Reader asks about Singer Featherweight sewing machine
  • A mystery sewing item
  • Toys that prepped a girl for ‘women’s work’
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    Auction Finds

    Vintage sewing machines at auction

    I never took home economics or sewing classes in high school. I took typing classes. I jokingly told my friends that I’d hire someone to come in and do my housework and sewing.

    I was in college before I developed an interest in sewing. Well, not exactly developed. I was forced to learn after a friend messed around and failed to make an outfit for me that I desperately wanted. So, I taught myself on a Singer and made some of my own clothes for years afterward.

    When I started going to auctions a couple years ago, I would spot vintage Singer sewing machines. Not the plastic ones in cases that I used. These machines looked like works of art. They were shiny black metal with gold filigree and the Singer gold medallion. I also came across one once that had red and gold filigree.

    Some were in good shape; the owners had obviously kept them well-oiled and dustless. Others needed work. There were also other manufacturers I had never heard of before. Some of those were antiques from the late 19th century.

    The first patents for sewing machines were issued in the 1700s, but they were not mass-produced until the 1850s with the Singer machine. As with most antiques, sewing machines do have their collectors, with websites brimming with photos of their collections and information on sewing machines in general. Read this collector’s story and view a few of his 500 machines, all from the 19th century and before World War II.

    Here are some of my finds:

    Singer child’s toy sewing machine (above) from the late 1940s or 1950s. It is 7” tall and 6” long.


    Singer 15-91 Centennial heavy duty sewing machine. The medallion on the side has this inscription: “A Century of Sewing Service. 1851-1951.” This workhorse sews through double, triple and more folds of leather and jeans fabric. A similar model I came across was the Singer 66, another workhorse, manufactured in 1954.


    Singer 128. It has red and gold filigree designs and a pear-shaped side plate. The front plate is embellished with grapes and leaves. It was manufactured between 1926 and 1928.


    Singer 221 Featherweight. This most popular of the Singers is still greatly sought after and used. This lightweight machine has a nicely embellished faceplate. It was manufactured in 1935.


    Cash Buyers Union. It is black, cast iron with silver filigree designs. I had never heard of this manufacturer before, and only found a little information in my Google research. One website said the Cash Buyers Union was a national cooperative society. Another had a catalog that listed the company’s products, including sewing machines, musical instruments, dinner sets, bicycles, clocks and buggies. This machine was circa 1895.

    Others I’ve come across:

    General Electric Sewhandy. This machine was said to be a precursor to the Singer Featherweight. Besides GE, the Sew Handy was made by a series of companies, including Standard Sewing Machine Co. The machine I found at auction was made between 1931 and 1936.

    Willcox and Gibbs. This 1897 machine had a very strange look: Its spine reminded me of the image of a black Halloween cat about to pounce. It was the first chain-stitch machine and was very popular.

     If you’d like to see some nice antique machines, check out these sites: Sewing Machine Collectors  and Sewalot.

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