Whether you have inherited an antique Singer sewing machine or want to buy one for your collection, you might wonder how much it is worth. Due to the long and rich history, these machines are becoming increasingly popular among collectors and sewing machine enthusiasts. The history of Singer sewing machines dates back to 1851. In the first hundred years, Singer made approximately 200 different sewing machine models. After that, the number of models reaches thousands.
Obviously, we won’t be able to discuss them all here. If you want to know the exact value of your Singer, it is best of all to evaluate each machine on a case by case basis. However, there are some general rules that can be applied. One of these general rules is that just because it is old does not mean it is desired and collectible. The two most important aspects that affect the value of an antique sewing machine are its rarity and condition. But first of all, you need to identify it.
How to Identify Your Old Singer Sewing Machine?
Find the serial number of your machine. This will reveal the year your Singer was manufactured. According to Singer, serial numbers are located as follows:
On the throat plate or bed of the machine – for treadle/hand crank machines.
On the right hand side of the machine – for treadle/electric machines.
Underneath the machine – for electric machines.
On the front or side – for machines manufactured starting from the 1960s.
When you locate the serial number of your machine (up to 8 digits), you will immediately be able to find out a few things about it. First of all, if the serial number consists of numbers only, it means that your Singer was made before 1900. For all post-1900 machines, there is a one or two-letter prefix before the serial number. Secondly, the smaller the serial number the older your machine is (this applies to machines produced before 1900). Note, there can be two serial numbers on your Singer. If that is the case, use the larger of the two numbers.
Now, go to the ISMACS (International Sewing Machine Collectors’ Society) Singer sewing machine serial number database, and match it with the serial number on your sewing machine.
This database is very helpful. However, if your sewing machine was manufactured prior to 1871, you will not find the serial number in this database. This is because the original serial number logbooks for the time period from 1851 to 1870 were lost. Luckily, there has been some research done on this matter (e.g. “The Invention Of the Sewing Machine” by Grace Rogers Cooper, Smithsonian Institution, 1968). Therefore, if you cannot find the serial number of your Singer sewing machine in the ISMACS database, refer to the list below.
The collectors of antique Singer sewing machines generally agree that this data is correct.
So, now you know how old your sewing machine is. There is one more piece of information you need to know in order to identify your Singer properly. The model of your machine.
Hopefully, you can find it on the machine. The model number is located on a small plate on the front of the machine (for machines manufactured before 1960). Note that some model numbers can be up to four digits long and sometimes are hyphenated (e.g. 16-35). However, many old Singer sewing machines do not have such a plate with the model number.
If that is the case, refer to the ISMACS database, and use your machine’s serial number to find out its model number. This will work just fine for all post-1900 Singer sewing machines. Namely, for those with a letter prefix.
For the sewing machines manufactured from 1851 to 1899, there is no list with serial numbers that can be matched with the model numbers, unfortunately. If your machine is from that time period (and there is no plate with the model number either), you will have to identify its model based on the visual and technical characteristics. As far as I am aware, Sandman Collectibles is the best resource for this purpose. It asks you to answer simple questions about your machine, narrowing it down until you get to the model number.
Value of an Antique/ Vintage Singer Sewing Machine
As I said before, just because a sewing machine is old does not necessarily mean it is desirable or valuable. Rarity is the key factor affecting value. Many of the common models were made in their millions. These machines are extremely long-lasting. Thus, many of them are still around. As a rule of thumb, more than 90% of antique and vintage Singer sewing machines are worth between $0 and $100.
One exception to this rule is some of the early models. These machines can cost thousands of dollars, especially those in good condition.
For example, Singer Model 1, also known as Singer Patent Model. It is a large and primitive-looking machine. About 10,000 of these sewing machines were produced. Because they were heavy and noisy, many of them were scrapped. Therefore, they are rare today.
The Singer Turtle-Back of 1856 is another example. The Turtle-Back was the first Singer machine specially designed for home use, and it was the first machine on an iron treadle. This machine proved to be a failure. Yet, they are so rare today for that exact reason. Only 1500 of these machines were made. The Turtle-Back is probably the most sought-after antique Singer sewing machine.
The Turtle-Back was succeeded by the “Letter A” sewing machine in 1859. About 75,000 machines were produced. However, not so many of them are still around because of the return policy introduced by Singer in 1857. The Singer Model A is not as highly sought-after as the Turtle-Back. Still, machines in good condition can fetch a hefty price.
