Nagy Wheels

Istvan Nagy, a Hungarian immigrant to New Zealand, made wheels at first in Kilbirnie and later in Daniell St Newtown, both in Wellington. The second wheel he ever made dates from May 1969, when it was bought as a 21st birthday gift. It has no metal identification plate, as the later Nagys have.

Mr Nagy created two designs, an upright and a saxony. In an article in the Evening Post, a Wellington daily newspaper, dated July 8 1975, he is quoted as saying “I use only kauri wood, recycled kauri from demolition… I’ve made 900 wheels – I’ll be passing 1000 this year.” The article goes on to explain that one hundred of his wheels were exported each year, and in the US they were selling for around US$250.

Mr Nagy generally numbered his wheels underneath the table, but it seems likely that he started afresh each year with a new series of numbers. Most of his wheels also have a metal plate with the year and “BY I. NAGY WELLINGTON NEW ZEALAND”. Apparently he made one oak wheel in 1970 but found oak very awkward to work, so he stuck to the kauri after that. Wheels by Nagy himself are still very sought after.

The wheel at left is unusual. It has no metal plate but a card stuck to the bottom with a workshop address of 16 Bay Road, Kilbirnie, so this must date from before he had the Newtown factory. It also has a wheel rim made in one piece from kauri veneer, instead of the usual 6 felloes (sections).

“Pista” as Mr Nagy was known to his friends was said to be volatile and funny, with a fine sense of humour. After selling the spinning wheel factory he moved to Albany near Auckland, and later to Australia.

By about 1978 the business was taken over by Peter Cottier, who traded as Woodspin. After that, the metal plates read “NAGY BY WOODSPIN”. During his time making the wheels Mr Cottier says he produced about 2000. There are also a few that he made in response to demand from spinners for a wheel with a lower orifice. These have sometimes been called “mutant” Nagys. The picture at right shows a Nagy by Woodspin (left) and one of the “mutant” Nagys (right).

In 1983 Cottier sold the business to Peter Gubb and about a year later, after a fire in the Newtown factory, it was moved to Featherston in the Wairarapa. It closed down not long after.

It seems to have been during the time of Peter Gubb that a new model was devised (picture at left). They have Nagy-looking parts from the mother-of-all up but other parts that are quite different and appear to be made out of a composite wood, presumably for economy.

These have been called “hybrid” Nagys, but one has now been found with a label stating that it is a Pioneer by Woodspin made in Greytown (just up the road from Featherston). So we should probably call them Woodspin Pioneers and assign them to the time of Peter Gubb.

After the demise of Woodspin a number of unused parts remained. Some of these were apparently sold to woodworkers, so there may be a few wheels around which were not actually made by Woodspin but used a few of their parts.

The two basic Nagy designs changed little over the years, though the balance weight in the drive wheel was sometimes omitted after Mr Cottier took over, and by 1979 the legs were more elaborately turned. Original Nagys and some of the earlier Woodspin models have simple tapered legs.

A bulky attachment for a Nagy is shown at left, on a horizontal wheel dated 1976. It was with the wheel when it was bought 2nd-hand, and matches well so it may be by Mr Nagy. It consists of front maiden, flyer and large bobbin. There is no flyer whorl, and it works as bobbin lead (the wheel drives the bobbin) with no brake. This results in a very strong fast draw-in, making it easy to spin soft bulky yarn.

A letter from Mr Nagy is printed in Aileen Stace’s Twists to Treasures. He had asked her “what constitutes a very good spinning wheel? The answers were:
“It should be light to treadle.
It should run silently.
It should be simple in design.
it should be lovely to look at.
It should have a long trouble free life.
It should have large orifice and large bobbins.
It should have a good resale value, even after long years of service.

“She added – such a wheel is made with loving care.” Owners of his wheels would generally agree that Istvan Nagy achieved these aims.