Antique and vintage sewing machines often come built into beautiful sewing tables or cabinets. But the elegant Martha Washington sewing cabinet often came built separately from the sewing machine. If you like antique furniture in the style of the Revolutionary War, you will want to find out all about Martha Washington-style sewing cabinet value!
Martha Washington sewing cabinets can sell for as little as $250 or as much as $2,500. The type of wood used in the table can impact its value, as can its craftsmanship and condition. Other factors that impact the value of this kind of table include the period when it was made and its provenance.
In this article, you will find out what a Martha Washington sewing cabinet actually is. You will learn about the history of these unique sewing tables. Finally, you will find out how to price these antique sewing cabinets.
What is a Martha Washington Sewing Cabinet?
Martha Washington-style sewing cabinets have a distinctive oval top. The tabletop contains two flaps that lift on hinges to reveal pockets for storage at the narrow ends of the oval.
Many of these cabinets have cabinet doors that swing open on hinges. Some models have wide drawers with inset trays instead of doors.
Though the style became popular in the 1800s, these tables bear a lot of resemblance to the Federal furniture style. The Federal style of furniture became popular during the Revolutionary War. This style includes elements like spindle or clawfoot legs, good, polished wood, and carved columns.
These cabinets look like small side tables and have a compact size that makes them less bulky than the average sewing table or desk. During the 1700s and 1800s, wealthy women would often gather around this table in a sitting room to work on fancy needlework while they chatted.
Most of these cabinets also offer a variety of doors and drawers with clever dividers for holding sewing supplies. The most common design has two cabinet doors on the front that open to reveal storage space. Other models have two or three wide drawers at the front that slide out for storage.
In some rare cases, the two oval tips of the table holding the pockets with side flaps may swing out on hinges, making the table longer and more narrow.
Many antique sewing tables have a design that includes a built-in sewing machine. Martha Washington cabinets, in contrast, almost always come separately from the machine.
Most of these tables do not include a way to attach the sewing machine to the table. This is because the cabinets first became popular way before the invention of the sewing machine.
The cabinets also do not have a treadle or a wiring set-up for later electrical models. Instead, you would place the machine on top of the oval tabletop. But originally, the cabinet served more as sewing storage than a sewing workspace.
Legend has it that Martha Washington used a similar small, oval table for her own sewing way back in the 1700s. Of course, she did not have a sewing machine to work with–the first sewing machine was not invented until the mid-1800s!
But perhaps this explains why a table not designed to hold a sewing machine became so popular with sewists.
The concept of the “Martha Washington” cabinet took off in the early 1800s as an homage to the era of the Revolutionary War. Much later, the early 1900s also saw a resurgence in this style of furniture. Finally, the 1950s saw another upswing in the popularity of this antique style of a sewing table.
Martha Washington Sewing Cabinet History
The first Martha Washington-style sewing cabinets were made in the early 1800s. No one knows who made the first sewing cabinet. But that clever person struck a gold mine by claiming that the sewing cabinet looked like Martha Washington’s iconic oval table!
What we do know is that the early 1800s saw a big surge in the popularity of Federal-style furniture. Probably enough time had passed that the popular imagination began to idolize the Revolutionary War era. At any rate, a famous furniture designer named Duncan Phyfe jumped on this bandwagon around 1815.
Phyfe created a small oval side table with clawed feet from a center post carved to look like a column. The table held one long cabinet door opening to the right. Small drawers at either curved end of the table could hold sewing notions.
This style of sewing table became popular because of its portable size and considerable storage space. But several other variations of sewing tables also rose to prominence during this period. These included the Hepplewhite and Sheraton styles of sewing or crafting tables.
Despite the competition, Phyfe became extremely famous. His furniture remained sought-after for decades.
This drove plenty of other cabinetmakers to copy the trendy style. And in turn, this meant that many designers made Martha Washington-style cabinets.
The 1900s also saw a return of the Martha Washington-style table. The 1920s saw a big push for replica Martha Washington cabinets.
At this time, sewing machines powered by electricity had begun to hit the market. For this reason, furniture related to sewing became a hot item again.
The “Phyfe look-alike” cabinets in the 1920s and 30s often had four narrow, straight legs instead of one central post with clawed feet. This change may have provided a sturdier surface for a sewing machine.
Some models still had cabinet doors, while others had central drawers to pull out. But they all had the trademark oval-shaped tabletop and small size.
The Great Depression in the 1930s made small pieces of furniture more popular. Due to the poor economy, many tables made during this time stopped using high-quality wood. Instead, tables made in this period either stained cheaper wood to look nice or added a veneer over cheap wood.
