Unloved Antiques: Antique Singer Sewing Machines

A 1914 Singer Model 66 Red Eye Treadle Sewing Machine. This one is on sale online. The owner is asking for $158.

The second item in this series of “Unloved Antiques” (the first edition is about Limited Edition Collectors Plates) is the Singer treadle sewing machine, an item that we receive inquires about virtually every week. The reason for the impression these machines have some great value is a mystery; one that’s often fueled by a well-publicized sale of a rare, early example or a the much-repeated family tale about “a dealer who offered Grandma $1,000 for it 10 years ago and she turned him down flat.”

Our best guess for this belief that these marvels of 19th century technology are of high value could be rooted in nostalgia and their vintage. Nearly everyone who has contacted us regarding these machines mentions a provenance to a great-grandmother or great aunt, who bought the machine, used, at the turn of the 19th century and lived to some great age, usually between 96 and 103. The impression in peoples’ minds being that the mathematics of all this breaks the magic 100-years-old “Antique Barrier.” The 100-year-mark, in many people’s minds, correctly puts things like treadle Singers into the “antique” category but, unfortunately, it also mistakenly makes the assumption that Antique = Valuable.

An original advertisement for a Singer model 66, dating to 1910, just one of some 80,000 model 66s made just that year.

With all things antique, items’ values are based on a number of things, but the basics being “demand & supply,” a reverse of the standard “supply and demand” equation used in the regular economy. The antique market differs from the regular economy for newly manufactured items because the supply of an individual antique item is always limited to how many were originally made. If demand and value for an antique item increases due to current decorating or collecting trends, there are no new factories put into production to create new antiques to fill demand; the only resupply are the forgotten pieces that turn up at auction or estate clearances. This is where the Singer machines fail the “valuable” test on both scores: the demand for all but the rarest examples is modest and the current supply is truly vast.

In the case of the Singer treadle sewing machines in general, production began in the early 1850s. Its introduction was deemed such a labor-saving breakthrough that any family that could afford to buy one did so. By the turn of the 19th century, production exceeded a million machines a year. The machine shown above, the Singer model 66, was introduced
about 1900 and remained in production until the 1950s. This one dates to 1910, just one of more than 80,000 model 66s made just that year. Its value? At auction, in “as found” condition, most comparable Singer treadles sell for less than $150.


Mike Wilcox, of Wilcox & Hall Appraisers, is a Worthologist who specializes in Art Nouveau and the Arts and Craft movement.

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  1. Liz Holderman says:

    This is a great series Mike. Please keep it up. It is the brutally honest antithesis of “Antiques Roadshow”, “American Pickers” and “Pawn Stars”. I’m looking forward to your articles on pressed glass, silver plate, 100-year-old text books, wood stoves and grandma’s Sunday china.

  2. Mike Wilcox says:

    Hi Liz,

    Thanks for your comments, it’s a topic the needed to be discussed in a way that’s easy to understand in terms of how the market works and what determines value.

  3. Bill Castle says:

    People certainly have the impression that old=expensive. It doesn’t matter if it’s a sewing machine or a hammer.

  4. Nick Ryan says:

    Maybe you should ave mentioned the web site where you can do a search on all Singer Sewing machines by serial number, this then gives hem an accurate date and location of manufacture.

    Many people are removing the little side drawers from these machines and making miniature chest of drawers 2 and three wide for spices etc, the 2 drawer version always seems to attract about AU$200.00 depending o the quality of manufacture.

    The remaining cast Iron legs are often seen attached to a marble top and used as an outdoor table. This will slowly reduce the numbers of complete machines over time.

    Nick
    Australia

  5. Mike Wilcox says:

    I call that process “Value added Antiques”, you take something that doesn’t sell very well and use the components to make something that does. The bases from these machine have been used for cafe/pub tables for many years. We used to put marble or butcher block tops on them in the 1980’s and sell them for about $150.00, the machines were picked up basically for free then or as part of a large picked lot.

  6. Regina Gabrielson says:

    As a person who sews with an old Singer & a new one, I can only say these machines may not have a high resale value as an antique, but as a sewing machine, are worth their weight in gold. My old Singer is worth more than the newer one. It sings along with no missed stiches. The only problem is no zig-zag stitch. As with many new items, the older model is better than new, that has it’s own value.
    This is a great subject & I am enjoying them very much. Thanks for the info & time you put into them. I look forward to the coming antiques in this group.

