In the vintage sewing machine world people can get a teensy bit obsessive about the ‘birthdays’ of their machines, in fact there a whole swathes of people desperately trying to find one from the day/month/year that they were born (being post-vintage, that isn’t actually an issue for me lol). I have looked up the dates of mine, but more as an interesting way of keeping track of manufacturing differences over the years, and to help me find relevant parts if needed. I happened to glance at the date list I have pinned on my notice board the other day and I noticed that Chunk, my Singer 99K, is the grand old age of 100 this month. Well, his commissioning date is 100 years ago this month, we can’t tell when any of them actually rolled off the production line, other than guessing that it was sometime between the commissioning date for the batch it’s in and the commissioning date for the next batch of numbers.
The 99Ks were first introduced in 1911 as a ‘lighter’ model for more portability, and they were 3/4 of the size of the already established 66K (let’s not look too closely at their maths on the numbering of their models here ;o) ) The mechanism was identical for the two, the main difference being the body casting and the fact that the 99 came in a storage case, but while the 99 is smaller and lighter than the 66, there’s a reason he’s named Chunk as he is HEAVY at 22 lbs.
Originally only coming in a hand crank model, in 1921 they introduced an electric model, making the 99k the first portable electric machine. Oddly my gran told me that she had a 99k hand crank that was converted to an electric one, but since she was born 3 years after they introduced the electric model, I’m not sure why they converted one, other than that as my papa was a sewing machine repair man maybe she thought he needed a little something extra to do at home! The shape changed too over the years, and new features introduced such as a stitch length lever which actually gave you an idea of what the stitch length was (Chunk, being an early model, does not have that handy feature!) The balance wheels changed, and of course the electric models didn’t need the whole hand crank setup, so the bases got shorter and they got rid of the handy tool storage box that Chunk has on the right of his base.
Originally issued with bentwood cases, they then moved into the mock-croc suitcases that were also used on machines such as the 201K, and finally they had plastic cases and bases. I’ve never seen a plastic one, but apparently the plastic was prone to cracking (hello, HEAVY metal machine on there!) so perhaps that’s why they’re not that common.
Anyway, back to Chunk, I really hope I look this good when I’m 100! I mean his decals are a bit worn, and his clear coat is a bit cloudy in places (although I think if I gave him a wax and polish he might look a tad cleaner), but he is still in amazing working order.
At some point along the way someone replaced his wooden base – you can tell as it’s a completely different type and colour of wood from both his handle and from other Singers I have seen with wooden bases back in the day, plus it’s wider on the left that the original, but I think that is probably partly to do with the outer case. I think (looking at his outer case), it was done sometime around the 60’s, maybe a little more recently, but someone definitely was trying to pretty him up a bit with what was available at the time:
After all the effort to do him up though it looks like he wasn’t really used again as his wood is immaculate (although his outer cardboardy case is kind of battered) and ultimately he ended up all alone and abandoned in a salvage place where I found him about 3 years ago. I wasn’t actually looking for a sewing machine there – as I recall I’d gone to look for some photo props, including some wooden crates, but then there he sat, and he was £25 and I felt sorry for him and hey, he could be a photo prop too, right?
I have a confession to make now though. I’ve never actually sewn anything on him. I know, that may make me a terrible person! I will eventually teach myself how to sew with the handcrank, maybe when I retire in, um, nearly 30 years! Och, he’ll still be working fine then, even if I’m not ;o)
I’ll take you on a further tour of my vintage machines and their histories over the next few weeks, but in the meantime why don’t you tell me if you have a vintage machine lurking around your sewing room.
For vintage machines, I’m down to two treadle sewing machines. Being as heavy as they are they’ve never made it up the stairs to the sewing room. Instead they reside in the living room and have the primary purpose of being plant stands. Their cabinetry is quite attractive and they both have heavy woven tapestries protecting their lids. At one time I looked up their birthdays but have misplaced that information. I do know that both are well past the 100 year mark. Happy birthday Chunk!
Happy birthday indeed, Chunk! And I think I can resolve the question of Gran’s machine conversion – it was simply a matter of space. We lived in a small tenement flat and the original wooden housing was pretty substantial so the old casing went to be replaced with a sturdy new wooden base, bearing in mind the weight of the heavy metal machine! It continued to sew beautifully but it was a struggle to hoist it up on to the table, as I recall.
A 15-90, two 301As and two 221s.
Happy 100 birthday chunk .
Hate to break the retirement news . As a young wee thing haven’t you an extra year now ?