Identifying Vintage Sewing Machines
Several years ago, I was given an antique Singer treadle sewing machine that has been passed down through my family for a few generations. I had no idea when it was manufactured or its model number. Several parts are missing, it's not in great shape, and it's basically non-functional–but it still is a wonderful piece of family memorabilia, and I love having it in my home. My flat screen TV usually lives on top of the Singer cabinet, so I look at it every day. Perhaps someday I'll refurbish it, and when that happens, it will be important to know a little more about the machine.
Thanks to Singer's recent 160th anniversary celebration, I was able to pinpoint my antique machine's model year by entering its serial number into Singer's online database. It's nice to know my sewing machine was manufactured in 1907. But I also wanted to find out the model number–which at first I thought would be a far more difficult proposition. Luckily, a quick search online yielded several resources that helped me narrow down my Singer's model number.
The best and easiest to navigate is Sandman Collectibles' online Singer identification guide. Referring back to your vintage Singer, you answer a series of yes/no questions about your machine's features. Based on your answers, the online form jumps you to more identification questions, until eventually you arrive at one or more possible models. Using this identification form, I narrowed my Singer's model down to 27/28 or 127/128. Based on certain factors, I think it's most likely a model 127/128. Sandman Collectibles also offers many vintage Singer machine user manuals for sale.
Another very helpful resource is blogger Nicholas Rain Noe's "The Vintage Singer Sewing Machine Blog". Through several blog posts, Nicholas offers guidance through the process of analyzing a machine's features and distinguishing very similar models from each other.
Also worth browsing is the website of the International Sewing Machine Collectors' Society. The society archives sewing machine manuals, advertisements, and other information and offers many downloadable materials on its website. It also publishes research findings, auction results, and information on restoring vintage machines for an international membership of sewing machine collectors.
Mystery accessories from antique machines can be a little harder to identify, but you can use many of the same resources available for identifying machines. Also, there are many vendors that specialize in original or reproduction parts for antique and vintage machines, and simply comparing your machine's mystery part-like a presser foot-to those available for sale can help you figure out its purpose. I'm fairly sure that the two identical presser feet in the photo are ruffler attachments (I know the third foot is a roll-hem attachment).
Do you own a vintage or antique sewing machine? Is your antique a family heirloom or a yard sale find? Have you identified its model and year of manufacture? Do you have any favorite resources for identifying antique machines and replacing parts?