    • tammy ford says:

      i have one of these sewing machines it just fell into my possession if you know anyone wanting to purchase it i am willing to sell all drawers and parts are there i even have a sewing table looks like a small bench seat

  7. My aunt and my mom love these machines in the 1950’s at never got rid of them. My aunt kept using hers until she couldn’t anymore. They are still used in the third world, believe or not. I believe there are manufactured version in India. The gears and timing are built to last simple oiling and cleaning will keep them running, all parts.gears are steel machined to excellent standards. My mom had kept the table and installed a power electric version because it was so comfortable to sit at because of treadle, and she was a professional seamstress. I have seen the cast iron bases used as laptop tables with the original tops and drawers. The finish is veneered plywood and they tend to have a wonderful color. I have also seen the cast iron bases sold with/and without new tops as desks for living spaces. This I believe is the attraction, something old built to although not being used for is original purpose, but re-purposed to meet the modern needs. It is still better then Walmart computer desks and easy to convert.

  8. Art Finkel says:

    My wife’s aunt was a seamstress and we have her old machine, which was probably manufactured in the 1920’s. Due to use, the cabinet is not is pristine condition, but it is a valued piece of furniture in our den. The estimate to restore the cabinet we received years ago far exceeded it’s value, so we polished it as best we could and accepted the less than perfect condition. Above the Singer Sewing Machine is a framed poster of a similar machine.

  9. Joyce Rau says:

    Great articles, I especially loved the one about “collector plates” Finally some honesty about “antiques”

  10. Carol Foot says:

    I must agree with Regina. I am still working with a 1918 Singer every chance I get to sew. It is much QUIETER than my newer portable electric (metal gears compared to plastic), much easier to control the speed, and doesn’t need electric to run. I do miss a zig-zag stitch, light, and reverse. Other than that,it can’t be improved on for service.
    I grew up learning to sew on my Grandmother’s Sears & Robuck Roman dated 1908, a wedding present. It was used so much that all the joints were worn from round holes to oval and couldn’t be tightened. The shuttle bobbin case was worn to a “V” because we could never find a replacement. Noisy? Yes, and it still sewed miles of cloth!!!

  11. Richard Samuel says:

    There’s a trendy clothing chain called Allsaints Spitafields whose windows and interiors are decorated (at all locations) with hundreds of old sewing machines. The manager of one store told me the company has a few full-time employees whose sole job is to acquire these machines worldwide. I don’t imagine they pay much for them. You can see a few of their windows here: http://5magazine.wordpress.com/2010/07/12/allsaints-spitalfields/

  12. Bill Castle says:

    Well that should help reduce the numbers.

    If there are only dealers in the audience, I usually pay around $20 for a machine at auction, then I’m doing well if I sell it for $100.

    I’ve tried making glass tops to turn them into tables or desks (that’s what I use for a desk at home). However, I haven’t managed to sell a glass top yet. The nice thing about this is, a lot of the machines are pretty trashed on top, but if you open the lid, the finish is much better, and you can see the machine through the glass. I guess the glass just costs too much (about $100).

    • Libby says:

      As a child growing up in the 80s my parents placed an old singer sewing machine with a marble top on it in my bedroom. I used it as a desk which was great for me because I could push the peddle to work out nervous or pent up energy while sitting at my desk. I’ve continued to use it as an adult. Now it is being used as a table in my sunroom.

  13. MaryAnne Lasko says:

    I loved sewing on my grandmothers treadle machine and love the look of them, would love to have one that worked well (don’t know how my husband would appreciate another machine in the house though!)

  14. Mary says:

    I love the Singer Featherweight machines. What a little workhorse. I also love the Red Eye’s and Sphinx. I have several of these. I just found a Blue Enamel Royal in the original cabinet at a sale. The owner gave it to me, I took it home and cleaned it up. She’s a beauty. My husband thinks I am looney to love these machines. Its not the value, so much as the work that these machines help produce that facinates me.

  15. SuperMom says:

    I was so glad to read your article. I’m looking for an old treadle sewing machine… a Singer 66 to be exact and I’ve seen such wide variations in prices even when the machines are made around the same year. I was wondering… is there a special reason that the Red Eye machines seem to be so much more expensive. Is it those Red Eye decals that make the difference or is there some other difference that I’m not seeing?

  16. DeDe & Jack says:

    We had an antique singer in my house that we actually used in the 80’s and 90’s. I think the biggest attraction to these items is that they are really beautiful. I always thought someone she create a tricked out steam punk version with computerized sewing features. Now that would sell! I do think it is sad they are not work a stack of bill but they are everywhere- not exactly rare and they weight a zillion pounds. But they are a wonder example of an Americana Artifact.

  17. maria says:

    I would love to buy it before Christmas.

    • Mike Wilcox says:

      Well Maria there are dozens available on Ebay everyday ;~)The problem is the cost of shipping can exceed the their value, so it’s best to check local listings and classified adds in your area if you want to buy one.

