The late 1950's and early 1960's were times of change on every level around the world and throughout society.
The 401A Slant-o-Matic was Singer's flagship sewing machine during these momentous years and its production spanned a critical shift in brand image from "Old Fashioned" to "Modern."
The changing face of Singer is captured in the evolution of the badges and markings on the 401A. A comparison of 4 individual machines reveals the progression. First up is #NA775005:
I'm partial to the "early" 401. It's prettier than its younger siblings. Note the stenciling on the Special Disc lid. It's two-tone brown and gold. The stenciling on the back is also two-tone. And the badge is a lovely bright gold embossed shield with the Singer "S" superimposed over crossed needles and a shuttle bobbin. The model number has its own plate mounted below the badge. All of these details give the early 401's a more "embroidered" look.
Before long, Singer began to streamline the decorative elements, as seen on 401A # NA810187:
The Singer badge and model number plate are unchanged, but the stencilled letters on the lid and back side of the machine have been changed to a simpler, monotone brown.
Singer's "Red S" logo was launched around 1960. It was sleeker, more modern. With the new logo came additional changes for the 401. The trend was toward a cleaner, less fussy design aesthetic, which is reflected in the next machine we'll look at, #NB519064
The model number still appears on its own plate just below the badge, but the lid stencil has vanished and the rear stencil is monotone brown. The mechanics of the machine are un-changed, but the overall appearance is getting plainer.
But the trend toward plainer was not yet complete. The late-run 401's are even less embellished, as seen on #NC009804:
The model number has moved to the stitch-length plate, further reducing production costs. Same machine, but cheaper to produce. Increased market competition from Japan and Europe was pushing Singer to simplify and economize.
The times were changing, and Singer was changing with the times.
The introduction of the Touch & Sew series marked the beginning of the end of classic heavy duty Singer machines. Plastic parts took the place of steel, aluminum and other cast metals. The result was lighter and quieter machines, but without the strength and longevity of their predecessors.
Because of this, the Touch & Sew often gets a bad rap in vintage sewing machine circles. However, there are a handful of Touch & Sew models that are graced with the same STEEL gears that drove the 400- and 500-series slant needle machines.
It's not uncommon to find 600, 603, and 604 models with steel gears, but the 626 is another model to watch for. You'll have to remove the bottom cover (which means unscrewing all 4 feet) to be sure, but your efforts will be rewarded if you see steel gears beneath the bobbin-compartment.
There are a lot of reasons to love a steel-geared Touch & Sew. They are less industrial feeling than the earlier slant needles, which means a smoother & quieter sewing experience. And the stitch quality is superb, with some of the best satin-stitching I've seen.
The steel-geared 626 is one of my favorite all-purpose sewing machines. It's a joy to use for everyday projects and has the chops to tackle heavy duty jobs too. If you're looking for a great all-around sewing machine without the vintage price tag, keep your eyes open for a 626 with steel gears!
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.