The Model J (American Grasshopper)

One of the once-mighty American sewing machine industry's last gasps was this Grasshopper copy: the Model J, made by the Portman Manufacturing Co. of New Rochelle, New York and sold under a variety of badges including Montgomery Ward, New Home, Compac, National and others.

Little is known about this machine or its origins; whether it is a licensed derivative or a knockoff cannot be ascertained, but its design is almost identical to Tavaro's Elna, with only minor differences. The resemblance seems to be acknowledged openly by both media and manufacturer in a New York Times article touting the machine's introduction, not even a year after the Elna 1 was introduced to North America:

"[The Portman Portable] is priced at $149.50, and in both appearance and performance resembles the metal-cased Elna machine from Switzerland, which was introduced here last year. Like the Swiss importation, the domestic machine is equipped with an open lower arm that makes possible its use for darning and mending, and has a built-in light directly over the working area to make fine work of this sort easier on the eyes... Unlike the Swiss machine, which is controlled by knee action, the Portman is equipped with a lever that may be dropped on the floor and operated with foot pressure. The manufacturers say that this system makes it simpler to regulate the speed of sewing..."

As noted, the J lacks Elna's distinctive low gear and is pedal-operated, but it does have 1.5 amps under the hood - much more powerful than the Elna's motor. The stitch length control was moved to a geared paddle on the front, and it also has a steel hook gear where the equivalent on the Grasshopper is plastic.

Interestingly, all Portman machines indicate "patent pending" - though it's not known which, and no machines were ever marked with any.

Model J machines are not considered particularly collectible or valuable in North America today, though it's known to have come in several adonized colors which are rather rare. If you're American, I recommend buying one if you find it for a steal (which isn't difficult). They sew well, and may even outperform a Grasshopper when fitted with a roller foot on material like denim or canvas.