Keep in mind that sewing machines became a huge new thing from the late 1800s to the early 1900s. The idea of a sewing machine cheap enough for domestic use took the world by storm in these years. It led to all kinds of innovations both in the machines and in the furniture used to hold them.
Several Martha Washington cabinets had modified tops that held a bolted-on sewing machine that could fold down inside!
The final golden moment for Martha Washington-style sewing cabinets happened in the 1950s. During this time, two large companies made and sold quite a few replicable Martha Washington cabinets.
The White sewing machine company famously had a contract with Sears during this era. This company even owned its own forest to make all the sewing tables it sold.
Sheets Manufacturing Company based out of Ohio, also made and sold many cabinets in the Martha Washington style.
Even famous companies like Singer offered a handful of Martha Washington-style tables for sale between 1920 and 1950.
After the 1950s, the desire for wooden furniture crafted for sewing machines began to wane. The ready-wear clothing industry took off like crazy and fewer households needed to own a sewing machine or a special cabinet to hold it.
Vintage Martha Washington Sewing Cabinet Value
Vintage and antique Martha Washington sewing cabinets can range from $250 to $2,500. Antique models made during the 1800s can cost over $1,000. You may see even higher price tags if the table had a prominent designer.
Most of the time, replica models made during the 1900s will fall on the lower end of the cost spectrum. Only a few high-quality models made during this period cost as much as $500.
You may even find some of the cabinets made in the early 1900s for as little as $50 or $100, but the $200-$300 price range is more likely.
Cabinets Made in the 1800s
Martha Washington style sewing cabinets made in the 1800s usually sell for between $400 and $1,500. You may also see these cabinets called “lady’s work tables” or just a “sewing table.”
In the world of buying and selling antiques, items made before 1900 get an “antique” classification. Anything made after 1900 falls into the “vintage” category. This does not necessarily make an antique item more valuable, but age can add to the value of a collectible item.
Another big factor at play here is that furniture made in this era used good-quality materials. The tables featured solid wood instead of veneers and had excellent craftsmanship.
Craftsmen built each of these cabinets with hand tools rather than using factory machines or power tools.
If you can prove the provenance, or the history, of an antique item, that can also exponentially increase its value. This may also mean that you can verify the designer or maker of the cabinet.
Duncan Phyfe replica tables made in the 1800s will likely sell for around $1,000 today. These are the earliest Martha Washington-style sewing cabinets.
Of course, if you somehow found an authentic Duncan Phyfe cabinet, you can bet it will have a super high value! His furniture sometimes sells for over $100,000 in the world of antiques today!
As with all antiques, the quality of materials used and the condition of the item matter as well. For instance, a mahogany table is worth more than a table made out of walnut or cherry. But walnut and cherry are worth more than a table covered in a cheap veneer.
And it’s pretty obvious that an unmarked table in good condition has a higher value than a scuffed or damaged sewing cabinet. In general, though, true antique furniture made before 1900 does hold a high value. This is because of its handmade construction and high-quality materials.
Cabinets Made in the 1900s
Martha Washington style sewing cabinets made in the 1900s typically sell for anywhere from $100 to $500 today.
The early to mid-1900s saw a resurgence in replicating Martha Washington sewing cabinets. These cabinets can vary in some design details. But all Martha Washington sewing cabinets feature the classic oval top and lifting side flaps. This design mimics the original first made popular by Duncan Phyfe way back in the 1800s.
Of course, the “knock-off” Martha Washington pieces made in the 1900s don’t hold as much value as the earlier Duncan Phyfe versions. Like anything made after the year 1900, most sellers classify these models as vintage rather than antique.
Most of the Martha Washington-style cabinets you can find for sale at antique stores or online today come from the early 1900s. Manufacturers made and sold many more tables during this era than in the 1800s. This also means that more tables have survived the 1900s than from the 1800s.
The Sears catalog listed multiple adverts for Martha Washington-style cabinets over the years. You can spot these ads most often in the 1930s when smaller, cheaper furniture sold better. Since White made all of Sear’s sewing machines during this time, you can assume that White probably built these tables.
In 1931, Sears sold a Martha Washington-style table for just $7.75! Of course, by today’s inflation standards, that would equal between $250 and $300 now.
It’s hard to find records for the other company that made and sold many of the early 1900s Martha Washington cabinets. This Ohio-based company, called Sheetz Manufacturing, seems to have vanished into the mists of time. But you can often find a metallic oval-shaped sticker on the underside of your table bearing this company name if you buy a cabinet made after 1900!
Martha Washington Sewing Cabinet Uses
You can use Martha Washington sewing cabinets to store sewing items or repurpose the cute oval table in many different ways.
One thing to note about this table is that it is not designed specifically to hold a sewing machine. You can place your machine on top of the small table, but it does not have a recess to fit your legs as you sew, making things difficult.
