Journal and Review A Depository of Precious Relics Vol. XVI 1875-1876, page 53, 54, 169 at http://www.books.google.com
  32. ^ Paris Universal Exhibition of 1878 Catalogue of the British Section Part I, page xxix, lvii, 13, 41, 55, 72, 143, 348, 385 at http://www.books.google.com
  33. ^ Horowitz, Estelle and Mann, Ruth. Victorian Brass Needlecases, 1990
  34. ^ The Pictorial Record of the Royal Jubilee Exhibition Manchester 1887, page 93 at http://www.books.google.com
  35. ^ The Times (London newspaper) dated October 15, 1888
  36. ^ Paris Universal Exhibition of 1889 Official Catalogue of the British Section, page 50, 140 at http://www.books.google.com
  37. ^ UK Archives in London - Design Register/Patent #99201 dated May 2, 1888
  38. ^ St. Stephen’s Church of England, Redditch parish register baptisms dated May 13, 1832
  39. ^ St. Stephen’s Church of England, Redditch parish register baptisms dated July 5, 1807, General Register Office, UK death certificate dated June 25, 1865, District Alcester and the 1841, 1851 and 1861 UK census
  40. ^ General Register Office, UK, marriage certificate dated September 18, 1855, District Sherborne
  41. ^ 1861 UK Census - Parish Feckenham, Worcestershire, District 1, Page 8. 1871 UK Census - Parish Feckenham, Warwickshire, District 1, Page 20. 1881 UK Census - Parish Feckenham, Worcestershire, District 1, Page 27. 1891 UK Census - Parish Feckenham, Worcestershire, District 1, Page 21 at www. ancestry.com
  42. ^ Avery, William. Old Redditch Being an Early History of the Town from 1800-1850, 1887
  43. ^ General Register Office, UK death certificate dated July 31, 1899, District Alcester
  44. ^ Worcestershire Record Office – 898.7314/10535/13/ix 1899. Documents related to Redditch Methodist Circuit Records including copy of the 21 page pamphlet

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