John Rappard came from Holland in 1952, and Maria (also known as Mies or Mitzi) followed in 1956. Before their marriage they built their home on the outskirts of Dunedin, Maria clearing acres of scrub by hand while John was working in forestry. There they developed a poultry (egg) farm. Maria had attended Art School in Holland, and she took courses at Technical College in Commercial Art and Pottery. One of her teachers gave her an old World War 2 wheel (a Schofield) and soon she began demonstrating and giving spinning lessons.
One of her students had an antique wheel, too feeble to spin on, and Maria persuaded John (a keen woodworker) to duplicate it. Some time later he made two wheels for an art shop in Dunedin, and a year or so after that some were made for another shop and for export.
In 1970 the Rappards embarked on a fulltime spinning wheel manufacturing enterprise. The hen houses became the factory workshops. Soon the company had agents overseas, and by the 1980s 85-90 percent of their production was exported, to Australia, Europe and the UK, Japan and North America. In the late 1970s, the factory employed up to 15-20 people, though quite a few of these were part-time.
The first wheels were the saxony-style Northern European, of which two versions are found. This has a most unusual construction of the rim of the drive wheel, which as far as I know is only otherwise seen in Sutherland and a few Thompson wheels and some late Pipys by Ray Chisholm. (Only the rim is shown at left - the hub and spokes were assembled first and the rim pieces then fitted.) The Northern European and the later Mitzi have a motif on the treadle, which varies from wheel to wheel. These were drawn by Maria and executed with a router.
The design of the popular Little Peggy and Wee Peggy upright wheels evolved from the Shetland wheels which many early settlers brought to New Zealand. The Little Peggy was sold assembled and polished, but the Wee Peggy was a kitset which made it particularly suitable for export. Their name was inspired by Peggy Linn, a friend and spinning pupil of Maria's. Many Peggies are still in use.
In a price list of February 1977, the Northern European wheel is listed at NZ$150 and the Little and Wee Peggies at NZ$88 and NZ$63 respectively. There are also spinning and rocking chairs, other spinning accessories and a range of "Raplin" toys. The norwegian-style Mitzi does not appear in price lists till after 1981, by which time the Northern European no longer appears. By 1986 the "Tote-a-Loom" tapestry loom is included.
In addition one double flyer wheel was made, which was featured on the cover of The Web of August 1977 (reproduced at right, with permission).
A bobbin-lead bulky/plying attachment (pictured below) was available for the Wee Peggy, and no doubt for other models too. The flyer is 18cm (7 inches) wide, and a big front maiden is also included. The large whorl in the photograph is another extra, not part of the bulky attachment.
In all some 20,000 Rappard spinning wheels were made. When the factory ceased production, the brand was acquired by Ashford, who made one batch of Wee Peggies and Mitzis in 1997.
A photographic study of changes to the Peggy wheels can be found here.
A few parts for Rappard wheels may still be available (there are no jumbo attachments left). If you need a part for your wheel, contact me to find out whether it can be supplied.
Note (April 2013): Maria Rappard is in poor health at present and unable to take orders.
I thank Maria Rappard, Betty Kelly, Hamish Campbell and Ged Maybury for telling me about Rappard and Rappard wheels.