Vintage Sewing Machines
Vintage sewing machines are attractive collectors’ items that you can display proudly in your home, or even make use of.
It is difficult to credit one person with the invention of the sewing machine as the basic sewing machine as we know it came about through a number of combined ideas sourced from a variety of individuals working on the project. The everyday, practical sewing machine became commercially available in the 1850s.
Before the sewing machine became available commercially, a number of patents came together through fraught court proceedings. This battleground only settled in 1856, when the “Sewing Machine Combination” was formed. Individual patent rights from Wheeler Wilson & Co, Grover & Baker, I.M.Singer & Co, and Elias Howe were combined.
The Combination controlled United States sewing machine production, and other sewing machine manufacturers had to have a license to produce sewing machines. This means that competition was low, and sewing machine prices remained out of the general public’s budget until 1877, when the key patents expired and The Combination dissolved.
Models and manufacturers
Some collectors choose to focus purely on one type of machine, for example hand-crank sewing machines. These are powered by the manual turning of a handle rather than an electric motor. There are several popular manufacturers of these generally late 19th-early 20th century designs.
Popular manufacturers include, but are not limited to:
- Davis Sewing Machine Co
- Domestic Sewing Machine Co
- Free sewing machines (Illinois Sewing Machine Co)
- Gimbels vintage sewing machines
- Graybar sewing machines
- Mason A. G. sewing machines
- National Sewing Machine Co
- New Home Sewing Machine Co
- Singer Sewing Machine Co. The Singer company are one of the most famous and collectible manufacturers of sewing machines. The company was established in 1851, and made numerous models of ‘family’ sewing machines, later incorporating Edison motors. They are popular among collectors due to the extent of models available, and the history of the company’s rise to status as the most dominant company in the world. Favourite models include the Singer 221 featherweight sewing machine and the Singer 201 sewing machine.
- Standard sewing machines
- Wheeler & Wilson sewing machines
- White sewing machines
- Willcox & Gibbs sewing machines
- Bradbury & Co
- British Sewing Machines Ltd
- Busy Bee Sewing Machine Co
- Franklin Sewing Machine Co
- Heron, Gresham & Craven
- Howe Machine Co
- Ideal Sewing Machine Co
- Imperial Sewing Machine Co
- Jones & Co
- Kimbell & Morton
- Moldacot Pocket Sewing Machine Co
- Newton Wilson & Co
- Oldham Manufacturers
- Royal Sewing Machine Co
- William Sellers
- Shepherd, Rothwell & Hough
- Singer Sewing Machine Co British division
- W. F. Thomas & Co
- Smith, Starley & Co
- Varley and Co
- Edward Ward
- James Weir
Guide for collectors
Singer sewing machines were produced by The Combination, and millions were produced after their introduction. This means that pricing a machine can be a daunting task. The most popular Singer models worth collecting are the Turtleback, the Featherweight, the Blackside, the Singer 301, as well as the Midget and other toy models.
Just because a vintage sewing machine may sell for a reasonable price, it doesn’t mean that it lacks value. Many collectors of vintage sewing machines enjoy collecting them for a range of reasons – such as rarity, mechanical design, unique features, condition, or even using the actual machine.
The International Sewing Machine Collectors’ Society (ISMACS) was founded by a small group of sewing machine collectors in 1985. Since this time, the international group has members in every continent as offices in England, America, and Australia. The society is known as an authority on sewing machine history and issues a magazine with auction sales details. The annual ISMACS Convention is held in the UK where the largest antique sewing machines auctions are held.
You can find vintage sewing machines on websites such as eBay, Etsy and Craigslist, as well as at flea markets, junk shops, antique stores and estate sales. There will be a good selection to choose from, as the collectibles trade in sewing machines continues to thrive. A downside of online purchase is that you cannot test the machine, so have no guarantee of working order. Some people enjoy restoring antique & vintage machines, and are happy to receive them in dilapidated condition.
Machines are more valuable when they are in working order, and retain all their original parts. Accessories such as instruction manuals are also a bonus.
Notable Auction Sales
A Singer vintage sewing machine manufactured around 1941 sold at Sotheby’s in October 2010, auctioned off well over estimate. The sewing machine was expected to go from $64 but sold for $400.
The famous Christie’s auction house also sells vintage sewing machines, recently selling two Raymond sewing machines for $ 447 in December 2000, after an estimate of $ 293- $ 439.
Vintage toy sewing machines are also collectors’ items, with some collectors specializing in toy items. A Vintage Decorated Cast Iron Toy Sewing Machine (with some pitting on the wheel) was sold by Uniques and Antiques, Inc. for $225 in September 2005.
In 1997, the most expensive sewing machine was auctioned off for over $41,000 by Christie’s in London. The sewing machine was a clone of a Wheeler and Wilson manufactured in 1865 for the German Royal Family. The machine was bought by an English eccentric who didn’t plan to put the sewing machine on display.
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