Recently I was reviewing eBay listings for Singer 15-91's and a seller was offering a "Centennial" 15-91. But the picture didn't look right. So I took a closer look and sure enough the machine in question was NOT a "Centennial" model.
How did I know? You'll find out in a moment. But first, a brief history lesson.
Isaac Singer began manufacturing sewing machines in 1851. Over the next hundred years Singer Manufacturing Comany (aka Simanco) grew into a gigantic company with factories in half a dozen countries.
Singer celebrated 100 years of sewing machine manufacturing in 1951. To commemorate this milestone they issued a special edition of their standard models. There was nothing mechanically different about the special edition. They weren't a different shape or a different color. But they had one very important distinguishing characteristic:
To commemorate 100 years of manufacturing, Singer struck a special edition trademark badge which graces the special edition models. The Centennial badge has a distinctive blue band around the edge and the words "A Century of Sewing Service 1851-1951"
Many of the machines of this limited edition were produced by the thousands or hundreds of thousands in previous and subsquent years, but only a limited number were issued with the blue badge. Which makes this special edition stand out as unique, and therefore more valuable in the eyes of collectors.
Which is why some sellers will tout a machine as a Centennial model to make their machine stand out in a crowd. While certainly misleading, some will argue that it is not technically fraudulent because the machine in question was manufactured in 1951, the year Singer celebrated their centennial anniversary.
The issue is with serial numbers and manufacture dates.
The serial numbers of the blue-badged machines reveal that many of these machines were manufactured prior to 1951 and were labeled with the special edition badge for sale during 1951. For example, the blue badge pictured above belongs to a machine with a serial number allocated in 1949.
Which means that many machines with serial numbers or manufacture dates from 1951 do not carry a Centennial badge. But some sellers contend that if a machine was manufactured in 1951 then that makes it a Centennial model.
I do not agree. The term "Centennial" should be reserved for those machines marked by Singer as belonging to the commemorative special edition. That is what "special edition" means.
So next time you see "Centennial" in the headline, look for the distinctive blue band on the badge. Then take a moment to reflect on the heritage and legacy of these remarkable sewing machines.
It's a simple question and should have an easy answer, right?
The simple answer is that pinpointing an exact date for any vintage Singer can be difficult, due to incomplete, conflicting, and contradictory information.
But a bit of detective work should help you date your machine to within a 2-3 year period.
Serial number and model number are necessary to start the process. Armed with your serial number you can visit Singer's website which provides the year the serial number was allocated. Unfortunately, serial number blocks were often hundreds of thousands of numbers. Depending on the factory it could take a few months, a few years, or a decade for all the numbers to be assigned to individual machines.
Relying on the allocation date alone can be misleading.
For example, 401 machines carry an NA or NB serial number. According to the Singer site, all serial numbers beginning with NA were allocated in 1951 and NB serial numbers were allocated in 1956. However, the copyright date on the 401 instruction manual is 1959 and the model was marketed from 1959-1961. This gives us a truer date range for a 401 than the allocation date alone.
On the other hand model 15-91 was marketed from 1933 to 1956 (see chart) and were cranked out in huge numbers in the US and Canada. Since the more prolific factories (such as Elizabethport) burned through serial numbers faster than Anderson, new blocks were allocated more frequently. For this reason, the allocation date for a 15-91 serial number is a truer manufacture date than it is for a 401.
OldSewinGear is the collaborative effort of retired repairman Gary and daughter Barbara. We love old sewing gear and enjoy sharing what we've learned in our vintage sewing machine adventures. We are located in Roseburg, Oregon.