Category Archives: Vintage Singer cabinets and treadle bases

Singer 1933 Catalogue and Price List (UK)

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Thanks to Syd McDonald who kindly allowed me to scan his copies of them, I can now present for your delight both the Singer Illustrated Catalogue for 1933 and its accompanying Price List.  There’s links to PDFs of the scans at the bottom of this post, but while you’re here, let’s just take a quick look at some of the contents.

Before we do though, here’s a few comparisons between then and now to help put prices into perspective.  In 1933, the UK average wage was £3 12s 0d (£3.60) a week and a pint of beer cost 6d (2.5p).  Today, the corresponding figures are £504 a week and around £2.90, so wages have risen faster over the last 79 years than the price of beer has. What I find quite remarkable though is that in 1933, a typical 3-bedroom house sold for £360, which was just less than two years’ average earnings.  Now the average 3-bedroom house costs £243,000, which is over nine years’ average earnings.  How come?

Whatever, it seems that life expectancy for women in this country has gone up from 60 in 1933 to 81 now and for men from 53 to 78, so it’s not all bad …

We start with the New Enclosed Cabinet No.46, which should be of particular interest to those who can never remember which cabinet is the 46 and which is the 51.  As you can see here, the 46 is the one with the one-piece door with the rectangular drawer on the back of it.  The later cabinet which is the same size and shape but has the two doors and the D-shaped swing-out drawer thingies on the back of the left-hand one is the 51, which Elsie and I much prefer.  In our opinion, a nice 51 cabinet with modern castors under it and a properly set-up treadle mechanism driving a 201 on top of is a very fine thing to have in the house.

In 1933 you couldn’t yet buy a 201, but a shiny new 66K in a No.46 cabinet could be delivered to your door for a list price of £23 10s 0d (£23.50), which was more than 6 weeks’ average wages before tax.

On page 4, we see that by now the old cast-iron legs of the Cabinet Tables have given way to the new wooden sides.  A 66K in a 5-drawer base like the one on page 4 was £18 5s 9d (£18.29) if paid for at the rate of 10/- (50p) per month, but could be had for just £15 8s 0d (£15.40) cash if you’d come into money.

Those Cabinet Tables are still quite common in England, but the One-Drawer Drop-Leaf Table on page 5 certainly isn’t.  Does anybody know for sure if that’s the one in which the machine sat in the table in the wooden base which has the slot between the two belt holes so you could just lift the whole thing out and use it as a portable?

There’s no mention of either of these Cabinet Tables (or indeed of the 46 Cabinet) being convertible for use with an electric machine by means of the motor controller 194386 on its associated bracket, so I’m still no wiser as to when that was introduced in the UK.

I do love these illustrations of the portables.  It seems that Singer could never come up with a convincing way of including the lid in a picture, so here we have it on a footstool of just the right size and shape on page 6, and on what I’m convinced is a pair of wheelbarrow tyres on page 7.

A nice hand-cranked 128 portable would have set you back £9 17s 6d (£9.87) in 1933, although for just thirty bob (£1.50) more you could have had its full-size sister the 127.  A knee-lever 99K electric, on the other hand, was £14 if paying cash.  That price included a Singerlight, but not a footstool or the tyres to put the lid on.

And now we have a knee-lever 66K electric in The New Model 40 Table which, it says here, is an “elegant article of furniture”.  Be that as it may, have you noticed how the word “article” in this sense seems to be obsolescent nowadays in much the same way that “apparatus” does?  It’s a shame.  They’re both fine words.

Model 40 tables are decidedly uncommon nowadays, and I have to admit that as far as I’m concerned that’s not a bad thing.  £31 12s 6d (£31.62) on Easy Terms, or £25 6s 0d (£25.30) cash to you, Madam.  That was getting on for two months’ average wages …

The all-steel foot controller shown here on page 10 is a rare bird now too, which if you ask me is just as well because they’re a bit on the primitive side – and they do tend to stink when they start getting warm.  Note how the mains lead is supplied with a bayonet connector on the end so that when you’d fitted the motor to your machine, you could plug it into any convenient light fitting once you’d taken the bulb out of it.

Any reader raising an eyebrow at that last observation might care to note that plugging a sewing machine (or a hairdryer come to that) into a table lamp or other light fitting was common practice at one time.  When many rooms had only one mains socket in them (or at best a pair of them side-by-side on the skirting board), table and standard lamps often served as extension leads, and most households were possessed of an assortment of plug adaptors by means of which many light and power problems could be solved.

On page 11 we note that in 1933 the 15K was the “Dressmaker’s Machine”, and that the base shown is the “artisan” one with the bigger-diameter treadle wheel to facilitate higher stitching speeds.

And finally a couple of industrials.  Note the cast-iron legs, which were by now obsolete as far as domestic customers were concerned.  Note also the convention whereby women sew at home on domestic machines and men sew at work on industrials.

