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White Sewing Machine: The Supreme Guide to History, Models, Value…

Maybe you found an antique White sewing machine in your grandma’s attic, or maybe you want to figure out how to use the old machine you’ve had for decades. Either way, you’re probably wondering where White sewing machines came from, how much they are worth, and how to know what model you have. This guide will fill you in on the history, models, and value of White sewing machines!

White sewing machines were manufactured and sold in the United States from 1858 until late in the 20th century. Known for their simple features but sturdy construction, these machines developed from shuttle-powered cast-iron models to the electronic models of the 1950s. Today, they are primarily sold as antiques.

Keep reading to find out how White sewing machines developed over time, where to buy one, and how much they are typically worth.

White Sewing Machine

1914 Rotary White Treadle flickr photo by pirhan (1)

History of White Sewing Machines

From the late 1800s through the 1950s, White sewing machines were a staple of many American homes. Even today sewers value these classic models for their solid craftsmanship, but you won’t find any new White machines on the market.

Thomas White invented and sold the first White sewing machines in 1858. He was only twenty-two years old and had to sell one machine at a time to have enough money to buy the parts to make another! Before long, this enterprising young entrepreneur launched the incorporated White Sewing Machine Company.

In the 1920s, the company landed a deal with Sears Roebuck & Co and became their sole supplier of sewing machines for several decades. For those who can’t remember shopping without the internet, the Sears catalog was the Amazon.com of the late 1800s-early 1900s! It’s not an exaggeration to say that pretty much every household from the suburbs of Boston to the frozen fields of Montana regularly received mail-order Sears catalogs and used them to purchase necessary household items.

Of course, White had competitors. Though White’s models received recognition for simplicity and solid craftsmanship, they lost out to the functionality, quality, and rapid development of Singer’s models. Despite this, White models thrived as the affordable version of the household sewing machine for many years.

Then WWII rocked the nation. White temporarily halted sewing machine production and used its factories to supply items for the war effort. When the war ended, the demand for sewing machines skyrocketed because no one had produced them for so many years.

The company saw this as a great opportunity. It introduced several new models to the market, including one capable of sewing a zig-zag stitch. However, the end of the war also ushered in the beginnings of a global economy, and high-quality appliances from Europe arrived in the US for the first time.

This blow alone would have damaged the market for companies like White. But two more death blows hit the company in quick succession around this time: White lost its deal with Sears, which had formed the bulk of its sales. It also lost its spot as the main supplier of economy machines in the States due to the flood of incredibly cheap Japanese-made models in the post-war era.

By the 1960s, nearly all domestic sewing machine companies, except for Singer, had either collapsed or been bought out by foreign companies.

In the 1960s, White merged with a company called Husqvarna Viking. You can still find Husqvarna Viking machines for sale today. However, if you want an authentic White machine, you probably want to find out more about antique models!

Most Popular Models of White Sewing Machines

Unlike Singer, White did not produce a huge amount of different models through the years. The rotary models White produced through the 1950s remained their most popular model.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of every White model ever made during the one-hundred-plus years of the company’s operation. Here are a few of the highlights, though!

The earliest popular White models used a vibrating shuttle. The term “vibrating shuttle” refers to the way the bobbin oscillates to move the thread.

In pre-electric times, either a hand crank or a foot treadle powered sewing machines. Have you ever seen an old movie where someone operated an old cast-iron machine by pumping the foot peddle up and down? These treadle-powered models were the first sewing machines made for household use and were hugely popular for many decades.

In terms of monetary value, a few White models from the late 1800s, such as the “White Gem” had limited production, making them more valuable today.

When technology advanced, the vibrating shuttle model was supplanted by a rotary model, in which the bobbin rotated in a circle (which is pretty close to the way bobbins work today!).

The White Family Rotary Sewing Machine remained in production into the 1950s (though later models were powered by electricity, not a foot peddle!). If you are looking for a White machine, the rotary model is what you will find for sale most often, due to the huge numbers of its production and its popularity through many decades. The White Model 77, a rotary model, was also particularly prevalent during this time.

After signing the deal with Sears, White produced several models under various other names, including Kenmore and Franklin. If you see these names, you may have to do some digging to find out if they are White products or not.

The domestic-made Franklin model, marketed by Sears, was a very popular White model and is another one you can find for sale today quite easily.

As you now know, White sewing machines ceased to exist after the company merged with Husqvarna-Viking.

White Sewing Machine Models by Year

Are White Sewing Machines Worth Money Today?

Most White sewing machines available on eBay or at antique stores today sell for $10-$150. That said, you may chance upon a model worth as much as three thousand dollars–but this is unlikely and depends on several factors, including how old the model is, what materials it was originally made out of, and what condition it is in.

The bottom line is that antique sewing machines (aside from a few rare collector’s pieces) aren’t usually very valuable, and most White models were not considered top-line to begin with.

How to Identify the Model of a White Sewing Machine

Here are a few steps you can follow to determine the model of your machine.

It’s getting more difficult to find information on White models now that the company itself is gone. However, you should start by finding the brand name on your model (remember, sometimes White products were sold under their subsidiary names of Kenmore and Franklin!).

