Saturday, February 23, 2013

Is it Real or Repro??

This is the tale of an unloved “reproduction” treadle ----and the valuable lesson it taught me!

Early on in my machine collecting I came across this “very pretty” machine that looked in really great shape.

The price was right….I think I paid $75.00 for it, but it wasn’t until I got it home that I noticed some differences to the other two “original” treadles I already owned.

The cabinet is not solid wood.  It’s an inexpensive veneer ---you can tell by the  inside of the drawers and the drawer joints:

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The grain of the wood is just “cheap” looking…and those white drawer insides?  BIG CLUE!

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Pull out drawer….

The “inside” of the drawer on a quality cabinet should not be so differently colored than the outside!  And they definitely should NOT be press-board with laminate drawer bottoms.

Other clues came from the manual.  And I guess I should have been more leary that this machine had ever been sewn on…the irons had never been screwed to the cabinet top!  There were no screw holes present on the underside of the cabinet to show that the irons had ever actually been attached ---which means...I'm the first one to really SEW on this machine!

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See that CH next to the 15??

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The underside of the machine bed.
Made in China.

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It is a “Genuine” Singer ---1973.
Is that still vintage? It’s 40 years old, so no spring chicken, but still ---

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The manual is interesting!  It’s a PICTURE BOOK!  There are no words….just diagrams.

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Pardon my un-vacuumed floor! That’s the next thing to do on the to-do list now that I’ve made room for it in the basement.

It’s not a bad looking machine, and it sews VERY WELL --- and unlike a lot of earlier treadles, this one has reverse.  It’s a class 15, so it uses large bobbins, has a great stitch and deserves to be sewn on!

I’ve learned a lot in the process of dealing with machines, studying them, enjoying them, being frustrated by them.  Had I known more at the time I would have held out for a “REAL” antique treadle.  But it’s still a well-working machine, and I can post it here hopefully to show you what to look for, and to beware of “imitations” – even if they really DO say SINGER on them.

Now for that vacuum!


  1. I am off today to get a free Singer. All I know about it is that it has pretty decals. It has been in a barn for a couple of years. But free is free and it should be fun!

  2. I wonder if Singer manufactured those to go to third world countries, where they didn't (and some still don't) have power for electric machines?

    1. I would think so. I worked for Singer 20-odd years ago, and they were making treadles then for sale in parts of the world with unreliable electricity. Picture instructions would mean you didn't need to translate into multiple languages (eg Ikea instructions), or would be good for people who couldn't read.
      Treadle machines are still widely used - I watched a man doing amazing fee-motion embroidery work on one in India a couple of years ago.

  3. Found a treadle for $25, the problem, cabinet was not really usable and would have cost a bundle to refurbish. Also, the machine itself need some parts, and I couldn't find anything on the serial number. So the search will continue, sometimes a bargain isn't unless it's free.

  4. Just curious.... Do not own one, so what are the irons you are addressing that have not been attached??

    1. The irons are the metal mechanism [on which the wooden cabinet rest]and includes the "legs," treadle wheel, pitman rod, and the platform that our feet moves.

  5. I've seen quite a few of these reproductions in independent sewing machine stores.
    I'm so glad yours sews well--quite a few people have found that they don't work well at all, so I'm glad your purchase does work fine.

  6. A side note, when I started to try to learn how to operate my vintage treadle I went shopping for a new belt. During the search I learned that treadle machines are still being produced and used in parts of the world that have unreliable electricity. The place that stands out in my recollection is India. I decided this was a positive thing for users of vintage machines as it encourages folks to manufacture things like belts for vintage machines. I wonder if your 1973 model was intended for such a place....

  7. Replies
    1. hahahaha--good thing I was going though all posts--I was about to post the very same thing..

    2. ps-Carole Sullivan here :-)

  8. Thanks for posting this. I didn't even know they made reproductions of the treadles!

  9. Great post Bonnie! This will help a lot of folks out while looking for treadles. The give away is the knob (usually black or silver) located by the pillar on the bed of the machine. It drops the feed dogs; original Singer Model 15 did NOT have this feature. While reading along in my Sewing Machine Enclyclopedia I found this statement: "The Singer Model 15 was designed in 1879 and introduced in 1881. It has been in production somewhere in the world to this day!" That makes it a great machine to collect and use because you can still get parts. I'm blessed to have five; 3 Singer originals, one Royal (badged machine for a department store), and my repro I found in December 2012 thanks to Bonnie's love of Japanese machines.

  10. BONNIE-I think vintage is 50 years and older--but dont quote me on that..:-) I didnt know Singer had gone to China back then--Singer needs to get back over here :-)

  11. $75 seems reasonable for a very good condition machine that sews very well. You might find this interesting, they called the 15CH a "vintage reproduction"; look like originals, but poor reputation and noisy compared to original.

  12. It is the same thing when you collect anything---you have to get your information as you find things. It is a pretty machine and a reasonable price and actually sews. I can show you a few quilt tops that I thought were antique until I learned better. That's why it is such a thrill to find a great piece when you know all the facts about it. Thanks for giving us this info. My ex-sister-in-law sold my mom's original Pfaff machine at a garage sale with out asking permission. It was the best machine for straight out piecing I have ever sewn on. Live and learn.

