Thursday, May 22, 2014

Happy Birthday!

A frequently asked question among sewing machine aficionados is "How old is my sewing machine?" The first place to start is the brand of sewing machine: Singer  kept records of serial numbers that are easily found at ISMACS, the International Sewing Machine Collector's Society. They have a comprehensive list of serial numbers for Singer's only. You need to carefully look up your number, note the number of digits because it's easy to just check the first 3 numbers thinking it's a 7 digit serial number when you are really only checking the top of the list with 6 digit numbers and the 7 digit numbers are in the next section.  Here's an example:
Using the chart at the ISMACS website, I go to the listing for AA, then scroll down to 700361-715360 because 702154 fits in that range. The chart shows it's a model 99, there were 15000 made in that run on October 22, 1925. She's not exactly a one of a kind, huh?
Let's try the next one: using the chart we go to the G listings to the bottom of the list, past the 6-digit number to the 7 digits to find 8987101-9037100 because our 9025908 fits in there. We find out it's a 66, 50000 were made on September 20, 1921.

If you have almost any other brand of sewing machine you are simply playing a guessing game. Here's some ways to investigate:
  • Check the printed manual, if it still has one. Not all manuals are printed with dates but the style of print, illustrations, and format are all clues.
  • Sales receipts: I have several sewing machines with the bill of sale included. That doesn't mean that's when it was made but it's a good indication of the era.
  • Cabinet styles are listed in several websites that can help date your machine. Of course, many different sewing machines fit in some of the cabinets but it's at least an indicator.
  • Google it. You never know what might come from a broad search like Google.
Here's one that was easily dated from the manual and a little bit of online research:
Brother Select-O-Matic

The manual clearly was printed in 1954, although research showed most of this model were first manufactured in 1956. This vintage sewing machine resembles a 1954 Packard (all that chrome!):

Packard Convertible (

The Sears Archive has a section on Sewing Machines as well as a chart to help you date a Kenmore. Although the name Kenmore didn't really appear consistently until after WWII, earlier models were labeled Minnesota. The chart starts with 117.101, produced in 1934 up to 158.1980 in 1977 (and a rogue 1980 model, too). So not all of Sears is included but a very large percentage can be traced.

At the ISMACS site you can find dating information for Pfaff, New Home, Elna, and White sewing machines that might help narrow the dating process.

But what about those very detailed Singer records? Isn't it great to have a real "birth date" for a sewing machine? It appears that this is not the real story: number plates were produced and attached to machines as they were able but sometimes there were more number plates manufactured than sewing machines so the dates are close but not spot-on. Moral of the story: if you find a year or era of the sewing machine in question, you are an ace investigator!

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