I remember reaching out to my friend while purchasing a sewing machine last year. Uneducated on the matter, I found myself surrounded by thousands of options I did not know existed. From the classical treadle sewing machines to the more modern ones, websites like eBay and Amazon had many options!
I’ve been an avid collector my whole life. As with all collectibles, there are thousands of options for antique treadle sewing machines. It also stands true that being informed about your piece is the only way to ensure you’re not throwing it away for pennies.
So, to make your life easier, I’ve come up with this guide where I’ll cover all aspects of a treadle sewing machine: What is a treadle sewing machine, its history, brands, and a value guide to assessing the monetary worth of your piece!
Table of Contents
History Of the Treadle Sewing Machine:
Origin of Sewing:
Sewing has been a vital part of all cultures for thousands of years. The sewing process dates back to the Old Stone Age, also known as the Paleolithic Age. The weaving of cloth from natural fiber originated around 4000BC when it used animal hides as raw material to stitch shelter and clothes.
This period lasted approximately from the 5th to the 15th century. Sewing during this period was mainly a woman’s occupation for domestic use, and people who found it affordable employed tailors. Clothing was generally expensive, so housewives were tasked with producing durable clothing.
Manufacturing machines had not developed during this period, so sewing was tricky. Embroidery was highly valued, and depending upon the culture, stitching patterns showed a contrast from Europe, to Asia, to the Middle East.
Starting in the late 1700s and lasting till the mid-1800s, this is considered the golden period for countries, when industry transformed agriculture-based localities into industry-based economies.
This period marked the shifting of textile to industry and mills as the sewing machine was developed. Cities boomed with textile shops, and tailor shops appeared in every district. Tailors became accustomed to high-end clothing, and soon, this industry flourished to where it stands today.
Sewing today is mainly confined to textile mills and industries in the developed world. Patterns of it are still visible in South Asia and the Middle East, where clothing is a luxury.
However, with the availability of raw materials and the advancement of modern technology, clothing has become affordable. In addition, the shift of women into a better-paid workforce has dramatically changed the dynamics of the industry, with home-sewing now confined to hobbyists!
What Is Treadle and How Is It Operated?
Electricity is a modern invention. It was not made available to the general public until 1882, when Thomas Edison developed the Edison Electric Illuminating Company in New York.
Prior to this, treadles were used to power machines using pedals that convert reciprocating motion into rotating motion. This method was used extensively to power many devices, including sewing machines.
Today, their operation has narrowed down to antique collectors and hobbyists. However, treadle sewing machines are still used in areas where other energy sources are unavailable.
What Is the Treadle Sewing Machine?
A treadle sewing machine is mechanically powered by a foot pedal, using the generated motion to run the machine. Its roots run back to the industrial revolution and are a memory of the industrial might of Europe and America.
On the domestic front, these machines quickly became household appliances. It enabled women to explore their crafting skills and make their clothes.
On the industrial side of things, these treadle sewing machines improved the manufacturing of anything that required stitching to a great extent. The textile industries of many countries started booming, and soon, the economy was flourishing.
Today, these apparatuses are not only limited to auction houses and garage sales, where a top buck is paid for an antique treadle sewing machine by collectors and enthusiasts. However, newer models are still in use today.
Here’s a YouTube video explaining the working of an antique treadle sewing machine.
Development Of the Sewing Machine:
The first patent for a sewing machine was issued to an Englishman, Thomas Saint, in 1790. It is unknown whether a device was developed on this patent. His patent was later founded by William Newton Wilson in 1874, who invented the machine based on it.
A Viennese tailor, Joseph Madersperger, received the first Austrian patent for developing a sewing machine. His machine lacked efficiency and only performed in limited textures and stitches. It never made it to mass production and was not released to the public.
Barthelemy Thimonnier, a French tailor, developed the first treadle sewing machines available to the public. His discovery was attributed to stitching the French Army uniforms. His happiness, however, was short-lived, and the local community burned down his factory due to fear of unemployment.
Elias Howe, an American inventor, was the first to introduce the lock-stitch design in sewing machines. He was awarded the first sewing machine patent in the United States. Still, He was forced to sell it, owing to extreme poverty and domestic issues. He filed legal complaints against Isaac Singer, claiming his patent was stolen.
Isaac Merritt Singer, also an American inventor, is considered the father of the treadle sewing machine. He was the first to build the newer devices widely accepted by the public.
His machine used the lock-stitch design created by Elias Howe and, after many legal battles, was forced to pay Howe. This machine was further developed after extensive research and became a common household item.
Singer, with his development, the Singer treadle sewing machine, was able to make a breakthrough in the sewing industry. The treadle-powered machine company created a monopoly in the United States until the 1950s when Japanese brands started to deliver.