  18. Donald Johnson says:

    I own two of above mentioned treadle machines and I also have several other Singers, like Feather Weights and a “Coffin” model. Condition and market drives the price of these more than anything. I live near an Amish community that will pay real good for Excellent Condition models. I also have the factory adjustment and repair manuals and try to keep them going. Quilters love the stitching, especially when trying to re-purpose old quilts to their former glory. I have sold my treadles for $100 to $250 based on condition, which agree’s with your price range but Find quilters will pay up to $800 for Featherweights with attachments.

    • Mike Wilcox says:

      The Featherweights are not really “Antique” and are about the only Singers other than some industrial machines that are in demand. We see the Featherweights selling locally for about $450.00 with all their accessories.

  19. phil bliss says:

    We have a white treadle like this Singer, it is more complete than most out there. We have everything but the box, and something that most do not have.

    • Mike Wilcox says:

      Some of the rarer featherweights and custom painted restored examples do sell for more than I mentioned, but for the most part the average models in good unrestored condition often sell in the range indicated.

      There are exceptions and they are the examples that often get trotted out and get all the press when sold. This highlighting of the rarer models is what perpetuates the myth of huge value and causes the perception that old sewing machines are of some great value. The average basic black featherweights found in Aunt Harriet’s attic are not in that category.

  20. RonaT says:

    I believe it’s not that bad, Mike. The Featherweight line of Singer sewing machines are the most collectible, a few of which recently sold on auction on eBay between the range of $1300 to $2200. http://www.singer-featherweight.com/ is a site for Singer Featherweight enthusiasts where one can find information about dating one’s machine, production runs, accessories, care guides, and even a downloadable copy of the original manual. For those interested in a resource for a broad range of collectible sewing machines, the website of the International Sewing Machine Collector‘s Society is the site to go to. If one were to check out these websites, one would see that the market isn’t that bad for collectible Singer sewing machines.

  21. christine mundrick says:

    I have an old singer machine portable it is in a beautiful wooden case carrier that the top of it is rounded. It also has a brass plate on the case that states that it is a demonstration model only for sales personnel. It also is strange because it has an electric motor but it has a wrought iron crank that starts the machine. It has the box with the attachments it is the original box and all is in good condition. This machine also came with a foot pedal. It has odd shaped bobbins with it too.
    I don’t know what the model is at this time it is on it though but I can’t find out anything about it. It say on the plaque that it belongs to the singer manufacturing company. It made me think that it was used to train the singer sales people how to use it. If I sent you a photo could you tell me more about it. I love it and never want to sell it but I would like to know more about it. Thank you.

    • Bill Castle says:

      Christine,

      I’ve used the “Ask a Worthologist” service here, and found it to work pretty well. There is a small fee, but it’s cheaper than a written appraisal would be around here.

  22. christine mundrick says:

    Thank you Bill but I just want to find out more about it not an appraisel. I am not working now so no $’s so I guess I will write down all the numbers I find on it and contact the international sewing machine collectors society and see what they know about it. Thank you to the person that gave that web info. If I could figure out how to thread it I could use it because it still works. I have all the attatachments. It is a really beautiful carrying case. It is really unique with that crank to turn it on. I love it and watch the auctions and ebay but have never seen one like it.

  23. Amy says:

    Hey – you know what’s great about these machines not being particularly valuable? People like me, who are obsessed with them, can get them cheap!

  24. please help!!!! singer modle 66 treadle will not turn all the way around???

    • Mike Wilcox says:

      Hi,

      Without actually looking at it one can’t tell what the problem is. It could be the mechanism is worn and it’s binding, try lubricating all the moving parts of the treadle and sewing machine with a “3 In-One” type oil.

  25. Gerard Cain says:

    You should take part in a contest for one of the greatest blogs on the web. I will highly recommend your blog!.

  26. Marian Whitcomb says:

    Thanks for this series, you have saved my numerous times from bursting my beloved’s bubble myself…I just forward links to your articles, and they are helping us get out from under an insurmountable pile of stuff that “could be valuable or useful someday.” My response? It is not a mater of quantity, but quality.

    • Mike Wilcox says:

      Glad to be of help. Quite often our friends and relations need what they feel is an unbiased opinion to make a decision regarding “Heirlooms” which have been stored away for years. Still there is something to be said for sentimental value.

  27. I have the 1st sewing machine ever made by Elias Howe J.H.But only the flat part and part of the motor.It says patented Sept.10 1846.Aug.24th 1856,April 2 1867.I don’t know if it is worth anything.It is just nice owning a piece of history.

  28. Keikantse says:

    Brenda do you still have your old singer machine? If you do please contact me at keikantse@hotmail.com.