Second, find the serial number. All sewing machines should have a serial number etched into them, usually on their bottom, back, or side. If you have an electric model, you may find the number engraved on the motor or the casing of the motor.

Next, try Googling your serial number along with the keywords “White sewing machine.” You will probably find yourself on a website like this one, which has compiled information about many historic brands and models.

Once you know the model, you can pretty easily find a copy of the original owner’s manual online. If all else fails, you can try contacting the Husqvarna-Viking company directly and asking for a list of White models and serial numbers.

Are Antique Sewing Machines Valuable?

Most antique sewing machines are not worth a lot of money…with a few exceptions. First, you can consider your machine “antique” only if it was made more than a hundred years ago. If it was made more recently, it’s considered “vintage.” (Though honestly, you may see the terms used interchangeably in places like eBay).

If you search for “White sewing machine” on eBay, you will see a range of models and prices. The prices usually fall within the $20-$100 range. The models featured usually represent the most popular models from the company’s heyday, like the rotary 77 model.

The value doesn’t have to mean monetary value, though. Your antique or vintage machine might still be usable. Many people value older White models for their workhorse qualities–they aren’t fancy, but they were made to last! With proper maintenance, you could keep using a classic White model for many years to come.

Since many old sewing machines came built into tables or cabinets, many people also use antiques for decorative purposes. You can turn these beautiful pieces of furniture into end tables, drinks cabinets, or even mini islands in the middle of your kitchen!

Why Can’t I Buy a New White Sewing Machine?

You can’t buy a new White sewing machine because the company no longer exists. In the 1950s, the company was caught between a rock and a hard place. Higher-quality models from Europe became available after WWII, while super-cheap, low-quality models from Japan took over the lower end of the market.

You can still buy new Husqvarna-Viking machines, though the online sewing community debates their quality. If you want the essence of what a White sewing machine used to be–a sturdy, economy model without all the bells and whistles–you probably want to look for a modern, basic Singer model today.

Can I Buy a Vintage White Sewing Machine?

You can easily find a variety of antique and vintage White sewing machines for sale. Popular rotary models were so widely sold that they pop up everywhere today, from antique stores to yard sales!

Where to Shop for a White Sewing Machine

If you like to shop online, try eBay or Craigslist (some people report finding White models for as little $10 on Craigslist!).

If you prefer to hunt for antiques at a physical store, you will probably find the same models available at a higher price because the store owners clean them up and sometimes even get them in working order. Or, if you prefer bargain shopping, you could try places like Goodwill or Salvation Army.

What to Know When You Buy Vintage Sewing Machine

You should know how to determine the value of an antique machine, consider what purpose you plan to use it for, and determine whether or not it works before buying vintage. Wherever you choose to look, keep these questions in mind while you shop.

How Can You Determine the Value of the Antique?

Keeping in mind that most White models won’t fetch a high price today, you should examine the machine to see if its paint and decorations appear to be neat and unfaded. If it comes built into a table or cabinet, are these wooden components in good repair?

If the seller provides information about the model and serial number, or if you can examine the model in person to find the serial number, you can research to learn more.

With a better idea of the manufacturing date, you can determine what functionality the machine has. For example, can it sew a zig-zag stitch? You will also get an idea of what this model might sell for today.

Why Do You Want a Vintage Sewing Machine?

Consider why you want the machine. If you plan to repurpose it as an end table, you probably care about the condition of the cabinet and legs, but the machine itself doesn’t have to be in working order. On the other hand, if you plan to sew with the vintage machine, you need to know if it works!

How can you figure this out? If you’re shopping in person, complete a few simple tests.

First, the handwheel should turn smoothly and the foot treadle should move up and down. This should make the needle rise and fall and the bobbin either rotate or vibrate. If you see all these parts moving in easy synchronicity, the machine probably still operates!

Second, see if you can spot any cracks, holes, or obvious missing parts. Keep an eye out for rust as well.

If the machine is new enough (1940s-1960s) to be powered by electricity, check the cord for fraying. If possible, ask to plug it in and see what happens!

Can I Still Use My White Sewing Machine?

Many people report that their vintage and antique White sewing machines remain functional (with proper care) after decades of use!

Pros and Cons of Vintage Sewing Machines

You may be wondering why you would want to use a machine that requires a hefty amount of foot peddling or hand-crank turning. You probably don’t want to use a non-electric model as your main machine, it’s true. However, you could keep an old White model as a backup for sewing heavy-duty projects that your newer machine can’t handle.

One of the biggest advantages of sewing with older machines is that, unlike their modern counterparts, these older models were typically made entirely of metal. This solid workmanship tends to last forever.

It also makes these antiques incredibly sturdy and capable of sewing through thick fabric, which many modern machines can’t do. (These days, you often have to buy a special machine–or at the very least, special needles–to sew through fabrics like denim or canvas).

The downside is that pre-computer-era machines in a good repair might be usable, but they often have far less functionality than modern models. Your vintage machine may only be capable of sewing a straight stitch.