With time and technological advancements, the treadle sewing machines were replaced by belt-powered, hand-crank-powered, and eventually electrically powered machines.
Treadle Sewing Machine Brands:
The tragic thing about businesses is that they don’t last. Some rarely spin-off, others live past 100, but most, if not all, die. The same is true for most sewing machine manufacturers. Many have come and gone, and few have stayed.
When we think of the sewing machine industry, several big names come to mind. This guide will provide a comprehensive list of treadle sewing machine manufacturers, including those currently in business and those that have disappeared into dust.
Singer, established in 1851, the biggest name and the pioneer in the sewing machine industry, developed the first machine. Initially named I.M Singer & Co, it was founded by Isaac Singer and Edward Clarke, a lawyer.
The Singer company is one of the most successful names in the industry. In 1865, the name was changed to Singer Manufacturing Company following disputes and later became The Singer Company in 1963. The company has produced many popular antique models as well as newer machines.
It is operational, with new models of the Singer sewing machines released now and then.
A German company founded in 1862, PFAFF was another front runner in the sewing machine manufacturing industry. Georg Michael Pfaff, the company’s visionary founder, had quite some milestones that the company could achieve quickly.
The first PFAFF machine was handmade and was specifically designed for sewing leather.
Husqvarna/Viking Sewing Machine:
The Viking Sewing Machine Group, also known as VSM Group and Husqvarna, joined the marathon in 1872. It was based in Sweden and had transformed from a rifle production company owing to war. The company has some of the most valued antiques in the market.
The last to join the show was Bernina, a Swiss company founded in 1893 by Karl Friedrich Gegauf. Bernina has been one of the front runners in the sewing machine manufacturing industry.
From treadle machines to the most modern ones, the company claims to combine quality, tradition, and innovation in Swiss design since the beginning.
Bernina, a family-owned business, is operational and has been a name of credibility in the sewing machine world.
New Home Sewing Machine Company:
The company began as a small sewing machine facility and initially bloomed. Many partnerships were formed and later dissolved, producing quality treadle machines along the way
New Home eventually went under debt in 1918, which became overwhelming by the 1920s and the company had to close its doors.
It now operates under the Janome brand.
National Sewing Machine Company:
Once another reputable name in the sewing machine manufacturing industry, the company has gone out of operation. Operating out of Illinois, it started as FT June company and was then taken over by National.
The initial models were patterned like the Singer sewing machines but were later engineered to improve their quality and reliability.
Eaton sewing machines, made by Raymond Sewing of Guelph Ontario, were a classic for the sewing business.
The company has run out of business for a long time, and only antique collections of the once coveted machine are now available.
The company was founded in 1868 in New York and later shifted its headquarters to Ohio.
Initially, the brand was able to deliver brilliantly engineered and wonderfully designed machines. They worked on the principle of the vertical foot, but the company later suffered setbacks due to mechanical issues.
Davison stopped producing sewing machines by 1924 and shifted to the manufacturing of bicycles.
They were founded in 1858. White Rotary started manufacturing sewing machines at the height of the industrial revolution. The company made many models: treadle, electric, and crank operated.
Although White Rotary does not manufacture sewing machines anymore, some of its finest models can be found at auction houses.
Grover & Baker:
The company is responsible for some of the early advancements in the industry, including developing the secure double stitch. They are also acknowledged for the invention of the first portable sewing machine., which fit into a small box.
However, they remained operational for a brief period, from 1851-1875, before closing doors, owing to a fire at the storage facility.
Some of the most valuable quality sewing machines at auction houses belong to Grover & Baker.
Wheeler & Wilson:
Founded in 1853, they were one of the most successful sewing machine makers in the 1870s. The company is credited for filing a patent for the four motion feed, which became the standard. They also invented the presser foot, which helped make adjustments as required.
Unfortunately, the company was dissolved in 1905.
An Austrian company, Minerva, was established in 1881 as a sewing machine manufacturing company under the leadership of Emil Rezler and Josef Komarek.
The original production plan of the company followed the classic pattern of the Singer machines, which changed with the progression of time.
Today, the company is proud of the quality of its H-type Heavy sewing machine production.
Starting in 1911, the company delivered several sewing machines based on Singer’s design. It failed to set sail and quickly died out.
Other than the brands already mentioned, some recent names in the sewing industry include Janome, Brother, Elna, Juki, Jaguar, Toyota, and Baby Lock.
All these companies have greatly revolutionized the art of sewing, with a lot of them still functional and delivering to this day.
