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H2910 Object lesson cards (2), 'Practical Object Lessons Series 1 Needle Making', framed, steel / cardboard / yarn, made by Cox & Co, London, England, 1905. Click to enlarge.

'Needle Making' object lesson cards by Cox & Co

Object lesson cards holding small objects, drawings and text were used in schools from the 1850s to the early 1900s. Their aim was to help children learn by seeing, touching and thinking, rather than just by reading, listening, copying and reciting. These particular cards introduced children to the story behind an everyday object, the sewing needle, and could have opened their minds to thinking about manufacturing processes and issues related to them. However, like any educational material, in …


Object No.


Object Statement

Object lesson cards (2), 'Practical Object Lessons Series 1 Needle Making', framed, steel / cardboard / yarn, made by Cox & Co, London, England, 1905

Physical Description

This is one set from a large group of inexpensive cards designed for use in primary schools. Both cards are headed 'Series 1, Needle Making'. The first card, printed in portrait format, has the heading repeated in large bold upper case letters. Attached to it with yarn are specimens representing stages in making a steel sewing needle, along with finished products. The stages are: wire cut the double length; wire rubbed; pointed at one end; pointed at both ends; stamped, or eyes formed; eyed, or eyes pierced; cheeked, or burs filed off; headed, or heads filed into shape; eye burnished; hardened; straightened; part scoured and eye blued to soften for drilling; scoured; drilled; head ground and point set; polished; and papered and labelled ready for the user.

Below this is a list of types of needles made by the same process, followed by the statement: 'Needles of special shapes, with long eyes, of circular formation, blunt pointed and so on, are used by Surgeons, Saddlers, Bookbinders, Machinists, the Blind and others.' At the bottom of the card is an advertisement for other sets 'uniform with the above', each available for two shillings and sixpence.

On the back of this card is a listing of subjects covered by the company's object lesson cards, plus an illustration of the 'Sewing Cotton' specimen card, a list of School Boards in Britain supplied with the cards, and a list of quotes from favourable reviews. The aim of the cards is 'to illustrate in a practical manner some of the manufactures and productions of Great Britain and her Colonies.' The subjects are listed under three headings: manufactures, substances &c in daily use, and food stuffs. Some of the subject summaries include the names of experts who wrote the lesson notes. The 'substances &c in daily use' include not just building stones, coal, metal, salt, sulphur, wood and sponge, but also the clock, compass, magnet, thermometer, current coins and metric system.

The second card, printed in landscape format, has text printed on both sides under the heading 'NEEDLES: AND HOW THEY ARE MADE, BEING NOTES FOR AN OBJECT LESSON ON THE ART OF NEEDLE MAKING, BY A MANUFACTURER'. There are decorative frames around the text and around the first part of the heading, the first letter of which is larger than the others and sits inside its own decorated frame.

The text starts by describing the locality of needle manufacture, the town of Redditch, where production in small family workshops has been superseded by the concentration of 100 to 500 workers in large factories. It then describes the raw material (large coils of steel wire) before providing details of each process, using the numbering scheme on the specimen card. Most of the processes were carried out by hand, and they required different levels of skill; in the description of the eye-forming process, it is made clear that success hinged on the great skill of the toolmaker who made the relevant dies. In describing the pointing process, one that could seriously damage the health of workers (see record for object 85/1525), the author states that the steel dust is 'drawn away by means of a powerful draught created by a ''fan''.' Two interesting insights into management of the industry are provided: that some factories employed patented methods for filing eyes to make them smooth, while others kept their methods secret; and that crooked needles were removed from the production line and 'afterwards tapped straight by a small steel hammer and used for the cheaper qualities'.

There are two eyelets near the top edge of the card, with yarn strung between them so the card could be hung on a classroom wall.



The card was made by Cox & Co of 99 & 101 New Oxford Street, London, United Kingdom. On some cards in the series, this address is described as 'Cox & Co's School Needlework Material and Kindergarten Depot'. It appears that this company began as a haberdasher, sold needlework supplies to schools, and later widened the range of educational materials it produced.



The Museum purchased the object from Sydney retailer Angus and Robinson in 1905.


Credit Line

Purchased 1905

Acquisition Date

4 July 1905

Cite this Object


'Needle Making' object lesson cards by Cox & Co 2021, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 7 December 2021, <>


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