During the “glory” days of Singer sewing machines, Singer produced the Model 201 from the 1930s through at least the 1950s. It was their best (and most expensive) machine. Thousands of these machines were produced, and most of them still sew today with as much precision and strength as when they were first made.
Research the Singer 201 and you’ll find more than one reference stating that the 201 is the best sewing machine Singer has ever made. While I can’t say the same with authority (I haven’t tried every Singer machine ever made!), I haven’t found anything about the 201 that would cause me to disagree with that statement.
I really appreciate good mechanical and electronic devices. I like old Hammond clocks and organs, old tube amps and guitars, old sports cars, gadgets and gizmos like that. About 10 years ago (in a fit of mid-life crisis) I bought a used Porsche 944. When I sit in the Singer 201 and press the pedal, I get a feeling very similar to driving down the highway in the Porsche at too fast a speed: the smooth, comfortable feel of perfectly working machinery.
I compare it to a Porsche, and have seen others compare it to driving a Ferrari! It’s really quality American iron from the days when that really meant something!
Singer produced at least four different versions of the 201:
201-1 – Pedal version
201-2 – Gear Driven Canned Motor
201-3 – Outboard motor and belt drive
201-4 – Crank (factory original, not later conversion)
The 201 is a robust and heavy machine, it is not portable at all! This isn’t a skinny, sexy sports car, this is a sleek, luxurious full-size grand tourer sedan! It is built to last, but needs maintenance to perform at its best. You will need to oil it regularly and also oil the gears from time to time. You can unscrew the circular silver plate on the back of the machine to reveal the gears and grease fittings. Use regular Singer sewing machine gear grease (not oil!). Use sewing machine oil only at recommended lubrication points. This rotary hook machine uses a Class 66 bobbin (means very little vibration, excellent stitch quality, and easy-to-find bobbins).
The machine is easy to thread and easy to use. The fact that some of these machines are 80 years old and still outperforming modern machines is a telling point: they will probably last at least another 80 years! Keep them good and they’ll keep sewing for, well, longer than you or I probably will!
One of the reasons the machine is so easy to use is that it is a straight stitch only machine. A single stitch… but a beautiful and perfect straight stitch! You won’t find yourself “fighting” the 201 like you would low-end plastic machines – less time fighting means less time fixing and redoing problems and less frustration!
Even though the machine is straight stitch only, Singer and other vendors have created a host of accessories that offer a world of possibilities (freeform embroidery, buttonholes, zig-zag, blind hem), just about anything you want from a quality sewing machine. it is easily achievable.
Best of all, prices tend to be really low (supply and demand: Singer made billions of these machines!). He will often pay much less than he would for a plastic import that may meet a deserved death after a few weeks or months of sporadic sewing, and get a sewing servant for life.
How should you see the Singer 201? Well, think of the Porsche/Ferrari analogy, except drop the price below $100! This machine purrs like the well-made piece of machinery that it is. It feels “quality”, if you know what I mean. This machine will definitely be on your “guardian” list.