Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Determining the value of an old sewing machine

The second most common question I am asked is "what is this old sewing machine worth?" I get calls and e-mails every day from folks who have inherited grandma's old machine, or who were cleaning out a house and found a machine, or who picked up a machine at an auction or flea market. Or sometimes people are looking to buy an old machine. I hope this article helps. Also please note that this article applies only to household type machines. Industrial machines are a whole different ball game.

Let me first say that the vast majority of old sewing machines have minimal value. The sewing machine was one of the most popular products of an industrialized age of mass-production. They were made by the millions in factories all over the world. The sewing machine was also a tool made to be used, and so they typically were not set aside and preserved with a view to any future collectibility. And almost all the truly collectible "oddball" models have already been destroyed or snapped up by collectors. A good resource for information along these lines is "The Invention and Development of the Sewing Machine" Smithsonian Institute Press, or Carter Bays excellent book "The Encylopedia of Early American & Antique Sewing Machines".

I'm sure there are still a few truly valuable machines waiting to be discovered. But in 35+ years of dealing with thousands and thousands of sewing machines I can say that I have only encountered a mere handful of true collectibles.

Following is a very generalized discussion that may be of some assistance.

So, how to tell the value of your old machine? First thing would be to discover the model number. If you have difficulty, see my post in this blog titled "Dates of Manufacture.............."

Also, if your machine is not a Singer, a lot of what I'm going to say here will not apply.

Right away, you can know a lot based on the model number. An electric Singer 99 or 66 model will have almost no value. In fact, most electric or electrified machines are very low on the value scale...perhaps $25. to $50. Ninety % of the old machines I see fall into this category. A nice Singer 127 in a 7-drawer treadle stand will have some value, perhaps $250. to $500. in excellent (8 or 9) condition. Singer models made prior to 1900 tend to have a little more value than later ones, again if truly excellent. A very elaborate or unusual treadle stand can have considerable value as well, if it is in excellent condition, with no peeling or bubbling of the veneer. The common un-adorned 5-drawer or 3-drawer stands have no value at all, except the metal parts can sometimes be converted to decorative use.

A Singer head (machine) only with the "Sphinx" or "Lotus" decals is worth something if it is in excellent condition , otherwise a head-only has little value.

Secondly, what is the condition of your machine? At the bottom of this page is a chart that shows how to evaluate the condition of a sewing machine. It ranks machines from 1 (parts only) to 10 (mint). You may hear people describe their machine as "mint", but an old machine that can honestly be described this way is almost unknown in the world of collecting. Naturally, the higher your machine is on the condition scale the more it will tend to be worth, if it is a desirable model. A Singer 99 or 66 or 128 isn't going to be worth much in any condition.

Third, how complete is your machine? Does it have the owners manual? Are all the accessories and attachments present, and in their original box? Are all the working parts of the machine there? Are there any unusual accessories with it?

How transportable or shippable is your machine? Today's market is primarily driven by eBay and Craigs List, which naturally depend on easy and economical shipping. If it's going to cost several hundred dollars to crate and ship a machine, then that affects the value considerably. BTW, those two venues are a good research tool to help you determine what similar machines to yours may be bringing. Just be aware that many of the unusually high dollar "sales" that are reported never really happened. The online world is not all that it appears to be sometimes.

In electric machines, the Model 221 Singer Featherweights continue to be desired by people who generally want them to use. A good usable 221 that is complete and is in condition 6-8 (see chart below) will bring about $250 to $450. in today's market. A 222 (the free-arm version) is worth about $800. to $1200. The Slantomatics (401, 301, 500A, etc.) are gaining in value, mainly because they are some of the best quality sewing machines ever produced, bar none. The Touch & Sew models (600s, 700s, etc. ) are almost worthless as of right now.

As far as other brands of sewing machines; Bernina and Pfaff machines, unless they are the very old models, are gaining in value every day. Some of the Bernina machines such as the 830, 930, 1230, etc. will now sell for about what they retailed for new. A large factor in the value of the European machines such as Bernina and Pfaff, is usability and completeness. Some repair parts are not available at any price, and genuine accessories are very expensive. These machines are also heavy and difficult to ship undamaged. So buyer, and seller, beware.
For help with identifying or determining value, send just one photo please to me at
Old Singer & other brands parts and service

If you are the proud owner of a Kenmore, White, New Home, or Free "rotary" machine, then you have an excellent boat anchor, although some hardy souls do fix these and use them. The rotary models are characterized by a rough or wrinkle finish, and have a rubber friction wheel drive on the motor rather than a belt. One exception value-wise would be the rare models that were made in the 1930s of magnesium for light weight.

