The Sewing Machine of His Dreams

March 3rd, 2011

Every now and then, a collector gets lucky and finds that once-in-a-lifetime item. We all scour the planet for the things we love—the rare, the unusual, the pristine. The story of this 1860 Williams & Orvis treadle sewing machine is, however, not one of a lucky find, it’s one of the hunt.

I’ve been buying and selling antiques for years now, but my focus on antique sewing machines—and antiques of a mechanical nature—began about 10 years ago. As most who collect do, I started attending local auctions to find the things I wanted. At a New Hampshire auction one evening, I was talking to a gentleman who said to me, “You should have been here last week. They sold a very rare antique sewing machine, called a Williams & Orvis.” Being the tenacious person I am at times, I began asking people at the auction about the machine, and who had purchased it. I eventually found the lucky high bidder, who promptly informed me that the machine was already gone, on its way out west somewhere. I had missed it by one day! Even if I could not have purchased it, the chance to see such a rare machine would have been priceless to me. What a disappointment!

The years went by, and from time to time, I would daydream about the Williams & Orvis that had eluded me. But again, being a bit tenacious, whenever I met a new serious collector, I would ask if it was him or her who had purchased the machine. Well, one day—after what seemed like an endless streak of people saying, “No, not me! But if you ever get one …”— I met a lady who said, “Yes! That’s my machine!” I nearly fell over! We talked for a while about the machine, and over the years, when we’d occasionally do business together, she’d let me know that the machine was as pretty as ever, and doing fine. I never asked to buy the machine, because I new how special it was—to her. The machine was located about half way across the U.S.A., so I never saw it either.

This past April, the phone rang in my office, and a lady said to me, “Are you the Mike Anderson who buys and sells sewing machines?” She went on to say, after calling over 70 “Mike Andersons” in New Hampshire, that she was relieved to have finally found me. Talk about tenacious! The lady explained that her mother-in-law had passed away, and that in her will she stated that she would like me to handle the sale of her antique Williams & Orvis sewing machine, because she knew I worked with collectors, and her machine would then go to a good home. I was touched, to say the least.

The Williams & Orvis Sewing Machine Company was based in Boston, Massachusetts, and began operations around 1858, when a patent was filed for the first of two models. The machine shown here is a first model Williams & Orvis. In all only a few thousand of the first model machine were thought to be manufactured. This machine’s serial number is #1921. Williams & Orvis only made treadle machines, which sewed a two-thread chain-stitch. It’s unusual in that the main drive mechanism of the machine does not use standard leather treadle belt but a friction drive system.The main flywheel rubs against the machine’s smaller drive wheel, which propels the machine. Williams & Orvis machines are sometimes hard to identify because few were made, fewer have survived, and typically, their lush gold decorations are a thing of the past. That’s what made this machine so special, incredibly well preserved in every way.

After years of hunting, I found my dream machine. I never thought it would come to me the way it did, or that I’d ever own it.

17 comments so far

  1. Karen Pollard Says:

    How lucky you are! Your post demonstrates the power of being friendly, kind and courteous. Your help to the lady over the years was rewarded tenfold. Congratulations!!

  2. Fulvia Says:

    Awww..I’m so glad you did find it in the’s a lovely story and although I do not collect sewing machines I can understand your desire to own one. My mom had a very pretty singer pedal machine, black with gold inlays, I can still picture her sitting at it sewing; we did not keep it and now I am so sorry we did not but I was a single girl at the time and it did not seem important to me but as I got older I got to love old things, things with a past so this is a lovely story to me. Enjoy your Williams & Orris!


  3. Mike Anderson Says:

    Fulvia & Karen, thank you for your wonderful comments! They have put a smile on my face this evening! -Mike

  4. Dae Thompson Says:

    I hoping you can help me. I purchased a Western Electric 1917 sewing machine at a “Tag Sale”. The burl wood case is in awesome condition, it has all the attachments and manual. The motor runs well but the rubber or nylon gasket that spins the hand wheel needs to be replaced. I’ve looked in Lowe’s and Home Depot but haven’t found anything. I can do the replacement work myself, I just need to find a source. Any ideas or advice you can offer would be greatly appreciated. (Heck, I had to teach the janitors in high school how to fix our home ec machines!)
    Love your website and I’ll be back. I have a 70’s Singer and a 50’s Kenmore
    (and a serger that scares me ;-) I sew and design a lot, it keeps me out of trouble!

