• Deb Clark

A Singer Sewing Machine and its Rival

Last week I was asked about the value of a sewing machine. It looked a lot like a vintage desktop Singer machine from the 1930s, but the brand name was Unity, with ‘Unity Sewing Machine’ written in gold letters on top. The instructions manual had ‘Unity’ written in bamboo style font...very Asian...

Last week I was asked about the value of a sewing machine. It looked a lot like a vintage desktop Singer machine from the 1930s, but the brand name was Unity, with ‘Unity Sewing Machine’ written in gold letters on top. The instructions manual had ‘Unity’ written in bamboo style font...very Asian...

At the back of the ‘Unity’ sewing machine is a plaque for ‘national sewing motor’ made by "Matsushita Electric.’ Matsushita Denki Sangyō Kabushiki-gaisha was a Japanese multinational electronics corporation in Osaka, Japan as a producer of lghtbulb sockets. From 1935 to October 1, 2008, the company name was "Matsushita Electric Industrial Co, before changing its name to Panasonic.

After WWII, from about 1945 to 1952, Japan was occupied by US forces under General MacArthur, who enacted widespread social and economic reforms. These reforms created jobs and put money Into industries such as ceramics and technology....including sewing machines.Thousands of machines were sent to the US , Europe and Australia

Like many other Japanese companies Matsushita based there new machines on the Singer Model 15, but there are also Singer 99 clones. Many of these machines are practically indistinguishable from a Singer and use parts that are interchangeable. They were given Western sounding names to appeal to the overseas market. Over 5000 different "brands" have been identified, manufactured by 15 or so companies. Most will have "made in Japan" or "JA- " stamped into the bottom of the machine or on a plaque. Large retailers like Macy’s in the US would purchase machines and have their company name on them, while some machines have car names or names like super sewing machine!

The Japanese post war machines are generally well made, and also came in a variety of colors, like blue, green and pink, not just black. Japanese machines have not really caught on with collectors and as a result retain very little value - except for those in working order that can actually be used, but they will still be half the price of a modern machine. This might be a good niche for a collector on a limited budget – they could collect all pink machines or one machine of each color. Here in Mackay though machines may be harder to get, so you will have to factor delivery costs into most purchases (see example below).

I decided to test out the Unity machine and compare it to a similar looking Singer that had just arrived in the shop. I enlisted the aid of Donna, a regular customer and sewing machine collector to help me.

First we tried the Vintage Singer.

Founded in 1851, Singer’s machine improved over previous sewing machine models by allowing users to sew 900 stitches per minute, compared with the 250 stitches of other machines. The change allowed clothing to be made more quickly and cheaply, helping lead to the establishment of mass production in the fashion industry.

At first glance this machine looks 1950s, with the timber veneer case and plastic handle and booklet. But it’s a 99K model, which according to http://www.singersewinginfo.co.uk/99k/ were made between 1921 and 1958. The electric option was introduced in 1921, but electric motors were also an option that could convert an older machine. The face plate was changed from the ‘Egyptian’ scroll to the striated version in the mid 1950’s. Given this machine has the striated face plate and a motor model BZK I’m pretty sure it’s a mid 1950s model. The only problem is it doesn’t have a metal plate with a serial number. A copy perhaps, or was it restored in the 50s and the plate removed? These cast iron machines were often retro fitted with a motor, as the machine itself could last forever!

It took us quite a few goes to get the machine threaded properly, as we did not have the guide book. Thankyou YouTube! There are many videos out their on our to thread various Singer models, and each one highlights something different. We watched three before we got it right! After that the machine sewed well, especially considering it had been sitting in its case for years without being used! We were unable to adjust the stitch size to another bigger than tiny, but were able to sew through four layers of fabric with ease. This machine is definitely a keeper!

The Vintage Unity.

As mentioned the Unity is a 1950s machine. The method of threading and bobbin insert however make it seem much more old fashioned, and even getting it out if the case was difficult as it had to be lifted out (it weighs a lot). The threading goes towards the back and the bobbin is inserted under the foot and sewing plate, making it a little awkward. The machine seized up after about a minute. Back to the instructions, where it recommended oiling the machine every day with heavy use and weekly otherwise. A tiny oil can was included in the accessories so we oiled according to the book...in about 25 spots. It didn’t seem to make a lot of difference, despite waiting a few hours.

It’s a nice looking machine though, and the face plate is very pretty. It would make a lovely prop, until it can find someone who has more time to spend on it. Personally I found it awkward to thread and to put the bobbin in. There is a reason Singer is one of the biggest selling machines in the world (although it is now part of SCP Worldwide, who also owns Husqvarna Viking and Pfaff brands).

Working Vintage Singers can be around $400, while the Unity if working could fetch $150. As is it will sell for around $50, which most of our prop machines go for.

Do you have a Japanese made sewing machine? Or a Singer?

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#singersewingmachine #unitysewingmachine #japanesesewingmachine #vintagesewingmachine

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