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2016 VSM Collectors Survey Results

Posted by James Wolfensberger on

Our thanks to more than 800 VSM (vintage sewing machine) enthusiasts who took the time to respond to our 36 survey questions during the summer of 2016. We hope you find the results interesting.

International Demographics

Survey respondents were overwhelmingly in the United States.

 USA 84 %
Canada 7 %
Great Britain 2 %

2 %

Other nations combined 5 %

Domestic or Industrial

Question: Are you most interested in domestic VSMs (originally intended for home use) or industrial VSMs (intended for commercial sewing)?

Percentage Responses
Domestic VSMs 83 % 666
Industrial VSMs 0.75 % 6
Equally interested in both 16 % 132

Level of Knowledge

Percentage Responses
Novice 37 % 311
Intermediate 57 % 457
Expert 3 % 24
Professional (Retired) 0.25 % 2
Professional (Active) 1 % 10

Number of Years

  • The average length of time that a respondent has been a VSM enthusiast is 9.6 years.
  • Nearly half of respondents have been interested in VSMs for fewer than 5 years.
  • 26% indicate that they have been enthusiasts for 10 years or more
  • 19% indicate that they have been VSM enthusiasts for 20 years or more.


Performing Maintenance

Respondents were asked to select each item that was true for them.

Percentage Responses
I do not perform any significant maintenance to my own machines. 27 % 221
I am comfortable disassembling and reassembling my tension adjustment control. 54 % 431
I am comfortable diagnosing, disassembling, and reassembling significant areas of a straight-stitch machine. 52% 421
I am comfortable diagnosing, disassembling, and reassembling significant areas of a zig-zag machine. 24 % 193
I am comfortable correcting electrical wiring issues, including replacing wiring and electrical components. 25 % 199
I am comfortable disassembling and repairing a belt-driven motor. 17 % 138
I am comfortable disassembling and repairing a potted motor. 11 % 92
I am comfortable disassembling and repairing an internal motor. 8 % 63
I am effective at reconditioning the cosmetics of at least some models of VSMs. 51 % 414

Work Area

  • 46% of respondents have a designated area that is always ready and accessible for working on VSMs.
  • 54% indicated that they have "an area where I must put everything away when I am finished."

Amount of VSMs Owned

Our survey respondents own 13,463 vintage sewing machines total among them, with the number per respondent ranging from 0 - 400. Only three respondents indicated that they currently do not own any VSMs.

  • The average number of VSMs owned is 17.
  • 58% own up to 10 machines.
  • 24% own 20 machines or more.
  • 7% of respondents own 50 or more vintage sewing machines.

How Many VSMs Will Be Kept?

We asked respondents to tell us how many VSMs they expect to own once their collection is complete.

  • 53% indicated 10 or fewer VSMs would ultimately comprise their collection, while 25% indicated they expect to have between 11-20 machines total.
  • 11% expect to own 21-30 machines, with the number of respondents expecting to own more than 30 machines being nominal.
  • Only 2% expect 100 or more machines in their final collection.

Key Interests

Respondents could indicate all topics from the list below which appealed to them. Responses to the various types of vintage machines seems fairly balanced, indicating that most collectors find the general categories of VSMs to be of comparable interest.

Electric machines are a little more popular than treadles, while interest in hand cranks then falls behind a bit. Straight-stitch machines are nearly 20% more popular than zig-zag machines. Only toy VSMs (39%) and industrial VSMs "designed for specific types of sewing" (21%) dipped significantly when compared to other types of vintage machines.

Percentage Responses
Treadle VSMs 80 % 640
Hand crank VSMs 68 % 547
Electrical VSMs 85 % 687
Straight-stitch VSMs 81 % 650
Zig-zag VSMs 62 % 499
3/4 VSMs (i.e. Singer 99k) 65 % 522
Toy VSMs 39 % 316
VSMs dating previous to 1930 68 % 544
VSMs dating from the 1930s and 1940s 75 % 606
VSMs dating from 1950-1970 70 % 561
Industrial VSMs designed for specific types of sewing 21 % 166

Sewing on VSMs

We asked survey respondents how often they sew on a vintage machine.

  • 27% use a VSM occasionally, but also sew on a modern machine.
  • 47% sew frequently on a VSM, but also use a modern machine.
  • 24% sew exclusively on a vintage model machine.
  • 2% do not sew at all.

Time Spent Online Re: VSMs

Time spent online researching, browsing photos, and gathering information regarding VSMs topped out with two respondents admitting 80 hours per week. That's basically half the hours available in a week per individual, but we applaud the honesty - and - we kinda get it.

We also had seven people indicate that they spend zero (0) hours online for the purpose of their VSM interests. Puzzling, since this survey was promoted only online, in Facebook posts and blog articles - but we can imagine a few explanations for honest answers indicating zero hours. Those persons may have taken the question to mean hours specifically seeking VSM material online, while stumbling upon an occasional item of interest wasn't considered valid time to them. 

With no responses removed from the equation, the average amount of time spent online weekly for VSM interests is a fraction beyond 8 hours. Even if we remove the "80 hour" responses, and do not factor the seven "zero" responses, we're still left with no more than 8.2 hours spent online as an average. The polar-extreme responses do not impact the average in a meaningful way.

13% browse online for VSM material 20 hours a week or more, which means of course that 87% browse for fewer than 20 hours a week.

78% browse online for VSM material for 10 hours a week or less. (Whew. Sanity!)

Machine Brands & Models

We asked an array of related questions to determine popular and desired brands and models, as well as the machines about which respondents feel most knowledgeable. This is a tremendous amount of data thanks to 804 respondents indicating thousands of models.

These are the essential conclusions:

Singer, Singer, