Singer may be the name most associated with sewing machines, but the company’s founder, Isaac Merritt Singer, was by no means the device’s inventor. In fact, Singer didn’t even hold the machine’s first patent. That achievement belongs to Elias Howe, who patented the lock-stitch sewing machine in the United States in 1846. Like Singer, Howe got rich off the sewing machine, but not for making them. After successfully defending his patent in court, and renewing it in 1860, he reaped a $5-per-machine royalty from licensees between 1854 and 1877, a windfall that made him the world’s second richest man.

Besides Singer and Howe, other sewing-machine manufacturers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries included Wheeler & Wilson, which won awards in the 1860s for its buttonhole machines, and was especially well known for its hemmers. These treadle machines ranged from the stripped down Old Style Hemmer mounted on a plain walnut surface to silverplated and mother-of-pearl machines, whose legs and working components were hidden behind fancy wooden cabinetry, befitting their status as symbols of wealth.

Willcox & Gibbs machines were built by a Providence, Rhode Island, clockmaker named Brown & Sharpe. While the company produced treadle and hand-crank models for home use, it was also known for its industrial machines, including one strong enough to sew together straw hats. Grover & Baker was another late 19th-century maker, as were American, Domestic, Finkle & Lyon, and Boston-based Hunt & Webster.

One curious corner of antique sewing machines are figurals, which hide the working parts of sewing machines within cast animals. Kimball & Morton, a Glasgow, Scotland, manufacturer, is perhaps best remembered for its lion-shaped concoction—two models were produced, one in 1868 and a second in 1902. Other Kimball & Morton machines of note included the Stitch in Time, which was modeled after the "Fiddle Base" Jones sewing machines from Manchester, England.

In a class by themselves are the machines made and sold by Sears Roebuck & Co. In the 1890s, Sears sold copies of the Singer 12 made by Goodrich Sewing Machine Company of Chicago. In the decades that followed, Sears also contracted with National for sewing machines (so did competitor Montgomery Wards), as well as the Davis Sewing Machine Company of Ohio and the White Sewing Machine Company of Massachusetts.

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Sewing Machine Collector

Sewing Machine Collector

Geoff and Norma Dickens' reference site on vintage toy sewing machines from the late 1800s. Browse the images alpha… [read review or visit site]

Sensibility Vintage Images

Sensibility Vintage Images

An extensive collection of photos and ephemera illustrating changing fashion styles from 1795 to 1959. Includes por… [read review or visit site]

Clubs & Associations

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Antique / Vintage Hand Crank Willcox & Gibbs Scallop Base Sewing Machine RareToy Sewing Machine "mueller No. 6", Ca. 1900Antique National ~busy Bee~ Stitchwell Type Toy Hand Crank Sewing MachineAntique Hand Crank Willcox Gibbs Sewing Machine, Restored 1892, Willcox DecalsAntique Blue Lilliputian German Toy Sewing Machine - 3 Inches Tall!Antique Miniature Childs Toy Williams & Foley Midget Sewing MachineAntique German Child's Miniature Sewing Machine In BoxVintage Childs Small Toy Steel Sewing Machine Hand Crank Working Germany 7" Necchi Model Bu Nova Sewing Machine Green Made In Italy Workhorse ProjectAntique Wilcox & Gibbs Sewing Machine S/n A367905Vintage Childrens Toy Sewing Machine In Orig Case..germany * * Pfaff * * Nice Antique Willcox&gibbs Stitch Sewing Machine Hand Crank Base StandCasige 1025 Germany British Zone Gesch M 1470 Vintage Toy Sewing Machine Rare! Antique Stitchwell Cast Iron Sewing Machine With Original Box 1900-1915Antique / Vintage Wilson Sewing Machine Head Antique Sewing Machine Wilcox & Gibbs Cast Iron Gold Gilded Foot Pedal IncludedMystery Antique Hand-crank Cast-iron Sewing Machine 1870s/80sElna Junior Toy Sewing Machine With Music Box.Willcox&gibbs Model 64 Automatic Electric Chain Stitch Sewing Machine Clean/runsRare Muller Antique/vintage Toy Sewing Machine PosterVintage Sewing Machine Willcox Gibbs??Rare Antique Miniature Child's Sewing MachineAntique Vintage Wilcox & Gibbs Sewing Machine All Original Nice!Antique Treadle Sewing Machine Head National Two Spool Old Cast Iron 1913 Pat.Silver & Enamel J.swann Advertising Thimble .....jones Sewing MachinesVintage Asian Chinese Japanese Leather Sewing Machine Cobbler Vintage Limited Kay An Ee Sew Master Toy Sewing Machine Battery Operated GermanyVintage Betsy Ross Children's Electric Sewing Machine With Case, InstructionsAntique White Rotary U.s.a. Sewing Machine. Works. With Extra's. No Reserve. Vtg Husqvarna Type 21 #705 Viking Sewing Machine W/original Hardware Foot PedalMachine Pieced & Quilted Jewel Box Patchwork Quilt /king Size #xk1qcMachine Embroidery Quilt #114Vintage Sewing Gizmo W. German Hexe Auromatic Needle Eye Thread Machine Nos BoxVintage/antique Piedmont Electric Sewing Machine No. 1030s - Untested Vintage Beco Mini Sewing Machine Planter With Box 1960'sAntique Sewing Machines (3)Muller 12 Sewing Machine 1890s Pawfoot Parts AntiqueVintage Used Dressmaker White Super Zigzag Embroidery Sewing Machine 1.0 AmpParts For Vtg 1940s White Sewing Machine Rotary No. 49 ~ Motor, Light, Screws Old Eldredge Sewing MachineAntique White Cast Iron Treadle Sewing Machine Wooden Front Center Cabinet PartVintage Child's Little Red Metal Sewing Machine 7" X 9 " By Gateway Chicago Ill.Treadle Belt For The Willcox And Gibbs Sewing MachineVintage Childs Zigzag Sewing Machine With Foot Pedal KidsSmall Vintage Sewing Machine Oil Can~stainless Or Chrome??~unused