The Singer 12 or Singer New Family sewing machine of 1865 (also known as the “Fiddlebase” or “Fiddle Base”) is worth mentioning, too. The Singer Model 12 was an extremely successful and popular machine. It was the technological marvel of the time and remained in production for almost 40 years. Today, the very best specimens in outstanding condition can cost almost $2000.
In 1863 some 20,000 Singer sewing machines were being sold annually. By 1871 the sales reached 180,000 machines a year. Obviously, this factor directly affects their rarity today. That is not to say, however, that there are no valuable and sought-after models produced in the coming years. There are, of course. But, again, these are the exceptions rather than the rule.
The Singer 30K is one of such exceptions. It was made only during 1912/13 and only in the UK at Singer’s Kilbowie plant. Just 15,500 machines were produced. Thus, these chain stitch sewing machines are extremely rare today.
The Singer 48K high-arm sewing machine is another exception to the rule. There is a lot of controversy as to how many Singer 48K sewing machines were made. Some sources claim that as many as 535,150 machines were produced. In reality, the Singer 48K is pretty rare and highly sought-after by collectors.
The Singer Featherweight 221 and 222K models are an excellent example of how some vintage Singer sewing machines can be more valuable than many of their antique siblings. Indeed, older not always means more valuable. The Singer 221 was first manufactured in 1933. Despite the fact that several million 221 Featherweights have been produced, their average price is $300 – $400. I believe this is not so much because of their value as collectibles but rather due to the excellent stitch quality these machines produce. Many seamstresses all over the world still prefer Featherweight 221 over more modern sewing machines.
The 222K Featherweight, sometimes referred to as the Queen of Singers (also known as the “Free-arm Featherweight”), had a much more limited production run from 1953 till 1961. Approximately 110,000 222K Featherweights were made. Today the 222K is one of the most sought-after and collectible Singer sewing machines. They are especially rare in the USA because this model was never marketed by Singer in the USA. A standard Singer 222K can fetch up to $2000.
Assessing the Condition of Your Antique/ Vintage Singer
Any collector will tell you that the importance of a collectible item’s condition cannot be overestimated. Some even claim that there are only three things to consider in collecting: condition, condition, and condition. Definitely, condition is no less important than rarity.
Graham Forsdyke, being frustrated with inaccurate and misleading descriptions of sewing machine condition, came up with the Condition Chart for the International Sewing Machine Collectors’ Society. Antique and vintage sewing machine collectors and sellers are strongly advised to use this condition rating chart to avoid any misunderstandings.
10 – Just like the day it left the factory. Not a scratch or mark on it (according to Graham, he has ever seen only two machines in this category).
9 – As 10 but with the small, odd scratch or wear mark evident to very close inspection.
8 – Very good used condition. All paint good; all metalwork bright. What the average antique dealer would call “perfect”.
7 – Good condition but rubbing of paint evident and/or some nickel plating worn.
6 – As in 7 but more wear to paint and/or some light surface rust to the bright work.
5 – The average, hard-used, ill-cared-for machine looking for someone to love it.
4 – Poor condition, chipped enamel, rusty metalwork but acceptable for a collection if a rare machine.
3 – In need of restoration but a reasonable job for a dedicated enthusiast.
2 – Total restoration needed to paintwork and bright metal. It’s a brave collector that takes it on.
1 – Spare parts only and these would be in need of extensive restoration.
As you can see, this chart takes no notice of a machine’s mechanical condition. If there are any defects or missing parts/accessories, this should be stated.
Unfortunately, by far not all sellers use this chart. This is an aspect to consider when assessing a seller’s level of professionalism and trustworthiness.
Other Factors That Affect the Value of an Antique/ Vintage Singer
Let’s have a look at some other factors that can affect the value of an old Singer sewing machine.
Rare badges. Most Singer sewing machines come with one of the standard badges. The two most common badges are Gold badge and Gold badge with black decorative rim (both with the classic shuttle, needles, and spool of thread). However, occasionally Singer has been using different badges. This has happened either due to a change of style or in order to commemorate some special occasions.
For example, during the last three years of production of the black Singer Featherweights (1959 – 1961) Singer changed the badges from the classic shuttle and spool of thread to a bold, red “S”. Today these machines are known as the “Red S” Featherweights. It is estimated that only about 25,000 model 222K “Red S” Featherweights were made. Therefore, they can cost up to 25% more than a standard Singer 222K Featherweight.
