The history of the sewing machine is filled with a lot of patent drama, but it’s Isaac Singer’s final product that has become synonymous with sewing since its success in the 19th century. These days, beautiful Singer sewing machines are popular antiques – and many of them can still sew like they did decades ago!
How old are they? According to About.com, Singer machines went into mass production in the 1850s, shortly after Singer suggested using an up-and-down needle that would finally introduce a practical sewing machine to the world. Singer sewing machines are still made today, but we’re interested in the antique models.
Why did they become popular? Hand sewing had obviously been the go-to method for sewing until the invention of the sewing machine, which made the entire process go by more quickly and efficiently. Singer didn’t invent the sewing machine, but he used his engineering background to improve on designs he had seen – making for a household product that combined the best of other inventors’ machines into one product. Until then, sewing machines had been used for industrial purposes – Singer’s machine could actually be used right in people’s homes for personal sewing.
Initially, the machines were pretty pricey and didn’t sell too well – that is until Singer was able to drop the price to $10, according to PBS, through changes to the model and his partner’s idea for accepting purchase plans. When Singer let people pay for their machines in payment plans in 1856, according to the Singer Company, business really started booming.
Are they tough to find? It depends on which machine you’re looking for. Singer produced tons and tons of different machines, especially since his company was constantly trying to innovate and improve on the models year after year. There are tons of different models, so it depends on which one you’re looking for and how many were produced.
How much do they cost? It all depends on the model and condition – and what you’re looking to use it for. The much sought-after Featherweight 221 machines can cost as much as $400 (and even more than that with the table) while other models might sell for $25, so it’s important to research what the going rate is – eBay and other auction sites can be helpful in this regard.
What are some identifying features?
- Serial number: Any Singer machine made after 1870 should have a serial number that can be looked up on the Singer website or by clicking here, which also lets you know how many of your machine were made. You might find a stamp on the machine that has a date, but eBay warns that could actually just be a patent date for a machine that was made much later. If there’s no letter in the serial number, that’s because the machine was made before 1900.
- Design: Because so many different models were made, the design of the machine can often influence its value. In fact, many collectors simply want to find Singer sewing machines that look attractive so they can decorate the house with them. Is the design or color particularly unique?
- The exterior: Machines should’ve have any (or very many) plastic parts, according to Sew Mama Sew, and you’ll also want to make sure the enamel or coating is in good condition. Look for exposed wires, rust, or anything else that really shows the machine’s age when you’re thinking about purchasing.
- Pieces and parts: Singer sewing machines generally came with cabinets or treadles and owners manuals that definitely add value to the entire machine. There are also other attachments to think about – presser foots, edge stitchers, quilters, etc. Many models came with a box of attachments, so having many of those original pieces also amps up the value. Look for a presser foot, power cord, and light fixture.