I don’t know anything about the 31K15 apart from the fact it’s got a knee-lifter, but that back leaf of the table certainly does look handy!  The 29K53 is a fascinating machine that’s often referred to as The Patcher, and its variants always seem to sell for a decent price on Ebay nowadays.  I love the way you can sew in any direction with it, and alternate between treadle and hand drive.  It’s a very clever bit of engineering.

For scans of both publications as PDFs, click on the links below.  I did them as two separate files so you can, should you wish, have the catalogue and the price list open at the same time for ease of cross-reference …

1933 Singer UK Illustrated Catalogue

1933 Singer UK pricelist

By the way, lest any of our overseas readers be confused by the bayonet connector, I should perhaps point out that not only are we on 220 volt here, but our light bulbs don’t screw into light fittings like yours probably do.  Ours have a bayonet cap, about which everything you could ever wish to know is, as usual, on Wikipedia – see here

You can’t buy those bayonet connectors nowadays, unless of course you turn to this guy on Ebay.  Those things were often used in conjunction with the Y-shaped two-way adaptor (a picture of which I couldn’t find), which plugged into a lampholder so that two bayonet connectors could be plugged into it.  I suppose the theory was that they allowed you to use two light bulbs in one lampholder, but I never saw one used like that.

While I’m on this subject, I should perhaps explain that in England nowadays, you can’t even walk into a shop and buy an ordinary 100 watt incandescent light bulb, the manufacture of which has been banned by the EU in order to save the planet.  We’re therefore hoping the 20 that I bought online last week will see us out, as we only need them for 3 lights in the house which are used intermittently and for which energy-saving fluorescents are neither use nor ornament.

And if making incandescent light bulbs obsolete as a token gesture in the direction of planet-saving seems daft to you, how about the singularly crazy legislation requiring a proportion of the light fittings in all new homes to be 3-pin bayonet lampholders into which neither traditional bulbs nor energy-saving fluorescents can be fitted?  See here

Have a good weekend, folks!

The Singer convertible treadle base and motor controller 194386

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And before I go any further, let me say that we’ve never been sure of the correct designation for the base shown in the following pictures.  If you happen to know and can point us in the direction of the relevant brochure page or whatever, we’d love to hear from you! 

OK, you can ignore the incomplete 66K which I plonked into this base just for the picture, because it’s only the base with which we’re concerned here.  And yes, I totally agree with you – it would have been nice if whoever covered the top of this one with a coat of varnish had at least tried to quieten down those watermarks first.

But never mind.  We happen to like these particular bases, and not only because of the very neat way in which the larger of those two inset sections of the top lifts off to form the extension.  Mainly we like them because more often than not, they still have the bits on them which you need to make them convertible, in the sense that you can fit an electric head to one and then have the option to treadle it or use the motor as the fancy takes you.

If however the motor controller’s been removed from one of these bases, it’ll be just like any other late-type treadle base underneath.

If all this is new to you, note that that picture’s taken from the back of the base, simply because it’s easier to see how the Pitman rod (note technical term) connects the treadle plate to the crank, so as to make the wheel go round.  What you see in that picture is what all these later domestic treadle bases look like – allowing for the fact that this one hasn’t got a belt on it!

If we look up from that angle and move round to the front of the base then hang a sheet over the back of it while we take some snaps, the underneath looks like this, which I admit is kind of boring.  However …

While that’s fine for treadling your full-size (eg 15K, 66K or 201K) vintage Singer, what to do if you want the option to use an electric machine in this base?  Well, you could just fit the head into the treadle base, plug in your machine plug and use your foot controller like you do with the machine on the kitchen table.  But it will immediately become obvious that you can’t put the foot controller where it needs to be because the treadle plate’s in the way.

What you need is …

That’s Singer Motor Controller 194386, that is, with the correct bracket to fit it to the later-type treadle bases (as opposed to the ornate cast-iron ones, which need a different bracket), together with that curly doohickey at bottom right.

The 194386 is to all intents and purposes a normal foot controller with its button on the top replaced by a metal tongue with a hole in it sticking out of one end, as you might be able to see above. The hole at top left of the cover is the cable entry, and we will very shortly see what the doohickey’s for.

So OK, let’s say you’ve found yourself one of these treadle bases, and you rather fancy putting your 201K electric in it so you have the option of either mains or people power.  What’s involved?  As far as I recall from the last time I did it, this is what’s involved …

1  Check that you have the bits shown above, and also the black metal plate which goes to the right of the machine bed and fills the 45mm gap which would otherwise exist.  You can see that plate in the top picture, but what you can’t see is that there are three holes in it – two for the treadle belt to pass through and one for the lead to the motor controller.  The plate screws to the underside of your machine bed, so you finally get to see what those two threaded holes at the far right of your machine bed are for ;)

2  Screw the plate to the machine bed, put a rubber bush in the hole through which the mains lead will go, and fit your machine head to the base via the pins of the hinges, just the same way as it fits in its wooden base.

3  Make absolutely certain that you tighten the grub screws onto the pins of those hinges.  Then check again that both are secure.  If you don’t, guess what can happen the first time you lower the machine head into the base.

