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