The most common of the commemorative badges is the Centennial badge. The Singer Manufacturing Company celebrated its centenary in 1951 and gave all the machines commissioned for that year a special badge. The Centennial badge has a blue band around the edge and the inscription “A Century of Sewing Service 1851-1951”. These badges are not extremely rare. Yet, machines with these badges are slightly more valuable in the eyes of collectors.
Note, also this “slightly more valuable” rule has its exception – the limited edition Singer 301. Only the first 1000 machines were given Centennial badges (the serial numbers NA000001 – NA001000). Unlike a standard Singer 301, such a limited edition 301 machine can fetch up to $700.
Then there are badges that are really a rare find and highly sought-after by collectors. These are badges specially produced for various expositions and world fairs.
A Century of Progress ~ Chicago ~ 1933
A Century of Progress ~ Chicago ~ 1934
Golden Gate Exposition ~ San Francisco ~ 1939
Golden Gate Exposition ~ San Francisco ~ 1940
Texas Centennial Exposition ~ 1836 – 1936
The Texas Centennial Exposition badge is the rarest of the rare. A Texas Centennial 1836 – 1936 badged Featherweight 221 can sell for as much as $13,000.
Desired decals & Rare finish. The same sewing machine models could have different decals in different countries or time periods. Some of them are more sought-after by collectors and sewing machine enthusiasts than others. One such example is the Singer 66 “Red Eye”.
During certain periods of time Singer occasionally produced what are known as the “Blackside” and “Crinkle” finish models. Some machines are both Blackside and Crinkle finish. Note, not all Singer “Blackside” and “Crinkle” finish machines are equally rare and valuable, although they all do cost more than a standard model. One that really stands out is the “Crinkle” Featherweight 221 (also known as the “Godzilla” finish or “Wrinkle” finish Featherweight). These Featherweights come with a hefty price tag.
Provenance. A sewing machine (just like anything else) that has been owned by a famous person will command a higher price. It is important to note that proof of provenance is a must. A good story will not suffice.
Completeness. A sewing machine that comes with the original case, accessory box, attachments, and instruction manual will command a higher price.
Location. Almost all antique and vintage Singer sewing machines (except Featherweights) are very heavy. Most of them are not worth paying the considerable shipping costs. Thus, they tend to be more expensive in urban centers (with more potential buyers) than in rural areas.
Treadle stands and cabinets. A very elaborate treadle stand and richly decorated cabinet can have considerable value (in excellent condition, of course). They can be worth more than the machine itself.
Final Thoughts and a Word of Warning
Professional appraisals. Has anyone advised you to contact a professional appraiser to determine the value of your antique Singer? I have read this advice on various forums countless times. Well, take it with a grain of salt. The truth is that most machines are worth less than you will pay for a professional valuation. It might be a much better idea to take it to a local antique store and get a free consultation there. If necessary, you can pretend that you want to sell your machine. Note, an antique store will normally offer you about 50% of what the machine is worth.
eBay as a valuation tool. This is another extremely common piece of advice. Definitely, eBay is not the worst option to start with to form your general impression of what is being offered and at what prices. But again, take this data with a grain of salt. eBay is full of unreasonable asking prices. Many sellers have no clue how much their antique or vintage Singer sewing machine is worth. Many of them state it’s rare and valuable just because it has some nice decals and they think it might be valuable. Remember, what people ask and what they get are not the same thing.
Inaccurate descriptions/ listings. Beware of misleading descriptions and auction listings. Many sellers are clueless about the model they have got. For example, a Singer Featherweight 221 is frequently described as a 222K. Note, not all such mistakes and inaccuracies are as crazy and easy to spot as the one below.
Price estimates at online auctions. Beware of misleading price estimates (also known as expert estimates). Many online auctions employ such estimates. Supposedly, these estimates are provided by experts and meant to assist bidders. However, most of the time they are severely inflated. This is being done to make bidders believe it’s the deal of a lifetime. But sometimes these estimates are simply unprofessional and stupid.
Refinished machines. Be wary of refinished machines. Refinishing will almost certainly decrease the machine’s value dramatically.
I believe that now you are much better equipped for hunting down your amazing and extremely rare antique or vintage Singer sewing machine.
P.S. If you are considering buying a machine on eBay, make sure you read this post and learn about the best bidding strategy to use on eBay.
Be smart. Shop smart.