4  With the mains disconnected from the wall socket, open up your existing foot controller and disconnect the two wires of the lead which goes to it.  Put both terminal screws back so you don’t lose them, then put the case back together.

5  With the mains still disconnected, plug your machine plug into the machine, and pass the lead you just disconnected from your foot controller down through the hole in that side plate.

6  Open up your Controller 194386, pass that lead through the hole in the cover, and fit the two wires to the terminals of the controller just like they were on your foot controller.

7  Now fit the 194386 to the treadle base by means of its bracket and the three screws, comme ça …

8  Undo the nut at the top end of your Pitman rod and disconnect the rod by simply twiddling it until it comes away from the crank

9  Hook the hook of the doohickey through the hole in the tongue projecting from the bottom of the controller, from back to front.  Hold the doohickey there, screw the Pitman rod into it as far as it will go, then tighten the nut up against the bottom of the doohickey …

10  Check that when you press on the treadle plate, the tongue is pulled out of the motor controller and that when you release the plate, the tongue retracts.

11  Now try it with power on, and with any luck you’re in business.  Note that you can to some extent adjust the slope of the treadle plate when it’s at rest by screwing the Pitman rod in or out of the doohickey.

12  If you’re sure that everything’s to your liking, tidy the excess mains lead out of the way for now, then power up and see how it goes.

13  When you have the electrical operation sorted, get yourself a nice new treadle belt and fit it.

14  Turn off the power.  Disconnect the Pitman rod from the doohickey, re-fit it to the crank on the treadle wheel (screwing it in as far as it’ll go), pop the belt into the groove behind your balance wheel, ease the belt onto the treadle wheel, and savour the joy of sewing with a treadle machine.

And that’s about it.  Unless you’re used to sewing by both mains and people power, it’s probably best to live with the electrics like this for long enough for you to know for sure that you’re going to keep the machine in this base.  Then you can get rid of the excess length of mains lead and tidy things up – and that’ll be another blog post sometime!

Vintage Singer UK brochure featuring her with the frock – part two

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OK, here’s the rest of that wonderful Singer brochure featuring Ann Droid and her stripey frock, and thanks to Alison we now know that this was almost certainly published in 1951.  Our copy’s somewhat faded in places 60 years on, which is why these scans aren’t all that brilliant …

“Do you prefer cabinetwork of contemporary design?” indeed!  As far as we’re concerned, the best thing about these Cabinets, which we always thought were Tables, is the fact that the legs are readily detachable.  That’s a real boon when the machine you just brought home is in one of these things and you can’t quite bring yourself to take the table down to the dump recycling centre once you’ve taken the head out of it, so the only place left for it is in the attic alongside the other two.

Having said that, Elsie’s determined to get one of them down from the roof soon and take it with us next time we do a boot sale – unless of course by publishing this post I manage to whip up a demand for them that we’ll be pleased to meet.  Which I very much doubt, but I live in hope.

Be that as it may, we’ve now got to the middle of the brochure, and because of the way the centre pages are laid out as a double page spread, it just doesn’t work scanned as two separate pages.  I’ve had to link to it here so off you go now for a squint at that.

As you can see there, we’ve moved onto treadle machines, and the choice of head is simple – would Madam prefer a 15 or a 201?  According to the printed text, the choice of base was equally straightforward – pick one of three variants of the “modern” (i.e. wooden legs) treadle base – 3-drawer, 2-drawer or 1-drawer.

So far so good.  However, the notes added by the salesman (with his fountain pen, of course) muddy the waters somewhat.  Judging by his sketch, he seems to have been offering a 7-drawer with wooden legs, to which his note “NEW £46″ seems to refer, and that’s interesting because neither Elsie nor I can recall ever seeing such a thing.  He’s also made a note of a “drop head with iron stand” at £20, which must surely have been old stock because the printed text actually states that the iron legs “have been superceded” by the wooden ones.

His note at the bottom right-hand says “Dressmakers model table top with cover £15″, and I’m not sure what to make of that because “Dressmaker” in this context was usually Singer staff talk for a 201.  Even more puzzling, the top right-hand note says “modern style folding head with 7 drawers £28″, which would seem to relate to that base with the four extra drawers drawn in.  But if it does, what’s with that “NEW £46″ above it?

If anybody can shed any light on those notes and/or the pricing, do please let us know, but before we leave the treadles I’ll just clear up one thing.  There was never a 99 treadle.  If you do see one, it’s not kosher.  It’s a DIY job.

OK … now we come to another double page spread, but this one does work as two halves …

Interesting that one of these “full size machines” is the 99K, which is of course a three-quarter size machine!  And how about the claim that they “can be easily carried from room to room”?  A hand-cranked 99 in its case weighs 14.5kg (32lb) and an electric 201′s heavier still at 20.5kg (45lb), which strikes me as a fair old weight for anyone to easily carry from room to room.