Finally, I want to say that sometimes value is in the eye of the beholder. If a machine just appeals to you, and you enjoy using it or looking at it, then who cares what someone else may say about it's worth! Or you may have had a machine handed down to you from someone who loved and cherished it, and it has great sentimental value for that reason. If it's worth something to you, then all the other opinions in the world mean nothing.

Parts & Service for old machines
Help with very obscure brand names (Graham Forsdyke)

Condition Rating Chart

10 Factory new, and perhaps in the original packaging. Not a scratch or mark anywhere. Unused. This is mint condition.

9 As with the 10, but with the small odd scratch or wear mark upon close inspection.

8 Excellent used condition. Good paint, bright metalwork, decals not worn, totally complete.

7 Very good condition, but some minor rubbing of the paint and/or decals, some needle tracks, complete

6 As 7, but more paint or decal wear, perhaps some surface rust, an accessory or two missing.

5 The avarage used-hard sewing machine, perhaps not too well cared for. Some accessories missing or non-functional, manuals missing or very worn.

4 Poor condition. Chipped or very worn paint, some rust, extensive wear or weathering, missing most or all accessories, but still functional. Wiring beginning to dry-rot some. If an electronic model, electronics still work.

3 In need of total restoration, but doable if a rare or unusual model. Non-functional.

2 Total restoration needed, only by an experienced and dedicated enthusiast.

1 Good for parts source only, and perhaps missing some parts.

Parts & Service for old machines

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Dates of Manufacture and Model Numbers for Sewing Machines

Parts & Service for old machines

By far the most common question I am asked is "When was my sewing machine made?" Fortunately this is fairly easy to determine if you have a Singer machine. Below is a link which can help you determine the manufacturing date by using the first two letters of the serial number. A typical serial number will be a 6-9 digit number preceeded by one or two letters. Note that if there is no letter prefix, then the machine was made prior to 1900.

The number two FAQ is "what is the model number of my machine?" There is a method of determining the model number based on the serial number alone, but it's rather convoluted and difficult. On most Singer machines the model number will be a 2-4 digit number, often followed by a letter, and located immediately above or below the stitch length lever or dial on the right front vertical part of the machine. For example 401A, 2010, 185J, 201, 301, 221k, etc. Sometimes the number will be painted, or a decal, and on the older machines it may be on a tiny riveted plate.

If you cannot locate the serial number OR the model number, then e-mail a photo of your machine (just one please) and I can identify it for you.
Parts & Service for old machines
Help with odd or very obscure names (Graham Forsdyke)

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Oiling a Bernina 830 or 930

There is a great deal of confusion to whether, where, what with, and how much to oil Bernina machines. Your owner’s manual is indispensable in this regard. It not only tells you where and how much to oil, but also which oil to use.
First, a word about the oil itself. The safest oil to use is that which came with the machine, or that which can be purchased from a dealer. Bernina oil should say "Bernina" on the tube. If you have any doubts, for instance if you have purchased a used machine and the oil is suspect, it’s probably a good idea to throw that oil out and get some more. Bernina oil is very light in viscosity, and is almost clear.
The area that is most critical to oil is between the shuttle and the shuttle race. (See below) Oil this about every second time the machine is used for any length of time. Just a half drop will do.
Over-oiling just makes a mess. It’s also a good idea to oil the pin on the shuttle that the bobbin case fits over, and a little on the bobbin case latch.
It is not necessary to remove the hook to oil. However it's very easy to do, and gives you an opportunity to clean thread or lint from the hook area, and also to check the hook point for damage.

Having said the above about the type of oil, I will say that I personally have used Singer brand oil (found at any Wal-mart) with good results. "Three-in-One" oil or any kind of motor or vegetable oil should NOT be used on sewing machines at all. I have seen machines virtually ruined with the wrong kind of oil.

We carry a very good grade of sewing machine oil in a handy zoom-spout oiler in our store Look under "Repair & Service"

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Change / Replace The Belt on a Treadle (pedal) Sewing Machine

Although it may initially look complicated to change the long leather belt on a treadle (pedal) sewing machine, it's actually very simple, and can easily be done by the average person using tools that are common around most households. My directions will seem more complicated than the procedure actually is.

Tools needed; a sharp knife or large scissors, an ink pen or Sharpie marker, a 4d-6d finish nail or a sharp ice pick or punch about the diameter of a pencil lead. A pair of pliers.

Clip the old belt in two (if it's still present) These belts generally last a long, long time under the right conditions. I have seen 100 year old treadle belts that still worked! However, they eventually dry-rot or just break.

