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Old Singer sewing machine value

An old Singer sewing machine value depends on history, scarcity – and luck

Millions of people love collecting antiques, and television has spread the news even to those who don’t, in the form of multiple popular shows depicting surprise finds in basements, attics and even at yard sales. Some of these discoveries turn out to be worth good money.

This has led to one of the most common questions in the appraisal community today: What is an old Singer sewing machine’s value?

Pop into JustAnswer’s antiques appraisal question section and you’ll see several questions about Singer sewing machines on any given day. For example, one customer recently asked about an antique Singer sewing machine value and learned from Expert Glenda B. that it’s worth $600-$650.

Another customer told Glenda B. that her old mini Singer sewing machine had once been appraised at $2,000, and she wanted a more current value. The Expert explained that values have been dropping:

“They are selling for a lot less than value. The selling of them is because people do not know what they have and so they let them go too cheaply. This then sets the market for a new value, since values are taken from the most current sold prices over a 12-month period.”

The current value of the machine, one of the first ones Singer made, is about $1,400-$1,550, Glenda B. said. While less than the earlier valuation, that’s certainly not shabby – no wonder everyone’s asking appraisers about old Singer sewing machine values!

Sewing machines are popular antiques for many reasons. For one, they can be quite beautiful, because in a an earlier time, manufacturers went out of their way to make domestic products aesthetically appealing in a way that no one bothers with now.

These machines were adorned with elegant decals in gold or silver and decoration in mother-of-pearl, and some even boasted sculptural elements such as lions and eagles. They display striking examples of a variety of period styles, such as high Victorian, Art Deco, Art Nouveaux, or arts and crafts.

At the same time, they’re also functional. Made with all-metal parts and built before planned obsolescence became a manufacturing credo, they were built to last. Even the oldest sewing machines can and are still being used today. And the bases they often come with, created in stunning wrought iron, are in high demand for repurposing as table bases.

Finally, sewing machines simply represent an earlier, more peaceful era to many people. They can remind someone of a beloved great-grandmother, or conjure up memories of the rich culture and history attached to them. Collectors’ reasons for coveting these machines can vary widely. And for most machines, it’s the names and brands that make them significant and valuable.

Why are Singer machines such popular collectibles?

There are dozens of companies that made sewing machines starting in the mid-19th century. But Singer is the undisputed ruler for one primary reason: There are thousands more of them to be bought.

Singer machines weren’t necessarily the best or the most innovative. But as Singer expert Harry Berzack told, “They were unbelievable marketers.”

Isaac M. Singer, a handsome, charming traveling Shakespearean actor, found himself making ends meet by, among other things, fiddling with existing machines and improving upon them.

Isaac M. Singer

Then, to sell what was a hugely expensive item in the 1850s, he took his machines around the nation where he put on demonstrations at country fairs and in rural towns, giving a dramatic recitation of the 1843 poem, The Song of the Shirt, which highlighted the drudgery of the hand-sewing life. He even had attractive young women demonstrate to prove that the machines weren’t too challenging for delicate ladies of the Victorian era.

When doctors and ministers fretted publicly about the effects of women becoming familiar with machines, the company offered them to preacher’s wives at half price. During the Civil War, Singer donated machines to the Union Army for making uniforms.

The company was among the first to offer payment plans, and they incentivized trade-ins so people would buy more sewing machines. The end result of all this was that Singer gradually took over the sewing machine market, even setting the standard for many parts in use today, such as bobbins and needles.

Old Singer sewing machine values

The first step in getting an old Singer sewing machine’s value is to know which machine you have or are considering buying. The most informative resource is the website of the International Sewing Machine Collector’s Society (ISMACS), whose database helps you identify machines by serial numbers or by the decals on the machine. You can even find out how much someone would have paid for the machine at the time it was originally purchased!

Another online resource, which asks a series of questions to guide you to the correct identification, is Sandman Collectibles’ online Singer identification guide.

In any case, once you know which model you have and the years it was manufactured, you can move on to researching its value. But first, a reality check: ISMACS warns,

“On a given day, a sewing machine is worth what a particular seller can sell it for to a particular buyer in a particular venue.

“Season, geographic region, marketplace, personality, manufacturer, model, rarity, condition, history, completeness – and the reason the buyer is buying – all these factors influence monetary value. Value is not fixed, but fluid.

“Even so, it's a good thing to consider that relatively few machines today command prices in the hundreds of dollars -- and very, very few will bring thousands.”

A sewing machine can have sentimental, historical, decorative or collector value – even, for a machine in good working condition, functional value. One thing to consider is that sometimes, if well-maintained, the wood cabinet a machine comes can be worth more than the antique sewing machine itself!

    So, with ISMAC’s warning in mind, you can turn to many resources to research value yourself if you’re willing to put in the time and leg (or finger) work researching it in the real world or online.

  • Antique stores: Bring your machine to a shop and see if they offer to buy it. If so, ISMACS says, double that price to get the retail value. If a similar machine is already in the store, find out how long it’s been there at that price, then cut the value in half for every three months it’s been for sale.
  • AntiqueBooks: Some excellent resources are The Encyclopedia of Early American & Antique Sewing Machines: Identification & Values by Carter Bays and Antique American Sewing Machines: A Value Guide by James W. Slaten. Don’t be fooled by values in printed books, which get old fast, but do consider what the value says about the rarity of the machine.
  • Online: eBay is your best bet because you can find out what a machine actually sold for, as opposed to asking prices on dozens of unsold listings -- which, you’ll eventually find out, have been relisted multiple times because the price is just too high for the collector market. Etsy and RubyLane also have asking prices available, but again, take these with a grain of salt.
  • Test the market: You can also list your machine on eBay at a low price to see what kind of bids it attracts. Cancel the auction if the bids are lower than what you hoped – and rest assured that you’ve tested the market at least in that particular week.
  • Professional appraiser: It’s important to choose someone who won’t be interested in buying it from you, because any price quoted is bound to be colored by personal bias.

And, of course, if you want to be sure you’re consulting a professional appraiser who has no personal interest in buying your machine, and who can be contacted without you having to carry your sewing machine across town, you can always count on the antiques Experts at JustAnswer. You’ll need good, clear digital photos of your machine, and have any identifying information handy. And of course, just remember that sometimes the thrill of the search is worth more than dollars!

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