And look, there’s that “Brown Mission” again!  If that’s not a daft name for the colour of a wood finish, I don’t know what is.  And was the suitcase-type case really available in grey leather cloth?   If it was, did it look as uninspiring as it sounds?

Whatever, note that the text on the page above says “Normally, these machines are all-electric, fitted with the famous Singer electric motor, Singerlight and Foot Control”, yet the 201 illustrated is a knee-lever machine!

Personally I’m convinced that this brochure is 1951, but here’s your proof that it’s definitely pre-1954.  If it was any later, Stripey would be wanting to show you her new 222, not the 221 shown here.  And at this point I’d better explain for those of you who aren’t Featherweight Fans (or even Pheatherweight Phans) that a Featherweight is either a 221 or a 222.

The 221 was introduced in the mid-1930′s, and Singer eventually made over 1,000,000 of the things.  Then in 1954 they brought out the 222, which is just a 221 with a free-arm and feed dog drop, but they only made 100,000 or so of those, which is presumably why they’re sometimes advertised as “rare”.

Incidentally, many of its devotees think the 222 was the first domestic machine with a free-arm, but they are wrong.  The Elna Grasshopper was the first, by a good 10 years.  But I digress.

I just love the suggestion that a 221 is “easily carried wherever you go – from room to room – on a long trip – or just for an afternoon’s sewing at a friend’s house.”  An afternoon’s sewing at a friend’s house?  Who is the woman kidding?  Or is that code for “so easy to cart about with you to show off to your friends and make them really jealous”?  Whatever, Featherweights are undoubtedly cute and they certainly have a huge following with quilters in the States, but for our money they’re over-rated.  There.  I said it.

Lovely use of Proper English there, and interesting to think that 60 years ago that wouldn’t have been thought in the least patronising.  Or boring.  Back then, Singer were still on top of their game.  They were the absolute masters at marketing domestic sewing machines, and there’s not the slightest hint anywhere in this brochure of the rot which was soon to set in

Oh look – she’s doing that sincere expression again, bless her.

Now, there’s a couple of matters arising from those pictures of the six attachments that were supplied with new machines in 1951 (or thereabouts).  One is that, surprisingly, by this time the ruffler was not one of the standard attachments.  And the other is the quilter.  I really do wish they’d called it what it is i.e. a quilting guide.  So many people seem to think that “the quilter” is some awesome attachment which does something really clever, when all it actually does is allow you, within certain limits, to sew parallel to and at a fixed distance from the last line of stitching in your quilt.

And finally we turn to the outside back cover …

with its cutaway of Mission Control.  Which raises an interesting question – when did Singer shops in the UK finally stop offering the dressmaking courses, and for that matter the finishing service?  If you happen to know, we’d love to hear from you.

Going off at a tangent now, when I first saw Stripey’s frock it immediately reminded me of a silly idea that Kodak UK came up with in the mid-1960′s. They thought it would be fun (or whatever) to have the women who worked in the shops which shifted the most Kodak films wearing very loud blue and white stripey frocks with a yellow Kodak badge on the left breast during the summer film-buying season.

At the time, my mother was one of those women, and I have this vivid recollection of her coming home from work one day with this large brown paper parcel in the wicker basket on the front of her bike.  She was not happy.  It was very nice of Kodak to give her two cloth badges, a pattern and more than enough material for two dresses, but if nothing else, when did they suppose she was going to find the time to make them?

If I remember rightly, she eventually got a neighbour to knock one up, tried it on, decided she wasn’t going to look like a deckchair for Kodak or anyone else, and that was the end of that …

“I am a typical Singer girl”

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No you’re not, dear.  You’re Ann Droid, a figment of somebody’s fevered imagination, and you freak me out with your weird expressions, your wooden poses and your eyebrows.  Can’t say I’m a big fan of the frock either, but never mind.

Unfortunately we can’t date this brochure with any accuracy, but I think you’ll agree it has to be 1950′s.  Early 1960′s at the very latest?  Whatever, that very much of-its-time earnest expression coupled with the very properly-worded question on the cover sets the tone for the entire contents, as we shall see …

Good old-fashioned proper English, but obviously written by a chap who always wore his jacket in the office and still wore shirts with long tails and a separate collar.  Arm-bands too, probably.  Horn-rimmed glasses for sure, and always addressed as Mister Jones.   Same seat on the bus into the office every morning, and not much longer to go before his gold watch and his pension.

But wait – what’s that snappy slogan going on there at the end of that block of text?  “Where there’s sewing there’s SINGER and where there’s SINGER there’s service” indeed.  Wow.  Personally I think they should have kicked that idea round the block a few more times before going firm on it, but at least they made the effort to get a bit lively.

And finally we get down to the nitty-gritty.  We learn that the 99K is “the smaller type of domestic machine” and has “proved ideal for normal sewing requirements”.  Gosh, and to think that 50 or 60 years later the very same 99K is regularly touted on Ebay as a “heavy duty semi-industrial” machine.  Maybe they improved with age?