Instead, you can use the drawers, inserts, and pockets beneath the side flaps to store sewing notions or sewing projects and patterns. The compact dimensions of this round table make it ideal for tucking into a corner in a sewing room or keeping next to your armchair in your living room!
Besides using the cabinet as a sewing table or end table, you can also repurpose the oval table if you don’t mind altering its vintage shape and style. For example, you can give the table a coat of vibrant paint, open the drawers, and put planters inside for a colorful addition to your garden or patio!
Of course, if you find an expensive antique table in good condition, painting it would ruin its appeal and also lower its value significantly. But if you find a cheaper model made in the 1930s, you may want to revive it or cover scratches and dings with a bold new color.
You can also update the very vintage style with chalk paint in your favorite shade and then add the table to any room in your house for a bright pop of color. Its small size makes it a perfect fit for any room of the house, plus it comes with built-in storage!
Martha Washington Sewing Machine Cabinet Dimensions
Not all Martha Washington sewing cabinets share the same dimensions, but they all share a small stature and oval top. Most of these cabinets stand less than 30” high and have a width of around 18”, and a length of 27” or a bit more.
You may see this small sewing cabinet called a “novelty” furniture item because of its compact shape. The small size made this type of cabinet a success during the 1930s when the Great Depression swept the nation. The compact cabinet required fewer materials to build and thus cost much less.
You can think of the cabinet dimensions as roughly similar to the size of most modern end tables. It does not stand as tall or stretch as long as most sewing tables or modern desks.
Martha Washington Table Knobs and Hinges
Most antique and vintage Martha Washington sewing cabinets have brass knobs and hinges. Some models have wooden knobs instead, especially on tables with three drawers in the front instead of cabinet doors. You may also see brass pulls on some models.
If you want to restore an antique table to its former glory, you will find it quite difficult to find replacement knobs or hinges to buy, though! You can easily find half a dozen Martha Washington-style sewing cabinets for sale at any given moment through various online sellers. But you probably won’t find any results when looking specifically for the hinges and knobs used in these tables.
This is partly because only a few companies made the tables. Another big reason is that the tables are not enough of a collector’s item for a strong market to develop around individual parts.
You can search eBay, Etsy, or other online vendors using terms like “antique sewing table hinges.” You will find some fairly decent replicates, though you want to carefully match measurements to make sure you buy parts that fit your table!
Where to Find Antique Martha Washington Sewing Cabinet
You can easily find a good variety of Martha Washington-style sewing cabinets for sale online. Vendors on sites like eBay and Etsy often have several listings posted. You can also check reputable antique furniture sellers like Vatican.com and Chairish.com.
If you prefer to shop for the table in person, you can also stroll through your local antique stores and watch for tables with an oval top.
Searching for “Martha Washington table” or “Martha Washington sewing cabinet” should bring up at least a half dozen results on eBay and Etsy. Most of these fall into the $300 price range, though you may see a few items that say “solid mahogany” in the description that could easily cost $500 or $800.
If you shop online, most of the items you find will probably come from the early 1900s. As you may recall from earlier in this article, this period in history saw the Duncan Phyfe craze. People wanted recreations of furniture like the Martha Washington table made in the Phyfe style. This also means that most of the items you see for sale fall into a vintage classification and should not cost as much as a true Civil War-era table.
The benefit to shopping online for antiques like these tables is that you get to see such a wide variety of models to compare. The big downside is that you will likely need to pay $30 or $40 in shopping fees unless you live close enough to pick up the cabinet!
Whether you shop online or in person, look for any damaged areas on the table. Try to find out what kind of wood the table contains as well. If it contains solid wood, it will have a higher value, but if it has a veneer laid over cheaper wood, it will have a lower value.
You also want to see if you can find any sort of manufacturer’s name or logo. You may find this stamped in ink onto the underside of the cabinet or printed on a sticker for a 1900s model. If possible, as the seller for the provenance of the table, especially if you want to buy a more expensive 1800s model!
The first First Martha Washington-style sewing tables were sold in the early 1800s. These cabinets served as replicas of the table the famous first lady used during the Revolutionary War. The style became popular again in the early 1900s, during the Great Depression, and during the 1950s Golden Age of sewing machines.
Very old antique models made in the 1800s usually feature expensive wood like mahogany. Models made in the 1900s may use a veneer or a cheaper wood. This means that antique tables often cost more than newer, vintage tables.
Martha Washington-style sewing cabinets have a unique oval-shaped top. The top contains flaps that lift at the narrow ends of the oval to reveal deep storage pockets. Some styles have drawers to pull from the center front of the table, while others have cabinet doors that open on hinges.