Bell Model MB/102
If you found this page via a search engine because you're interested in this cute little sewing machine and you're eyeballing one in an online auction - please be advised:
Do NOT pay more than about $60 for one - and for that price it should be excellent in all regards! They appear on auction sites very regularly, and usually sell for between $30 and $60. Sometimes you see them listed for prices well in excess of $100! Don't get duped.
There also seems to be quite a few up for auction that are missing the power cord/control pedal. A standard Mercury Electric control pedal should work (I haven't personally verified this) if you know how to do some basic wiring and can deal with the oddball 3 prong power connector. Or just wait for "the next one"...
Sometimes there will be a machine missing its stitch length lever (occasionally) and/or its forward/reverse knob (rarely). Just pass on it and wait for a better one to come along - fixing these kinds of problems would be very difficult at best.
From a period magazine ad:
This is what you've been waiting for in a portable sewing machine - it's small, it's lightweight, it's compact - it's a modern engineering miracle. The Bell Portable, a round bobbin, lock-stitch machine, will sew anything anywhere! You can even sew while you're ironing - just clamp the Bell Portable to your ironing board. It's a natural too, for your work-a-day darning and mending. With a Bell Portable, you can sew heavy or light fabrics without changing tension. Before you buy, see the Bell - the truly portable portable. Only $69.95 (Slightly higher in the West).
The machine pictured in the ad was in the briefcase style depicted below.
Period Consumer Reports regarding this machine. Thanx to Randy for scanning this!
Cute little guy...
Is only nine inches long! Note built-in sewing light.
The control pedal is almost as big as the machine!
Interior of single stack carbon pile controller.
Carbon pile removed.
Carbon pile opened up.
In disassembling the controller, I managed to lose one of the 3 closure nuts.
The original style of nut, as can be seen sitting on top of the controller,
was one of those stamped sheet metal affairs (left). Although the bolt is
a standard #6-32, the necessary nut is what's called a "small pattern" nut,
(center top) contrasted to a standard sized #6-32 nut (center bottom). This
type of nut is rather difficult to find unless one wishes to buy 100 of them.
No local hardware store stocked them, so I made my own by re-drilling a #4-40
nut and tapping it with a #6-32 tap, which results in a dictionary spec "small
pattern" nut! Installed it with the pictured thread locker (right), I figured
I'd do all three while I was at it. No real need to go to this trouble unless
you just feel like it or you manage to lose one of the originals like I did!
Backside shows a few "play-marks".
Looks like a standard Christmas/Nite lite bulb - but wait!
A double contact bayonet base! Reflectorized one one side too!
Light turned on.
The case it comes in...
Can also be used to enlarge the sewing surface with the table extension supplied.
Note new sliding cover (dark blue, looking black) in foreground.
Date stamp found inside this US made machine.
The real advantage of this machine and partially why I wanted one so badly.
It can be clamped onto the edge of a table, turning it into the smallest
free arm setup I've ever seen. Perfect for making little Belly Dance do-dahs!
Size and color comparison. Pictures of the non-green Bell, as seen on eBay and
elsewhere on the www, often show it looking white due to overexposure and/or
white balance issues. It actually is a deep beige - my White brand machine shown
here is white in color!
Original auction picture for my machine. Looking white as they often do.
Bottom view, clearly showing the US origin, and the model.
Test seam. Works great!
What I've been able to find out so far:
I'd been after one of these Bell micro machines ever since I saw one on eBay - it proved quite hard to get as another bidder was apparently bent on cornering the world's supply of these little machines! But here it is at last - not a toy, but a serious machine in its own right. It uses full sized Greist attachments, regular needles, and small, but available (see below) bobbins. They are apparently referred to in some circles as the "Stapler" machine, no doubt due to their resemblance to that common office appliance. This one is labeled "Model MB"; however I've also seen some labeled "Model 102", which I'm guessing may be later production.
These machines were made in two colors; and they came in two different cases: the briefcase style I have, pictured above; and this larger, rarer, more upright style:
This group of photos courtesy of Mark McEvoy - who did a fine job of photographing this upright case machine without distracting backgrounds.
Base looks a bit different...
Top is *way* different.
A different kind of foot pedal strapped inside lid.
"This product finished with Revolutionary new PLEXTONE.
There are several factoids that seem to be true (discussed below):
- Green machines are more common than beige ones.
- Beige machines came only in the brief case while...
- Green machines came in both (brief case & "upright") styles.
- Green machines in the upright case seem to have plastic parts (see below).
- Even though I've speculated that machines with plastic parts were late production, note the above machine has no serial number, seemingly indicating earlier production!