Interesting that the 15K’s “designed for constant hard work in the home … or in the dressmaker’s workroom”, but the best they can say about the 201, which is nowadays considered to be the real workhorse, is that it does tricks by way of reverse and drop feed.

Ooooh look!  The Queen Anne table, as often seen in those Eastbourne living rooms with the the patterned carpet, the Dralon three-piece suite with matching pouffe, the Bontempi organ in the corner and the framed print of Tretchikoff’s “The Chinese Girl” still on the wall above the electric coal-effect fire.

I love the bit about it being “a pleasing piece of furniture with many other uses” when the machine’s folded down and the top closed.  Beyond standing a couple of framed snaps of the grandchildren and/or an arrangement of dried flowers upon it, I wonder what those “many other uses” actually amounted to.

But now we’re talking!  The good old Enclosed Cabinet No.51, which I hadn’t realised was actually available in four finishes, one of which was “Brown Mission”.  Don’t ask us.  We haven’t a clue either.

Whatever the veneer, we like the 51 we do, because it’s eminently practical, it doesn’t take up much space, the treadle action’s nice on it, and it was available as a Convertible on which you can swop between treadle power and electric as the fancy takes you.

Elsie’s just read that last bit over my shoulder and says I shouldn’t big up the 51 cabinet any more in case people think I’m only saying how good it is because we have three spare ones in the house at present and wouldn’t mind seeing the back of a couple of them, but that’s not the case at all.  We really do like them.

Honest.

More deathless prose from Mister Jones and more of Ann Droid and her stripey frock to come when we do the remaining pages …

Buttonholers, zigaggers, foot controllers and a Lotus treadle

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Just in case you rarely venture onto the Bits ‘n’ Bobs page, here’s a quick update so you know what you’re missing.

Seeing as how in the last week we’ve sent a Singer USA 160985 zigzagger (that’s the big black one with the four red cams) to Birmingham, one of the big Ruby buttonholers to Canada and a Singer 160506 buttonholer to Germany, we’ve been toiling by night even as by day to replace them with more goodies for your consideration.

I’ve just listed a good Singer 161157 zigzagger, which is the third and final version of the one which started out as the 160985, another big Ruby in very fine condition, and another one of Elsie’s favourite buttonholer, the 160506.

There’s also a nice Singer 485910 buttonholer which is perhaps more common in the US than it is over here, a particularly good example of a Precision Built Button Holer B-3 in a nice tin (and unusually, this one’s complete with all its bits), as well as a bit of a rarity called the Zick Zack Kuli Rändelapparat.

Rounding off the new listings is the standard vintage Singer button-type foot controller.  Hoorah! I finally remembered to mention that we can usually do you a nice one of these at a sensible price, and maybe even offer a choice of black or brown.  Actually, now I come to think of it, maybe I ought to do a post about them on the home page  before long?

On the Singers for Sale page we’ve added this gorgeous 1920 Lotus 66K treadle, which Elsie was all for keeping because it’s a lot prettier than the 1909 one in her harmonium (or, if you prefer, her later drawing room cabinet) …

Picture of 1920 Singer Lotus decal 66K treadle

In the end though, and unusually for us, common sense has prevailed.  The Lotus which is in Elsie’s harmonium’s been in it for 102 years now so it really ought to stay here, and there’s no way that Elsie’s going to part with her favourite cabinet.  Besides, as far as we can tell, this Lotus has always been in this base, so they ought to stay together too.  And besides again, Elsie finally admitted the other night that perhaps (just perhaps) I was right after all, and we really do not have the space for her to add yet another machine to her collection.

I did intend to update you with the latest developments on the bicycle front but that needs pictures, which will have to wait until the snow and ice has gone from the lane.  So more on our bikes anon …

Singer UK brochure and price list 1940

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Or if not actually 1940, it’s certainly thereabouts.  This comes courtesy of Colette, who very kindly scanned the booklet her Mum picked up from the Singer shop in downtown Pinner when shopping for her new sewing machine …

Singer Enclosed Cabinet no.51

I’m not sure when the No.51 Cabinet was introduced, but it certainly wasn’t long before the start of the 1939-45 war.  Whenever, we like it lots because it’s both compact and very practical, and we usually have at least one of these in good condition listed on the Singers for sale page.  It takes any full-size vintage Singer, the treadle mechanism works a treat, and it can be supplied as it could when new with the option to switch easily from treadle to electric power as the fancy (or the power cut) takes you.

Singer drop-head cabinet table with wooden sides

We often have one of these available too!  This is the standard treadle base which replaced the ornate cast-iron one, and it was available with either three or five drawers.  If it looks to you more like two drawers or four, that’s because Singer always counted the wide central tilt-to-open bit which runs across the front between the side drawers as a drawer.  Which I guess it is, kind of.

Singer One-drawer Drop-leaf table with Cover

I don’t know quite how popular the one drawer table with the bentwood cover was, but you don’t see many of them nowadays.  I could see the point if you could drop your portable into that table top, faff about a bit and start treadling, but you couldn’t, so maybe the idea was to use up a vast stock of bentwood case tops prior to the changeover to suitcase-type cases?

