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    

Rare~ Original ~ C1920s~ "vicktor Sewing Machines" - Double Sided Enamel SignRare~ Original ~ C1890~ "jones Sewing Machines" - Double Sided Enamel SignVintage 1952 Heavy Duty Necchi Bu Supernova Sewing MachineAntique Miniature Sewing Machine Vintage ~ C1870 ~ "james G Weir" "‘the Weir’s 55/-" Sewing Machine With CasePfaff 130 Industrial Sewing Machine, Embroidery Leather Upholstery *estate Find*Vintage 1950s Heavy Duty Sewmor Class 15 Sewing Machine*** Antique Muller Toy Hand Crank Sewing Machine ***Rare Antique 1870s "the Shakespeare" Sewing Machine On Cast Iron Base Rare Antique MRare... Casige Model 6 ~cast Iron-footed Base~ Toy Hand Crank Sewing MachineVintage Antique Toy Sewing Machine Grain Hand Crank Moves Freely Vintage Antique German Painted Childs Hand Crank Sewing Machine Toy & Fancy CaseAntique 1800s Willcox & Gibbs Treadle Sewing Machine Cast Iron Stand Table BaseAntique Stitchwell Cast Iron Sewing Machine Made For Children With Original BoxVintage,antique, Original Willcox & Gibbs Sewing MachineMAntique Hand Crank Willcox Gibbs Sewing Machine, Restored 1892, Willcox DecalsAntique Wilcox & Gibbs Electric Sewing Machine... Rough!... PartsMAntique Rumpf Hand Crank Sewing Machine - *** L'incomparable ***Vintage Borletti Borlettina Miniature Sewing Machine With CaseVintage Necchi Supernova Sewing Machine Accessories/attachments Original CaseVintage Hand Crank Toy Sewing Machine Golden Decals Vintage Swiss Elna Supermatic Sewing Machine And Sturdy Metal CaseAntique 1940's Stichwell Toy Sewing MachineVintage Necchi Supernova Sewing Machine Accessories Original CaseAntique / Vinatge Unmarked Pinking Machine Triple Zig Zag Wheel Cast IronLot Of Elna Supermatic Sewing Machine Accessories 9 Cams & Feet Needles Etc.Toy Sewing Machine Antique ~ German ~ Hand Crank Beautiful Flowers Decals.Early 1860s W.g. Wilson Paw Foot Sewing MachineVintage Viking Automatic Sewing Machine Husqvarna Type 21 W/case & AccessoriesAntique Small Stitchwell Sewing Machine By The National Sewing Machine Co.Vintage Antique Toy Sewing Machine Grain Hand Crank Moves Freely Boxed! Excellent ! Vintage Casige Sewing Machine Hand Crank! Red Vintage Pfaff 51 Sewing Machine Works Great Very Clean Made In GermanyBetsy Ross Portable Sewing Machine Great Condition Mini Travel Childrens Vintage*** Antique "ma Cousette" Toy Hand Crank Sewing Machine ***Vintage Sewing Machine Thread Bobbin Holder Eldredgette Antique Toy Sewing Machine Made In 1926 By National Smc,wood Base Antique Sewing Machine - Willcox & Gibbs - BordeauxAntique Toy Sewing Machine - Muller Mod.15 - WorkingLarge Lot Of Vintage Sewing Machine AttachmentsVintage White Rotary Sewing Machine W/ Manual And AttachmentsToy Sewing Machine * Puritan Maid * Year 1932 Sews Perfect Guaranteed !Vtg Morse Fotomatic Iii Model 4300 Zig Zag Sewing Machine W/ Case & PedalRare Vintage Casige Antique Toy Sewing Machine # 121 Mint Germany 1920's4 Antique Treadle Sewing Machine Cabinet Keys.Very Rare American Antique Nelson Sewing MachineRare! Swiss Elna Supermatic Sewing Machine W Metal Case/table +25 Cams & More!Antique Willcox & Gibbs Sewing Machine With Foot Pedal Type Ad 110 VoltsL455- Vintage Edison Precision Sewing Machine No Reserve- Estate FindNecchi Esperia Sewing Machine With Original Carrying CaseAntique Willcox And Gibbs Sewing Machine And Cabinet-beautiful Vintage 1950s Heavy Duty Montgomery Ward 7 Jewel Zig Zag Sewing MachineVintage 1950's Era Bell Portable Sewing Machine Eldredge Automatic Sewing Machine National Sewing Machine Co Vintage Treadle12 Vtg. Merrow Sewing Machine Guide Discs Tabs?Slot Machine And Dice Thimble By FortAntique Soviet Russian Ussr Sewing Darn Machine Tool 1965 Year Lenemaler