  13. Its nice to know repro's are out there but just becuase it is a repro does not mean it is not valuable too. Sometimes more so. In 1978 Singer made a repro #20 toy machine. That machine is actually worth 3 times an original 20 made in the 20's! Those repros are very limited in quanity. Enjoy your newer old machine, you got a deal.

  14. Very interesting... My guess is with the year it was made, the Bicentennial, such demand for these caused some to be reproduced. I remember that resurgence in quilting in the 70s'.... I remember wearing the "Little House on the Prairie " type bonnets and frocks. I think it was in 4-H that we made them and had a float in the parade. Everything OLD was IN. My mother began to pick up quilting from my great grandmother... She wen to town on Sunbonnet Sue quilts!~ wow!~ She sold them at a flower shop (florist) for $100 a piece for baby sized ones and she marked them up from there. That was in the 70's!!!~! THere was supply and demand and I guess the economy was good. Then Jimmy Carter came on boards... lol As long as it works well, I think you still got a great deal. Nice to know and very interesting.

  15. I have seen new treadle machines at Lehman's Hardware in Kidron, Ohio. An Amish area. The one in their catalog now is a more modern looking machine with zigzag stitching but does have a treadle base.

    1. I was thinking the same with about the Amish... We lived near a community in Upstate NY , near Canada in early 80's. They had a store and daddy went there to buy things. Supply and demand. THey don't care, so long as it keeps it's integrity in a good basic machine. They USE them and as someone else said, no power. So, they'd be happy with such. Very happy. Would serve them for a lifetime. Maybe for a new bride.

  16. What a bummer! I have a Singer Sphinx treadle that I bought at an antiques mall in Newport Beach, CA in 1990. I paid about $350 for the machine and oak cabinet. After I saw yours, I looked mine over real good! The oval trademark plate on the front of my machine looks like it's copper. From my serial number, I think it's a 1927. My decals are worn in places, so it was well loved--and still is!!! Thank you for filling us in on these sort of things. I would never have guessed China was making Singer treadle copies.

  17. I faintly remember Fingerhut or Montgomery Wards, selling the repro Singer treadles. Might have been both places selling them.

  18. If there is anything I don't want my machine to say is "made in China" :( It's just not right to find it on a featherweight, no matter what year it is produced!

  19. There are a lot of Repro Singer handcranks in Vanuatu. They are made in China and the people there use them because a lot of them don't have electricity. I guess they have handcranks rather than treadles because of shipping costs and accessibility to land. Bit hard to put a treadle from a ships to a dingy and then to land. These Chinese machines are VERY poor quality and never seem to sew well and are difficult to fix. Some women have a genuine OLD singer handcrank with the serial number. They are treasured and are known for sewing much better than the repros.

  20. Hi Bonnie,
    Great post! I, too, purchased one of these "vintage reproduction singer treadles" that was made in China. Yes, the cabinet is very poor quality construction. Mine actually popped the staples to the left side piece and drawers! I will need to re-tack them. I also noticed the decals are a bit more garish in color than the original USA antiques. The entire size of the machine irons seems a bit smaller, in general, but may be perfect for a petite Oriental to drive. (Which was the case for my machine.) On a positive note, it was easier to load in my car and move by myself than my other treadles and it does run smoothly! Still, I could easily let it go to an interested party and not miss her as I have another Phoenix and Papyrus treadle in the garage waiting to be cleaned up and loved.
    Cathy vJ in MA

  21. Great article - I came across this today (two years after your post, thank goodness for Google search!) having just been offered a this machine by a colleague at work. My warning signals were the cabinet - in pretty good condition in a reddish/orange wood colour, (I only have photos and can't see inside the drawers but I thought that perhaps it was an older machine in a new cabinet). The serial number plate was not in the usual place (in fact, it cannot be found), there was a plastic dial on the bed of the machine and the 'Sphinx' decals did not look like the ones on the Singer site. Oh, one other thing is that the top of the machine says 'Singer Sewing Company' rather than 'Singer Manufacturing Company' which is another indication that it is a reproductions:

    "There were repos made of the model 15, which also used the Sphinx decals, in the 1980s/90s after Singer was broken up and sold off in 1987. A Chinese company grabbed rights to the name and started pumping out repros, but only of the model 15. They're easy to spot: The decals read 'The Singer Sewing Machine Company' instead of 'The Singer Manufacturing Company' (as Singer had changed names in the 1960s, and the company had bought rights to the new name).

    Read more: http://www.craftster.org/forum/index.php?topic=271633.0;all#ixzz3f7nhuhpT"

    Such a shame. I have two original vintage treadle machines, so a third would have been lovely - but I am not sure if I want a reproduction :(

  22. Well I too bought tonight a reproduction hand crank, not even knowing they made replicas in the 1970s. I paid $80 and feel foolish, should of paid more attention the plastic knob and "Singer Sewing Machine Company" on top. Tomorrow I will try it out and at least I have a hand crank if power goes out. I feel in good company if Bonnie also had similar experience...Live and Learn!

  23. Garland, Texas. Chris Weinerx
    I studied your blog before I bought what I thought was probably a repo at an antique mall. A woman just wanted 169 dollars for the machine and cabinet. I looked for the more obvious signs of a repo and did not find any. I did however find the manufacturing number on the front that I ran through Singers database I found through Google and I was so excited to find that my machine was made in 1919 to 1920. Thank you so much for your information it helped me immensely as I shopped for my treasure.


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