- Note that the above machine has plastic parts but no "N" for neutral as other, also presumed late production, machines have - nor vice versa! See below.
- Upright cased machines have a different foot pedal from the briefcase style.
Here is another foot pedal style seen here with an upright case. Almost certainly a Bell supplied
pedal (as opposed to a later replacement) due to its color and the fact that the hold down strap fits
As can be seen above, there were at least two different foot pedals that came with the upright case style - both of which differ from the pedal that came with the more common briefcase. Who knows? The briefcase foot pedal appears to have been manufactured by Bell, perhaps these others were not? Update: It turns out the green pedal depicted immediately above was most certainly NOT manufactured by Bell, and appears to be a double stack carbon pile type. This pedal was made by "The Electrical Mfg. Co." of Racine, Wis; who also made the (non original pedal of a totally different model that is a wirewound type) that I purchased for use with my "Streamliner". Why the differing pedals, we may never know.
Pedal by "The Electrical Mfg. Co." of Racine, Wis. Compare to above. Photo courtesy of eBay seller "odinbear"
Bell later collaborated with Germany's Messerschmidt; the "Bell-Messerschmidt" machines, as well as some of the tiny ones such as mine, shared an identical green color. This originally lead me to believe that the beige color came first, as the Messerschmidt collaboration didn't start until the mid to late 50s - and mine bears a date stamp of 16 December 1952. HOWEVER, I've since ran across reference to a green Bell Sewing Machine that apparently bore a manufacture date in 1953, apparently well before the Messerschmidt collaboration. So obviously, I haven't a clue! I also haven't a clue what the situation was with the two different case styles other than it appears that the briefcase style was more prevalent. So far, the very few pictures of the larger, non-briefcase style case that I've seen have all had green machines in them.
More on the Messerschmidt collaboration can be seen in the Needlebar's Bell picture gallery, as well as mention of some Bells (other models) being imported from Japan and a second German manufacturer, Kaiser-Gritzner. I have since learned that some of the German Bells were made by the Adler sewing machine company. My little Bell, however, was made in the United States as "Made in USA" is clearly visible. This "Micro-Bell" may have been the only Bell model made in the US - indeed I'm now speculating that this was the ONLY model they actually manufactured themselves. However, the US wasn't the only country this model was manufactured - see below.
My machine has no sign whatsoever of a serial number - I have seen multiple eBay auctions of serialized machines; apparently serialization wasn't done until later production runs. I'd been wondering if they still stamped the build date inside a serialized machine - they did not:
Serialized Bell (0005154). No date stamp found inside.
I purchased this second Micro-Bell for a dance sister who wanted one. By coincidence, it too is a beige one (she "almost" got a green one!). It has a serial number on the outside (5154), for some reason the seller thought the machine dated to 1954 - although there is no date stamped on the inside like mine has, so I have no idea why/where the 1954 date came from.
Update: Another machine that was sold (not made) on 7 November 1951 bears the serial number 2130, which is at least consistent with the above.
A few more pictures of both her machine and mine together:
Hers is a bit cleaner than mine, not as many "play marks".
Mine, foreground, hers behind showing its serial number.
Side by side shot, mine's to the left.
From the other side, hers is now in the foreground.
In both cases, the first thing I did was to clean them up, and oil everything - they were very dry. I even had to oil the latches on the briefcases, they were dry too! There was a rubber pad on the bottom which was disintegrating (in both cases: they're notorious for this) - I removed them and replaced with a reproduction hand cut from similar rubber (turned out that wetsuit rubber was the ticket).
Once I received the reproduction manual I ordered from "Relics", I was able to set it up correctly and sew a test seam. Works great, although it takes a bit getting used to the very long needle dwell time, both in upper and lower positions. I originally thought the long needle dwell had something to do with it being an oscillating shuttle machine instead of the rotary shuttle that I'm used to. However since acquiring a Singer 99K which is also an oscillating shuttle machine; my original idea was bogus as it (the 99K) has a dwell time similar to my White 690. So I have no idea of the what/why of the long needle dwell - perhaps it has to do with assisting needle penetration.
A note about revision levels. The reproduction manual clearly shows a couple of differences between my machine, and what is depicted therein. It shows a "N" for Neutral position for the Forward/Reverse switch. There is seemingly no mechanical difference as I can slip mine into a Neutral position also. In addition, the manual shows a more complex thread path using thread guides that aren't present on my machine - nor on any others I've seen pictures of good enough to be able to tell. There were also at least two different styles of tensioner knobs.
I'm guessing that the two kinds of cases were available concurrently as the "large case" Bell machine above does NOT have the late production badging or Forward/Neutral/Reverse switch labeling.