The machine should be in the up (working) position.

Fold the new belt in the middle, and place it over the top of the handwheel of the machine. There will be two holes on most machine's cabinets directly under the handwheel, and immediately to the right of the machine base. Half the new belt goes in the front hole, and half in the back hole. Push it all the way down so that it comes down over the handwheel and lays in the belt groove, which will be to the left of where you grasp the handwheel, and be smaller in diameter. You may have to work the belt around the bobbin winder or belt guard to get it into the right place.

Now get on your knees and peer up underneath the cabinet. You will of course see the two long ends of the belt that you just pushed through from above. The object is to get the back half looped around the large pulley underneath, and pulled up toward the front of that pulley so it can be measured and marked. This takes a little doing, especially the first time. No, no, go ahead and get the belt on and don't stop to clean out all the dust and cobwebs that you see under there!

On some machines there will be metal loops immediately above the front and back of that large pulley that the belt must go through before looping around the pulley for measuring. Most Singer machines only had one hinged loop in front. Be sure the belt gets through the loop(s) Then work the back half of the belt around the back and bottom of the large pulley. To get it all the way around you will have to pull it farther down and give some slack on the front half of the belt.

Being sure the belt is still correctly around the machine handwheel, and that it's looped around the large pulley underneath, and through all the loops and holes it's supposed to go through, then pull it up snug, let the ends lap, and mark the end that does not have the metal staple in it.

Some folks take the belt back off at this point, others just work with it while on their knees. You'll have to at least flip it loose from the large pulley to give yourself some working slack. Cut the excess belt off at your mark. on most machines you'll wind up cutting off about 4"-8" of belt. Note how that metal staple is fastened in to the other (uncut) end, and punch a corresponding hole in the cut end of the belt. Try to get the hole centered in the belt material.

Put the belt back in place, hook the staple through the hole you just punched, then using your pliers pinch the open end of the staple down onto the belt. You've done it!

The goal is to have the belt tight enough so that it doesn't slip much, but not so tight that it makes the machine difficult to pedal. After a few months you may have to clip some more off, as the leather may stretch some. After that, it will be good for decades!

We carry a supply of good quality treadle belts in our online catalog at We also have bobbins and shuttles for a lot of the old machines.

Bernina 830 & 930; Don't Try These At Home!

Bernina 830 & 930

Unbalanced Buttonhole- If stitch density on one side of the buttonhole is tighter or looser than the other side, and you are using the correct foot and technique. This is a very painstaking adjustment that requires a special tool.

Machine is dead- If your machine’s light works OK, but the machine will not run, you probably will want to take it to a service person who can diagnose the exact problem. It’s expensive to replace parts at random.

Motor Noises- Any unusual noise (buzzing, growling, squeaking, grinding, etc.) is indicative of a problem that is not just going to go away. It will probably get worse although you may continue to use it for some time.

Major Breakage- It is very common for a machine to fall off the table, be damaged in transit, or meet with some other misfortune. If a major body part, such as the handwheel, bobbin winder, take-up lever, pressure lifter, etc. is broken, then it’s a job for a repairman.

Tight Spot- When turning the machine by hand, if it gets suddenly tighter at the same spot in its revolution, and there is not thread caught around the take-up assembly or handwheel, then the news could be bad.

Timing- When the upper thread will not loop around the bobbin or pull up the bobbin thread, or a new straight needle hits or catches something down in the machine then it’s usually a "timing" problem. There are several interrelated adjustments to be made in this event, and I do not believe it should be tried at home. The potential for doing more damage is too great for someone without experience in sewing machine repair.

Friday, January 11, 2008

#1 Problem with the 221/222 Singer Featherweight


The Featherweight uses the common needle type which goes by several different designations; 15X1, 705, etc. These come in sizes from 8 (smallest) to 19 (largest). The “size” refers to the thickness of the needle, and not the length. All modern household machines, Featherweight included, use the same length needle.

The critical difference between the Featherweight and most other machines is that the NEEDLE IS INSERTED WITH THE FLAT SIDE OF THE NEEDLE TO THE OPERATORS LEFT. (Illustrated above) Unless the needle is inserted correctly the MACHINE WILL NOT SEW. Certainly you must also be sure your needle is not bent or blunted. Better to dispose of a questionable needle than take a chance

Although the Singer “color-coded” needles are suitable, I prefer the Schmetz brand for quality. Any others should be avoided.
This post seems really basic, but I have seen many hundreds of Featherweights which would not sew because the needle was inserted incorrectly.
For a wide selection of parts for vintage Singer, Pfaff, or Bernina machines see our website