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.
By now it is common knowledge that I am a fan of the Singer 15-91. What's not to like? It's simple to operate and will sew through anything you can cram under the presser foot.
And, like the Model T Ford, "you can have any color you want, as long as it's black."
But did you know that Singer produced an almost identical machine in a color other than black?
That machine is the 15-125. It was produced from 1955-1958 and was the last of the potted motor straight-stitch models. Singer was modernizing its image and they updated the classic 15-91 with a re-shaped casting and a light green paint job. The color is similar to the 3/4 size 185k, which was itself an update to another popular model, the 99k.
So what changed? Let's take a look at the two machines side-by-side. The 15-91 is on the left and the 15-125 on the right.
As you can see, the changes were cosmetic, not mechanical. Motor, tension knob, light fixture, stitch length selector and bobbin compartment are exactly the same.
Which means that if you want a 15-91 but don't want black you have the option of green! Even the foot control and cords were color-matched. Which is the one drawback to the 15-125. If the cord is lost or damaged the only option for replacement is black, which rather spoils the look.
Otherwise, the 15-125 is a worthy successor to the better known 15-91. The machine pictured above walked right through several layers of garment leather and even sewed 2 layers of cowhide belt. This machine definitely has "industrial strength" but it is NOT an industrial model. It's still a household model, so it's not a good idea to sew belt leather every day on this machine, but it's nice to have the option for a quick repair!
It's no secret that I love vintage Singer sewing machines. From the 201 to the 301 to the 401 each model has its merits. But every time I sit down to test a 15-91 I realize that this is the one I love the best.
Not only is the 15-91 beautiful to look at, it's crafted from nearly indestructible steel. The rear-mounted potted motor and steel worm gears add up to tremendous punching power. It doesn't slip, stall, jam, or bog down. If you can fit the fabric under the presser foot, the 15-91 will sew it.
Singer produced myriads of 15-91's from the early 30's to the late 50's. Early models were highly decorative with fancy embossed scrollwork on the cover plates:
Later models had a simpler satin-stripe motif but are still graceful, elegant machines:
The 15-91 is a straight-stitch machine, but Singer produced a wide array of attachments for zigzagging, hemstitching, blind stitching, and buttonholing. There was almost nothing that couldn't be done with patience and practice.
Eventually the zig-zag models took over the market and the 15-91 became obsolete. But the surviving machines are a testament to Singer's heydey. The oldest 15-91's are upwards of 80 years old but still get the job done.
So if you need a heavy duty straight-stitch machine but don't have space for an industrial model, you can't go wrong with a 15-91.
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.