Singer No 40 table

The No.40′s not at all common nowadays, though you do see them from time to time – often in the sort of rooms which still have a dusky pink Dralon sofa, a Bontempi organ and a print of Tretchikoff’s “Blue Lady” on the wall.  What’s far more common is the later, modern version – particularly the one which takes a 99 rather than a full-size machine.

Singer 201K2 and 201K3

This is one of the many things which puzzle me about vintage Singers – why did they run the 201K2 (potted motor) alongside the 201K3 (belt-drive motor)?  I’d love to know what the sales pitch was!  Note that these electrics are knee-levers, which apparently sold well for years despite the somewhat agricultural appearance of the knee-lever itself.

Singer 99K

Here’s the old faithful 99, which they were still making the best part of 20 years after this brochure was printed.  Note that it’s no longer in a  bentwood case, and that you could rent one or have one on free trial.

Have you noticed how in those days you always sewed with your right leg crossed over your left?

Singer add-on electric motor and foot pedal

“Any Singer salesman will gladly demonstrate this motor in your own home on your own machine if you will call or write to the local Singer shop.”  I’ll bet – and no doubt talk you into part-exchanging your old 27 for a nice new 201 while he’s at it.

Note that apparently you don’t cross your legs whilst fitting a motor.

Singer 15K80 on "artisan" base

This is a rare bird nowadays – a 15K on what’s often referred to as the “artisan” treadle base.  This is the base with the bigger-diameter treadle wheel for faster sewing, which I think evolved into the one with the knee-lever presser-foot lift used for the 1200.  And you don’t see many of those either!

Singer attachments in godzilla tin

The standard attachments are shown in this brochure in the black crinkle-finish “godzilla” tin, which raises the question as to which machines were sold with them in the cardboard box instead?  I have no idea, but I do know that we can usually supply full sets in either.

Singer UK price list 1940

Now if this isn’t actually the 1940 price list, believe me it’s as good as.  By this time they’ve moved on from quoting “list price” and “net cash price” to the much less confusing “hire purchase price” and “cash price”, but still with the discount for early settlement.

It’s difficult to give present-day equivalent costs because it all depends on how you do the calculations, but if we take for example a bog-standard 66 in a 5-drawer cabinet table, that’s listed here at £18 13s 6d cash or for our younger readers £18.67.  If we go by the Retail Price Index, that’s £795 today, but if we use instead average wage values, it would cost you £2370.  Either way, it just goes to show that these things were never cheap – and that buying a good one now is a real bargain!

Vintage Singer cabinets, treadle bases – and 1929 UK prices

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Hurrah!  I finally got the scanner working properly again and Elsie’s just found the 1929 Singer Illustrated Price List after I put it back in the wrong place in The Sewing Room, so here we go with a look at some of it.  By the way, when Singer said “List Price” they meant the total price when bought on “Singer Easy Terms”, and “Net Cash Price” is what it cost when paying with folding money.

That’s the later and final version of the 1900 Drawing Room Cabinet (the one that Elsie got for her birthday which I posted a snap of the other week).  We’ve also just got one of these from 1920, but more of that anon.  All we need now is some artistic furniture for it to harmonise with.

Just to give you some idea of how expensive these things were in 1929, if we take for example the 66K in a 5-drawer priced at £18/10/0 on HP or £14/16/0 for cash and base the calculation on average earnings, according to measuringworth.com the equivalent cost today is £3530 on HP and £2820 for cash!  In other words, something like twice the cost of a really good bicycle, which actually sounds about right to us.

Picture of Singer 201K in 7-drawer cabinet table (treadle base)

While we’re on the subject of cabinet tables, here’s a snap of Elsie’s 7-drawer, which currently lives in a corner of the front room with her 1940 201K in it.  I’m not sure what the original machine was, on account of the lady who sold us the treadle base had sold the head for a fiver to “a woman who advertised a couple of years back wanting old sewing machines to go in shop window displays”.  A pox on All Saints!

In case you’re wondering, the wire that’s plugged into that socket goes to a Singerlight which you can’t see on the back of the machine, that recess is exactly 48 inches wide, and yes the belt is a bit loud but that’s ‘cos it’s a brand new one I put on last week.  It’ll soon quieten down.

That’s the 1929 incarnation of the Victorian treadle machine i.e. the coffin-top one.  Until we acquired this price list, I always thought that when they introduced the fold-down treadle machines they discontinued the “put the lid on it” ones, but obviously not.  OK, it was a cheaper alternative to a 3-drawer cabinet table, but surely it must have seemed a bit old-fashioned?

Love the way you could get a free home trial or rent one by the week, but most of all I just love that footstool carefully placed to show off the lid …

Ahah!  So if you’ve got an electric portable, you put the lid on a pouffé!  Either that or it’s a couple of spare wheelbarrow tyres.  Whatever, note that these are electrics with knee-lever control (as opposed to foot pedal).

