They were so prized and valued they traveled on wagon trains and railway cars, across industrial cities and prairies. They were so cherished they were handed from house to house and farm to farm — because the lucky owner felt obligated to share her good fortune whenever her neighbor needed to borrow one. Today, we think of them as an everyday, mundane item, but a century and more ago, a sewing machine was a household’s prized possession. And it all started with an American actor, inventor, and entrepreneur named Isaac Merritt Singer.
History of Singer Sewing Machines
Merritt was in Boston in 1850 when a mechanic asked him to help make improvements on a primitive sewing machine that was currently being sold. Instead, Singer completely overhauled it, adding a presser foot to feed the fabric, and an extended “arm” to hold the needle. At 900 stitches a minute, it was a life-changer for seamstresses who averaged only 40 stitches a minute by hand. Seeing the beginnings of a gold mine, Singer started mass producing and selling his machines for $10 apiece, and the rest is history.
Collecting Antique Singer Sewing Machines
For antique Singer collectors, early (pre-1900), highly ornate and rare models are especially desirable. Collectors who sew with their machines tend to love certain user-friendly, easy-to-service models as well, such as the 15, the 99, and the 66. Likewise, collectors who bring their machines to quilting meets often prefer the lightweight, aluminum-based 221 and 222 Featherweight models.
Another factor is the mode of operation. While original models were hand-cranked, with the advent of electricity, electric plug-in models first hit the market in 1889 — although admittedly, these were of little use to the millions of rural women who had no electricity in their farms. This is one reason why, for decades, the hand-cranked models continued to be popular.
When it comes to identifying antique Singer sewing machines, serial numbers tell the story, and every Singer has a serial number (usually stamped on the machine’s right side).
Likewise, online sites like Sandman Collectibles and The Vintage Singer Sewing Machine Blog provide a great resource for collectors. These sites can help you locate serial numbers and other clues that will help you identify the model and date of your machine.
Determining Antique Singer Sewing Machine Value
Antique Singer sewing machine values are determined by three main factors: age, beauty, and condition. Early models are rarer (and more valuable), as are highly ornate models with intricate gold stenciling and decal work. As for condition, faded, damaged paint and rusted components will lower the value. And since many collectors use their sewing machines, they must be in good working order.
Price guides generally don’t reflect current market value, so the best way to value an antique Singer sewing machine is to check out like MaxSold, eBay and other online sites for sold items.
Antique Singer Sewing Machine, or Reproduction?
For several decades, reproduction antique sewing machines have been produced in China and Japan. These cast iron Singer clones have names like “Butterfly” and “Premier” emblazoned on the side, and feature modern innovations — a dead giveaway — like LED lights and automatic bobbin winders.
In addition, antique sewing machines usually have their manufacturers’ names stamped on them, so it helps to do your homework and learn some of these names.
Also, an antique sewing machine will not look pristine new, no matter how much it’s been polished. Antique cast iron and wood not only have an old patina (surface appearance), they also have a slight, rather appealing “old” smell that collectors look for.
Home Decorating Ideas
When it comes to antique Singer sewing machines, the question is, what can’t you do with them? They look gorgeous anywhere, whether you showcase them in your living room, or put them in a whimsical corner of your kitchen or bedroom. They look great in any kind of decorative scheme, from Cottagecore and Art Deco to French Provincial and Contemporary.
If you just have the “head” (the sewing machine alone), you can place it anywhere — but if you also have the wooden or metal stand and it needs restoration, you can follow the same DIY method you would use for any piece of vintage iron or wood furniture.
Where to Find Antique Singer Sewing Machines
Outside of overpriced antique stores, collectors typically find affordable antique Singer sewing machines in country auctions, yard sales, and online venues such as eBay and Facebook marketplace. For savvy collectors, one of the best ways to find antique sewing machines is through a local online auction service. This way, you can pick up your “new” treasure and avoid outrageous delivery prices (which for sewing machines can run into hundreds of dollars).
If you’re looking for an antique Singer sewing machine, or any other type of antique/vintage collectible, you’ll want to check out MaxSold. As a leading North American online estate sale and downsizing company, MaxSold is a great resource for antiques and unique vintage pieces. Everything is sold via local online auction right where you live, within an easy drive from your home. Once you win, all you have to do is pick up your item, without having to worry about delivery charges and shipping delays. Plus, everything starts at only one dollar with no reserve, which makes things even more exciting. If you love antiques, be sure to visit MaxSold to find out how you can register for free and start bidding — or selling — right away.