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.
Did you know that Toyota made vintage sewing machines?
This was news to me a couple of years ago when I kept seeing the Toyota name popping up on eBay listings. So I did a little research and it turns out that long before they started building cars, Toyota manufactured commercial textile equipment. Then came cars and World War II. The Japanese economy needed rebuilding and the US government stepped in with financial and material aid.
One of the US government's gifts was sewing machine manufacturing technology. Someone saw an opportunity to capitalize on a lapse in Singer's patent on the Class 15 sewing machine and a new industry was born! Japanese manufacturers like Toyota cranked out millions of "15-Clone" sewing machines from the late 1940's into the 1960's.
The Japanese machines were cheaper than their Singer counterparts and more colorful. Singer was still clinging to Henry Ford's "You can have any color you want, as long as it's black" aesthetic. By comparison, the Japanese imports were exotic birds in brilliant colors and flashy chrome trim.
Very few Japanese machines carry an identifiable maker's mark. The machines were imported into the US in huge numbers and sold to US retailers under a wide variety of names. Western Auto stores sold 15-clones under the "Wizard" name. Montgomery Ward marketed theirs under the "Signature" name.
It can be difficult to determine which Japanese factory produced your 15-Clone due to missing and incomplete factory records. But it is known that Morse contracted with Toyota for the model 200, which means the machine pictured above is a "Toyota" product. Very cool in my book!
For more information, check out the Yahoo forum on this topic.
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.
In the vintage heydey, Singer was cranking out machines by the hundreds of thousands in multiple factories worldwide. Some factories produced complete machines, others produced components.
Therefore it can take a bit of detective work to determine exactly where your vintage machine was born...
Singer's most prolific factories were located in Elizabeth, New Jersey (USA), Anderson, South Carolina (USA), Bridgeport, Connecticut (USA), Clydebank, Scotland (Great Britain) and St. Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec (Canada). The majority of classic Singer machines came from one of these factories.
Machines manufactured in Canada and Great Britain are often labeled as such on the inside of the motor column. Markings on the motor or foot control can be misleading because they may be a later add-on from a different factory.
Serial numbers may also provide clues to factory of origin. If your machine has a serial number beginning with 2 alpha characters, those alphas may be unique to the factory of origin. For example, if your serial number begins with NA, NB, or NC then it was almost certainly manufactured at Anderson, South Carolina, USA.
Another clue is the alpha suffix on the model number. That "A" in 401A stands for "Anderson." If you look at the serial number you will most likely see NA or NB at the beginning.
Other alpha suffixes include:
E = Elizabethport factory, Elizabeth, New Jersey, USA J = St. Jean-sur-Richelieu factory, St. John's, Quebec, Canada K = Kilbowie factory, Clydebank, Scotland, Great Britain W = Wheeler & Wilson factory, Bridgeport, Connecticut, USA G = Karlsruhe, West Germany
328K made in Canada
Therefore, your 328K probably came from Scotland. But the otherwise identical 328J came from Canada!
But your 328K could be a hybrid of components from more than one factory. The label shown here was found on a machine with a "328K" model number plate. Apparently Singer consolidated parts from Scotland and Canada to complete the 328 model production run.
411G with Canadian serial number
Another joker in the deck is the 411G shown at right. It was a bit of a puzzle because the "G" indicates Germany, but the serial number points to Canada. After some research it appears that the head was cast (and stamped with serial number) in Canada, then the machine was assembled in West Germany as reflected in the model number suffix. To add to the international flavor, the accessories are marked "France." I found it in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, so it's quite the international traveler!
So, the next time you wonder where your machine came from, follow the clues and see what you find!
Happy sewing! Barbara (NOTE: All information is deemed reliable but cannot be guaranteed.)
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.