I don’t know if these tables were popular at the time, but I do know that you don’t see many of them nowadays.

This is a new one on me, and I wonder why there’s no model number?  Anyhow, as I understand it, you drop your portable electric still in its base into a big recess on the top of the table, and presumably the knee-lever attaches via a hole in the front of the table.  Seems a bit pointless to me, because surely the only advantage over just plonking your portable on the kitchen table is that the bed of the machine is now flush with the table top?  And against that you’ve got a table which can’t be used for anything else because when you’re not using the machine, you put the lid over it.

It seems a poor thing compared to that cabinet table which used to be available with the recess into which you dropped your hand-crank portable (still in its base) to turn it into a treadle machine.  And if you’re wondering how on earth that worked, the answer is that at the time, some of the portable bases had two big holes in them under the handwheel, with a slot between.  Drop your machine into the cabinet table, run a treadle belt down through one hole, round the treadle wheel, back up through the other hole and over the pulley, trim and join belt in the usual way and flick the “finger” of the hand crank out from between the handwheel spokes.  Bingo – your hand crank portable is now a treadle machine. (And having faffed with the belt like that to get it in place and the right length , it’s all set up so you don’t need to repeat the performance.)

To revert to hand-crank portable, you just slip the belt off treadle wheel then lift it clear of handwheel.  Lift the machine out of the recess, the belt slips through the slot between the two holes, and off you go, pausing only to grab the lid from off that matching footstool,  When it’s treadle time again, you just reverse the process.

Anyhow, that’s the main part of the 1929 price list, and I’ll do the 1940′s one before much longer, courtesy of Colette …

The Singer Enclosed Cabinet No.51

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Picture of Singer Enclosed Cabinet #51

I’ve been meaning to mention for ages that thanks to Colette having kindly scanned for us a Singer brochure which her Mum picked up around 1940, we now know for certain that what we thought was Enclosed Cabinet No.46 is in fact Enclosed Cabinet No.51.

It looks like the bloke in the Singer shop who wrote “in New Enclosed Cabinet 46″ on the receipt we have for a 201 in one of these was simply having a brainfart, so I’ve edited this post accordingly.

Sorry for the confusion :)

How to remove a vintage Singer from its base and how to replace it – single-handed

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Before we get stuck in, let me say that there is an alternative way of removing and replacing a head in a wooden base, but you need more of a toolkit to do it that way and you could screw up the finish round the hinge bodies on the base.  Besides, this way’s not complicated, it just seems that way when you explain it.

First off you need to slacken the chromed thumbscrew on the base so you can move the little catch thingy out the way and swing the head back on its hinges.  Do be careful though, because the head is heavy and if it’s loose on the hinges, it might not move quite how you expect it to.  If you’re a bit worried about this, put some kind of padding on the table behind the base such as a folded towel, and at least then if it flicks over onto its back, you’re unlikely to bend anything.  Or dink the table.

If you’re confident, all you need is something of such a height that you can lay the head down on it and all will be held at a convenient angle for you to furtle about under the bed.  For this lovely 99K which followed us home from Dartford yesterday, a couple of Elsie’s old books was just right (since you asked, the 1931 Womans Own Book of the Home and The Complete Illustrated Household Encyclopaedia) …

Picture of underneath Singer 99K sewing machine

The next step is to locate the two grub screws (for that is what a small bolt without a head like this is called) which lock, or at least should lock, the machine securely to the two hinge pins.  Note for pedants – yes, I do know that a grub screw is actually a set screw and not a bolt.  Not everybody knows what a set screw is though, so just chill, dude.

As I was saying, you need to unscrew the two grub screws, if indeed they are not already unscrewed.  Or missing …

Picture of removal of left grub screw from Singer 99 machine bed

Picture of removal of right grub screw from Singer 99 machine bed

You don’t need to take those screws out, only unscrew them enough so that you can slide the head off two two hinge pins, but if you over-do the unscrewing and they fall out, it’s no biggie because they will (should) just drop into the machine base.  Whatever, you can now try lifting the head off the hinges, remembering that you need to take the weight and lift the thing up and towards you at the same time.  This is the point at which you wish you’d planned ahead and worked out where you were going to put the head down once it’s out the base, but such is life.

Rear view of Singer 99K mounting point

There’s your grub screw unscrewed almost to the point of falling out, and you can see above it the hole into which the hinge goes.

Picture of wooden base of vintage Singer sewing machine

That screwdriver, by the way, is the Singer one which was supplied with some machines, and if you have one of those, you have the ideal thing to do with your grub screws.  The blade’s the right size, it’s just the right length, and you can get a good grip on it.  Anyhow, having put the head down somewhere sensible, you can now fully appreciate all the little fluff bunnies in the bottom of the base and also ponder on quite how all those pins ended up there.