  5. Mike Anderson Says:

    Hi Dae, I might have one for you. Please email …I would need a picture of your old one… thanks! -Mike

  6. Irene Hill Says:

    I have a sewing machine given by my husband aunt, 1953 De lux Series and it also says made in Japan, any clue how it ended up in the USA, it also say Hoover in the front body of the machine, black with gold detailing . it only sews straight stitch and runs smooth, it has a little motor on the back side, what is the value of this machine . its all metal I think its heavier than the singer 404 and 403A

  7. Carolyn Hunter Says:

    Dear Mike, I came across your post as I was looking for information on my “new old find”. I bought a Singer Slant-o-matic (Rocketeer?) for $10. I was given a Necchi 4575, when I was in charge of mending football practice jerseys and pants, as well as two separate game pants and jerseys for the four years that my son played football in high school. (His twin sister was team manager and daily brought home work for me.) They just graduated this weekend and I am looking forward to sewing for fun again! I would like to explore quilting by machine as well as doing some decorative home decor with my newly purchased Husqvarna Platinum 955E Royal Edition, which I paid $850. How should I value these items from a monetary standpoint. I am interested in playing a bit on the Singer, it has been kept in very good condition, but has not been used for the past few years by it’s only owner. Does it have a re-sale value? Thank you in advance for your thoughts. Also, thank you for such a warm story. I enjoyed your story so much, I re-read it to my husband and shared with him my own interest in learning about these beautiful machines. I don’t know that I will sell the Singer, I bought it with the idea that I would sew with it but my husband, of course, would like to know more about it’s value. I did, however, assure him that his $10 investment was well worth it! Have a great day. Sincerely, Carolyn Hunter

  8. Esther Doty Says:

    Hi Mike, Thank you once again for the W&W irons I got from you a couple of years ago. I have my collection housed in an 1850 house and am going to open to the public on Aug 29. After that , it will be by appointment. Please stop in if you are in Central NY and visit the FB page: Weapons of Mass Construction Esther’s Sewing Machine Museum. So glad your elusive machine made it’s way to you!!

  9. Susan Ellis Says:

    Trying to find info on a 1800,s New Jewell sewing machine. It has been donated to the historical society for a fund raising yard sale. none of us have been able to locate any info. The elder ladies are curious as none have heard of New Jewell. Thanks for any info if you can help us.

  10. Mike Anderson Says:

    Hi Susan… please email me a picture of your machine to
    and I will help you identify it. Thanks! -Mike

  11. Lori Barsamian Says:

    Hi Mike,
    You had me at the word tenacious! I just purchased a very dusty
    machine with walnut cabinet and working cast iron treadle. It was in storage a long time. I would
    like to clean it up but don’t want to do harm.
    It is a Wanzer C. I’m not a collector but I’ve been sewing since I was 7. I purchased it as a rescue from crafters who wanted to take it apart for other projects.
    Any information regarding cleaning, preserving and appraisal would be appreciated.
    Thank you

  12. Nancy H. Dodge Says:

    I recently purchased an Edison treadle sewing machine with some accessories but no manual. Could you help me find some history on this model, particularly who made it and when was it made. I would appreciate any information you can provide.
    Thank you. Nancy

  13. Mary Says:

    Have a singer sewing machine, but looked for a serial # AG110261Never comes up. It was my great grandmothers my grandmothers and my moms but she never used it. I have it now it works still. Looking to see what year it is.

  14. Christine Davies Says:

    Hi Mike. You’re story was really entertaining. I’m so glad you finally got your dream machine. I have been picking up vintage sewing machines for a couple years now and though it is fun, I am not a collector. I really just want to keep the ones I use for different purposes. Last Christmas my son stumbled across an old Singer vibrating shuttle machine and brought it home for me. After posting a picture on Facebook, I was advised that it was not your typical 27/127/28/128. Turns out it’s a model 39, of which I have only found two mentions on the internet anywhere. One collector advised me that it is a “true unicorn.”

    As I said, I am not a collector. I intend to use a few of my machines and pass the rest on. However, I also have two kids in college and a spouse a year from retiring, so if this machine has value as a rare find, I don’t want to just give it away. I just don’t know how to proceed. If it’s truly rare, should I contact an auction house? I had thought about eBay, but the idea of shipping it scares me. And though I don’t want to come across as grasping, it certainly would help my family if I was able to sell it for more rather than less. Do you have any advice on the best way forward? Right now it’s on a shelf in my basement and I know that’s not where it should be.


  15. Ed pyncombe Says:

    I heard you have a wardwell 2 spool Machine . That wardwell is my grandmothers side of the family. Are they real rare have you ever seen or heard of another? When I first heard of it they said none were ever found. Thank you

  16. Mike Anderson Says:

    Hi Christine, Sorry, I have not looked at this article for a long time, and C.W. does not contact me when new comments are posted. I would love to see yo9ur machine if you still have it. Would you send me a few pictures to:… or text to 603-393-3207, thank you! Mike

  17. Mike Anderson Says:

    Hi Ed… I do not have a Wardell. And yes they are extremely rare! One of the rarest collector machines today! I know of only 1, in a private collection of a good client of mine. C.W. does not notify me when comments are posted on this page, please email me directly at: or call or test 603-393-3207. If you would like to make contact!
    Thanks Ed! Mike

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