Q: I am wondering if you can steer me in the right direction. I am trying to figure out what year my sewing machine was made. It is marked “Minnesota” and has fancy gold decoration and a hand wheel for operation. It has a serial number stamped on the back: No. 405772.
A: It is thought that the first sewing machine was invented in the 1790s by Englishman Thomas Saint with the purpose of sewing leather together to make footwear. But the idea never went anywhere, and Saint’s invention moldered in the patent office.
The first sewing machine used for commercial purposes was patented in 1830 by Barthelemy Thimonnier, who produced 80 machines, which he used to make uniforms for the French army. Unfortunately, the other tailors of Paris, fearing for their livelihoods, rose up and destroyed Thimonnier’s shop and his sewing machines.
In the United States, the first practical sewing machine was produced by inventor Walter Hunt, but his device was not commercially successful. Elias Howe, who had a patent model by 1846, is usually credited with the invention of the sewing machine in the U.S., but each of his machines had to be hand-produced and could not be manufactured in mass numbers.
The first really successful American sewing machine was invented by Isaac Merritt Singer, a Shakespearian actor and part-time machinist, who made a patent model of a machine in 1851. The new machine was expensive, but Singer tirelessly promoted it. By the end of the 19th century, there were a number of manufactures of sewing machines and they were fixtures in many American homes.
Very few sewing machines are either rare or valuable. The machine belonging to C. J. is a Minnesota model “A,” which was not made until 1914, and was a blatant rip-off of a Singer design that was made for and retailed by Sears.
Indications are that this machine was manufactured by the Davis Sewing Machine Co., which started out manufacturing in Watertown, New York, but later moved to Dayton, Ohio. It appears this specimen in this particular style of cabinet is circa 1920, but the machine has been modified and may be missing a part or two (we notice that the thread spindle that should be located at the rear of this piece is not there).
Sewing machines of this age and type are not monetarily valuable and this example retails for around $125 or less. As for the serial number, we checked and could find no list of these numbers, but we suspect that this is indeed the 405,772nd machine of this type that was manufactured. Collectors tend to prefer machines made in smaller numbers.
Write to Joe Rosson, 2504 Seymour Ave., Knoxville, TN 37917, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Include a high-resolution, in-focus photo of the subject.