First of all, we need to put into perspective what the word antique means. Antique referrers to a centenarian or an item that is at least 100 years old! That means it must have been made in the 19th century or the early 20th century.
Antique sewing machines are machines produced in the early-1920s and before. To identify if your sewing machine is antique, first, you need to know its model by locating its serial number. The serial number of antique sewing machines is located on the bed, on the sides, or underneath, depending on the brand. If a serial number is not available, you need to check for unique features.
Singer Sewing Machines
Singer is the oldest and most popular sewing machine brand, with production commencing as early as the mid-19th century. Unfortunately, the serial number logbooks between the 1850s and the 1870s are untraceable.
Research conducted has come up with a probable list of serial numbers in these “lost” years. “The Invention Of The Sewing Machine” website gives serial numbers for these years that are most likely correct.
Serial numbers for models before the year 1900 contained numbers only. However, models made at the turn of the 20th century had one or two-letter prefixes preceding the serial number. If your antique sewing machine has two serial numbers, use the larger one to identify the model.
Once you have a serial number, check the model and year in the International Sewing Machine Collectors Society (ISMACS). They have a list of all models in their Singer sewing machine serial number database.
If you can’t find the serial or model number, all is not lost. Some antique sewing machines have unique, identifiable features. For example, the Singer 15k model tension unit is on the left side of the sewing machine. The Singer 66k model has the significant ‘red eye’ decal and black and gold variations (no other color available). Its successor, the Singer 99k model, is smaller with an adjustable screw for the stitch length.
Pfaff Sewing Machines
Pfaff Sewing Machines was a family-owned brand that was initially produced to sew leather. Antique models are lettered. The most popular antique model with a notable model number is the Pfaff 11 model.
The model number or letter for earlier models is on the face surface of the machine. The serial number is on the back, side, or bottom, depending on the model. Due to a significant change in ownership, Pfaff has a limited record of serial numbers of models.
However, the International Sewing Machine Collectors Society (ISMACS) has tracked all machines produced and has this list. This information should be able to tell you if your machine is an antique or not and is very useful when dating a model.
Viking Sewing Machines
Viking sewing machines are the products of the Husqvarna company that initially manufactured firearms until the late 19th century when they diversified into sewing machines. Antique Viking sewing machine models are easily recognizable by the brand Viking. The company adopted this name as it was more relatable to English speakers.
The earliest antique, The North Star, was developed in 1874 and had a distinct arched arm and delicate cast-iron frame. Due to operational issues, it was not a success.
That did not phase out the company. It acquired the rights to reproduce the American weed model that became an instant success. The Viking American weed model had a delicate iron-cast arm and paw feet stand to support it.
It was hand-operated by a hand crank and stood out. It sold well for a few years until it became outdated and phased out.
The most successful model is the Viking Freja sewing machine. Branded Freja, this antique model is beautiful and finely engineered. It is very similar to the Singer transverse model, save for the square Nordic arm. It has a reputation for self-oiling, durability, and toughness.
New Home Sewing Machines by Gold Medal
The New Home sewing machine is as antique as it can get. Starting in the 1860s, it was not until the 1880s that this antique sewing machine adopted its brand name.
Things were good for the Gold Medal sewing company until post-world war when the company went under receivership. The Gold Medal company was iconic for the New Home 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 models.
The machines came in hand-cranked or treadle versions. Later, models featured a beautiful cabinet with nickel plating. The model number is on the sewing machine bed or the side of the model.
The serial number is located either on the base or the bottom of the sewing machine. The International Sewing Machine Collectors Society (ISMACS) has the list of serial numbers from 1879 to 1930 to assist collectors to date antique New Home sewing machines.
When was my antique sewing machine manufactured?
To know when your sewing machine was manufactured, you have to identify the brand and model. If you have a brand name and a serial number, then The International Sewing Machine Collectors Society (ISMACS) has readily available information. They will give you an idea of when and who manufactured the sewing machine.
How much is my antique sewing machine worth?
As much as different collectors vary in opinions, there are criteria to be met. The condition of the machine, from a hands-on perspective, circumstances, and the current market trends. Some antique models are a much higher value than others.
How can I maintain my antique sewing machine?
Antique sewing machines have survived for over 100 years. That means that they are durable or can last a lifetime. However, this is not without proper maintenance. We suggest checking a manual before going about it. Manuals are obtainable on ISMACS website. They give directions on dismantling and cleaning antique sewing machine parts. It is best to handle with care as most can be very delicate.
Take good care of your antique
Antique sewing machines have rich histories and tell a story. Antique models such as Jones Cat-black, White and Wheeler, and Wilson have all decorated the halls of time in the late 19th century. The best way to honor these family heirlooms is to maintain and treasure them for our future descendants.