Now, if you lift those two hinge parts up, you’ll almost certainly find that they fall down again.  They won’t often stand up on their own, which could make it really awkward to replace the head in the base without some obliging soul helping you out, because you need to slide both pins into the holes at much the same time.  It can be done single-handed, but there’s a definite knack to it.  There is though a sneaky way round the problem, for which you need one of those nice red rubber bands which kindly post persons sometimes drop outside your front door on those occasions when they do actually favour you with a delivery …

Picture of vintage Singer wooden base

OK, it doesn’t have to be red, but if it is, it goes nicely with that cheap paint they used inside the bases. Whatever the colour, now your hinges will stay like that while you carefully line them up with the holes in the back of the base, then let the head down all the way on the pins.  And if you forgot to do so, it’s at this point that you wish you’d remembered to check whether the two grub screws are in place, screwed in just a turn or two …

All you have to do now is lower the head down carefully until the front of it’s just above the top of the wooden base, then pull it towards you a bit (like 1/4 inch or so) so it rests there rather than dropping down into its final position.  You can then cut the rubber band and swing the head up and back again, letting it drop down all the way onto the hinges, then hold it there while you tighten up the two grub screws.

Picture of Singer sewing machine head and base reassembly

And that’s it!  It can be a bit nerve-racking the first time you do it single-handed, particularly if the machine’s a heavy old cast iron 201, but hopefully now you know what’s involved, you can at least see that it’s possible.  Having said that though, I’m the first to admit that another pair of hands makes things so much easier …


How to open a Singer sewing machine case lid without the key – and how not to

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Some people call them domed lids, and on the internets you’ll sometimes see them called doomed lids, but what we’re on about here are properly called bentwood case lids.  Specifically, Singer bentwood lids and how to open one without the key.  And if you’re thinking that surely any fule kno how, I can assure you that they don’t.

So, somebody’s inherited that old sewing machine of Grannie’s, and quite naturally they want to have a look at it now they’ve got it home.  But oh dear there is no key, so how will they get in it?  Enter the Man About The House, who takes stock of the situation, and in entirely typical fashion says “Leave it to me” as he reaches for his toolbox.  Naturally he can’t find in it the small chisel he had in mind for the job, but a Stanley knife and a screwdriver will do the business no problem …

damage - wrong way to open locked singer bentwood case

Having hacked away enough 70-year old polished oak to reveal what’s what, it’s immediately apparent to our hero how it all works and what’s called for, which is a small hacksaw blade with which to saw through the tongue of the lock, et voilà!  With a bit of jiggling, the lid lifts off …

picture of damaged lock on singer bentwood case

Of course the lock is now useless and the base of the machine is damaged in such a way that it would take a skilled cabinetmaker to restore it, but hey, you can’t win ‘em all.   The idea was to get the lid off, and the lid is now off.  Sorted!

picture of damaged base of singer sewing machine

What a shame our hero didn’t try the obvious …

photo showing how to open a singer sewing machine case lid

OK, what you need to know is that the locks on most Singer bentwood case lids are much of a muchness.  The keyhole in the lids we’re on about is round as shown above as opposed to keyhole-shaped, and if you take the lock out by undoing those two screws seen in the second picture, it looks something like this …

picture of lock from singer bentwood lid

That oblong hole that you can see through in the middle of the lock is the hole into which the end of the key fits, and it’s actually in a part which is sandwiched inside the lock casing.  On some of these locks the hole in that outer casing will be a bit smaller than this one, on some a bit bigger and on others it’ll be chewed up, but it makes no difference as far as we’re concerned here.  Also, the (rusty) sticky-outy bit at the bottom shown above is only one of the two that should be there, because matey sawed the other one off this particular lock.

There should be one of those danglers facing each way.   When the lock’s locked, they hook under the ends of the slot in the metal plate in the end of the base, and that’s what locks your case lid.  When you unlock it, the two sticky-outy bits move back towards each other, so the hooks clear the end of the slot and you can lift the lid up.  It’s about as simple as it could get, but it works extremely well.

picture of key for singer bentwood case lid

Now, there’s no prizes for spotting the similarity here between the proper Singer key and the small screwdriver which most owners of Singers in bentwood cases use instead.  Yes indeed, all you need to open one is a flat-bladed screwdriver like that with a tip that’s about 3mm wide, and having armed yourself with one of those, the correct procedure is as follows:-

Look into the keyhole (using a  torch if necessary) to get an idea of the size of the slot and see which way it’s aligned.

Poke your screwdriver into it.  If there’s no way you can feel it locating in that slot, try a screwdriver that’s a bit narrower.

Once you’re fairly sure your screwdriver’s in the slot, turn it clockwise.  It will probably be harder to turn than you were expecting it to be.

If you’re sure your screwdriver’s engaged properly but the lock won’t turn clockwise, try turning it the other way.

If still no luck, show somebody else this blog post and let them have a go.

If all else fails, apply a few drops of thin oil (or better still penetrating oil) and try turning one way then the other several times as the oil soaks in.

If you’re still stuck, come back and add a comment under this post and we’ll see what we can do to help!