The only thing I needed to do was to fabricate a replacement cover for the attachments compartment in the briefcase - I had been wondering how things were supposed to stay in there (see picture above) - but the manual showed a sliding plate - so it was easy enough to fabricate a new one from metal, the original was plastic.
Here is a picture of a late production machine, showing the additional
"N" for neutral labeling as well as slightly different badging.
A beige late production machine, the first I've seen!
Picture courtesy of eBay seller "java2962010"
It certainly won't replace my beloved White as its a bit fussy to thread; and doesn't have much of a sewing area, even in the case with its larger surface; nor does it do zig-zag. But it'll be great for portable use as well as sewing little things in its free arm mode. Its well made and rugged, sews quite well, and is definitely no toy.
About the only negative I can find with it is that it is a bit underpowered. The motor will stall at times when you first depress the pedal - the manual suggests either helping it along by turning the bobbin winder (which is the top end of the motor shaft) counter clockwise, or momentarily slightly lifting the presser foot when this happens. The latter technique seems to work best. But considering its diminutive size, its not bad - its not much larger than the motor on some of my other machines!
Adventures With New Bobbins!Came across a steal of a deal for new bobbins on eBay - seller knew what she had and was selling the same bobbin for both the Singer 29-4, and the Bell. They're virtually the exact same size*, and better yet are made of metal. The thinner wall construction possible with metal means they'll hold slightly more thread, and won't have the breakage worries of 50+ year old plastic.
Singer 29-4 bobbin (left) from eBay, original Bell supplied plastic bobbin (right).
Original bobbin in shuttle...
Winding new Singer bobbin
New Singer bobbin in place
* For the pair I sampled: They're the exact same diameter; the center hole is one mil smaller for the metal one (fits fine on the bobbin winder, isn't used when in the shuttle); and the metal one is about 2 mils shorter overall, yet is about 30 mils taller inside so it can hold more thread!
But Wait! There's More!
This one was found on eBay in the UK. Look closely at the bottom label.
Made in France! This one's labeled as a "Model 102" which I'm guessing
was later production (regardless of country of origin).
And a different kind of carrying case than what came with the US built machines...
No kind of sewing surface extension as with both the US case styles;
& what appears to be yet another type of foot pedal (It'd be for 220VAC).
Another apparently made in France Bell, in yet another type of carrying case.
With French abbreviations on the direction control. The needle plate was with the accessories.
110v means it was made FOR the Quebec market - different looking bottom!
A completely different extension sewing surface! Very nice.
Appearance and catalog numbers brand this as a standard "Mercury Electric" foot pedal. However,
I've never seen one that didn't actually say that on it. Vague possibility of it being a clone.
All tucked away. These photos courtesy eBay seller "rarerecordsncollectibles".
The End of the Line?
Apparently one of the very last ones made. Note plastic tension disks and arm.
I wonder if it has the "N" marking on the forward/reverse lever, but cannot
tell from this photo.
Note different address on bottom. This owner also had to recreate the bottom
cushion - in this case from cork. These last two photos courtesy of The Needlebar.
A very close look at the French Bell (above) as well as the "Upright Case Style" (also above) reveals that they too "appear" to have the same plastic bits - I hadn't noticed until I knew what to look for. Goddess knows when they switched to plastic, but I'm glad mine has the metal parts! If plastic really is present on these two machines also; than I'm confused as plastic would seem to indicate very late production - yet at least in the case of the "Upright Case Style" machine, it does NOT have the "N" marking on the forward/reverse lever - yet the "late production" machine also depicted above (which *does* have the "N" marking in question), has metal tension disks and sewing arm, NOT plastic. Yet another confusing story in sewing machine archaeology!
Seems the Japanese managed to slip in a "Bell" badged machine at one point. Whether
or not it had anything to do with the "Bell" machines discussed here is a mystery.
This machine was built by Brother, and I've seen it bearing numerous badges, including
"American Beauty". Photo courtesy of Randy.
I received the following feedback from my contact form, reproduced here without edit or comment:
The Bell Mini was not manufactured anywhere near Freeland, PA. Must have been a mini-portrayal of what was to come, as Hazleton has become a flash point over illegal immigration. Search Lou Barletta.
I have no clue if the Bell mini was mfgd onshore or offshore, but Freeland had nothing to do with it besides providing a mailing address.
I have family in Freeland. I could be there right now within the hour.
The town got its name on the mistaken belief that folks would be given free land if they settled there. Do research on immigrant coal miners and/or steel workers (Andrew Carnegie steel works, though that was western PA). Not much difference between coal miners and steel workers. Not much has changed.