Tips for Using a Vintage Sewing Machine

If you remember nothing else from this article, please make a mental note of this essential tip: you must clean your vintage machine before you do anything else! Quite often, an older machine will clog up with fibers from years of use or layers of dust from years of unuse.

A good cleaning will clear out any debris that may hamper its operation. This is true for all sewing machines, no matter their age! Pay special attention to the bobbin area, but use the owner’s manual to determine how to clean the engine and other key areas.

After cleaning, you’ll need to oil the machine. You can buy appropriate oil online or at any craft store. Again, refer to the manual to know what should and should not receive a sparing few drops of oil, but generally, any metal part that moves will require oiling.

If you have a cast-iron machine, it may require polishing as well as oiling.

Finally, here are some tips for sewing with your vintage machine:

  • Learn how to wind the bobbin and thread the needle. Nine times out of ten, if you have trouble sewing, the bobbin is not properly installed or the needle is not threaded properly. The owner’s manual should provide clear instructions for this!
  • Find out what size and kind of bobbin and needle you need! If you try to install a modern needle, it may not work in a vintage machine.
  • Start slowly, and keep your fingers away from the needle! It may take some practice to get used to operating your machine, so please be careful.
  • Many White models operate in the reverse of Singer models. For example, to turn a hand crank on a White model, you have to spin it in the opposite direction of a Singer machine.
  • If you have an electric model, unplug it when you’re not sewing to conserve its life!

White Sewing Machine vs Singer Sewing Machine

Which is a better machine, White or Singer? That depends on what you want the machine to do. Singer machines, even decades ago while White machines were still manufactured, were usually considered higher-quality. White models were affordable, sturdy, simple appliances.

However, White models were famous for the high-class tables and cabinets they were built into. The company made the furniture in-house and took pride in the quality of these wooden components. Because of that, if you want a vintage machine for its decorative purposes, White may be the better model for you.

The capability of a White machine vs a Singer machine varies on a case-by-case basis. Historically, the Singer brand was usually considered slightly superior. Today, you will probably look at all vintage models as quite limited; many of them only sew a straight stitch.

However–and this is pretty important–Singer is still a huge, popular sewing brand operating today. This makes finding old parts and learning how to use a vintage Singer model infinitely easier than finding the parts and information you may need for a White machine.

Are White sewing machines good? They are solid and will often still work even a century after they were made. In general, though, they may be slightly inferior to Singer models.

How Can I Repair My White Sewing Machine?

One of the coolest things about old devices is that you can often take them apart and repair them yourself, without worrying about electronics and computers.

If you have a White machine and it isn’t working, try cleaning and oiling it. If that fails (and you are sure you have it set up correctly), you should refer to the owner’s manual for tips on how to make minor repairs.

What if your vintage machine did not come with a manual? Well, these days, you can find most small machine manuals online somewhere! The sewing community has shared the pdf version of the most common models online. (As a note of interest, Singer used to provide access to White manuals through their Support page, but they do not any longer).

What if you need parts for your White machine? You can find quite a lot on eBay and Etsy.

However, people who own antique White models report that it can be hard to find parts for some White models, especially the shuttles and bobbins. These parts are not interchangeable with other vintage machines like Singer models.

Here are some common fixes for your vintage machine:

  • If you have an electric model, unplug it before you make any repairs!
  • Clean and oil any moving parts! You’re probably sick of hearing that by now, but it’s so true. A good cleaning might fix everything!
  • Check the setup of the needle and bobbin. Again, this is one of the most common causes of all problems! If you see the dreaded “bird’s nest” of thread beneath your fabric, you need to reset your bobbin and rethread the needle.
  • If you keep seeing skipped stitches, check the needle. A bent, blunt, or loosely installed needle can cause skipped stitches as you sew.
  • If the thread breaks while you are sewing, make sure you are using the same thread for the needle and the bobbin. Make sure you have used the appropriate weight of thread because not all thread will work in a vintage machine.
  • If you’re using an electric model, check the outlet, power strip, and cord for any issues before determining that the motor needs repairs.
  • Decide how much you want to repair: if you find a wiring issue, you may need to pay an expert to repair.

White machines often remain functional for decades (or even more than a century!). That said, if you want a vintage model that works, you will need to keep up with these simple maintenance tips. If you do, you will get to enjoy the pleasure of sewing on a vintage machine!

Conclusion

The world of antique sewing machines is a fascinating mix of collectibles and real, usable machines. While most White sewing machines aren’t worth a lot of money today, their solid craftsmanship means that you may still find them usable, even after so many years!

Do you have an old White sewing machine, or are you trying to buy one? Leave a comment below to let us know what kind of experience you have had with these vintage machines!

(1) photo shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license
(2) photo shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

Josefa

Thursday 14th of October 2021

Need to replace Bobbing winder tire on model 1599 , where can I get it ?

Lester Altman

Sunday 10th of October 2021

I have a white model 940, serial no. 1385 for sale. also included is a very good cabinet for the machine and a perfect matching sewing chair. all in very good shape and workable. would like to know the value for a referance.