Treadle Sewing Machine Value Guide:
Whether you’ve inherited a sewing machine or bought one at your local antique store, it is vital to know the value of your sewing machine.
They can be worth a lot, or nothing, depending on several factors such as age, condition, and production amounts.
How Much Is A Treadle Sewing Machine Worth?
Different machines have different values.
For the assessment of its value, it is essential to know your machine.
Identifying the Brand:
The first step in determining your machine’s value is making out the brand.
Most brands place their names somewhere on the stand or the machine itself. You can locate it by inspecting your machine.
The model/serial number is printed along the base of the machine. Some machines include a metal plate with their model number printed on it.
Once the serial number is determined, a resource such as the International Sewing Machine Collectors Society can be used to find further details about the machine.
Dating Your Machine:
Most treadle machines were built during the late 1800s and the early 1900s. The best method for the determination of age is by serial numbers.
Estimation of Antique Treadle Sewing Machine Values:
First, it’s important to consider the sort of value your machine might have for the buyer.
It may have a sentimental value, a decorative, historical, utilitarian, or value of its parts(cabinet, needle, bobbins, or throat plate). But how does that translate to its monetary value?
Antique machines do not have a fixed price. On a particular day, it can be anything the sellers can sell it for.
Factors that can influence the price include manufacturer, model, marketplace, rarity, condition, and the number of machines the company produced.
To get an idea about the worth of your machine, you might find these tools helpful,
The best way to estimate the value of your sewing machine is by consulting your local antique dealer. You can do this in two ways:
By bringing in your machine to see if they buy it from you. According to the International Sewing Machine Collector Society, multiply the price your antique dealer offers you by two to determine the retail price.
By finding and locating similar model numbers in the store. Ask the dealer how much time the machine has been listed on that price. Then halve the cost for every 3 months the appliance has gone unsold. This will give you an estimate.
Another helpful method for the value estimation of your sewing machine is by keeping an eye for similar articles on websites:
eBay: This website allows you to view recently listed items and sold antiques as well.
Etsy: Etsy is the most incredible place to find vintage items and antique sewing machines. The website offers a simple interface that can be used to find a machine just like yours!
Christie’s: A vintage item auction house, Christie’s offers a vast number of antique items at its store.
RubyLane: Another auction house; see if your machine is found here!
It is essential to understand that the price listed by the seller is what he desires, not what the actual cost of the machine might be. Therefore, you should consider the real sales value, which might be different:
A 1906 Antique Treadle Sewing Machine is listed on RubyLane at $766.
A SINGER Featherweight 222K Sewing Machine “Red S” ER900 was recently sold for $2,095.
A White Rotary Sewing Machine was listed on ebay for $349.
LiveAuctioneers listed a Damascus Treadle sewing machine for $100.
This vintage SINgER sewing machineis listed on Etsy for $414.44.
Consider consulting the following books and guides to determine the price of your machine:
The Encyclopedia of Early American & Antique Sewing Machines: Identification and Values: provides 600 colored images, which helps collectors identify and value their machine. The book traces the history and development of the sewing machine industry from 1800-1900. Almost all American manufacturers are covered, and the book will identify and give an account of the manufacturer. You can order it on Amazon by clicking here!
Antique American Sewing Machines: A Value Guide: This guide gives realistic values to collectible sewing machines. A good read, especially for those whose interest goes beyond the Singer machine. It is available on Amazon.
Featherweight 221 – The Perfect Portable And Its Stitches Across History: An excellent option for those looking into the Singer Featherweight models. You can order it from Amazon by clicking here.
The condition can have a dramatic effect on the value of a machine. Therefore, it is essential to assess your sewing machine’s situation carefully. It may fall in any of the following categories:
Poor: The machine is completely worn out and non-functional. In this case, the value of the machine may only be the value of its parts.
Fair: The machine may have worn out paint, rust, and missing accessories but still functions effectively.
Good: There may be a little rust and some missing accessories. The machine should function well.
Very Good: The machine should have no rust or missing parts. The paint is slightly worn out, and there may be a few scratches. Everything functions reasonably well.
Excellent: All parts are present and in mint condition. Such machines are scarce and have shiny paint that reflects gentle use.
It would be best if you remembered that once you’re done determining the value of your sewing machine, the actual value is nothing more than the price the antique sells for. These prices vary according to the factors mentioned above.
The treadle sewing machine is one of the most remarkable inventions. Still in use worldwide, it is one of the most enduring pieces of technology devised to this day.
One of the great things about these machines is that they are functional antiques; you can use them for sewing or allow them to sit on your shelve.
Its value is certainly worth knowing, whether sentimental or monetary, so you can either sell it for your wallet or keep a beautiful piece of sewing history you can pass down the generations!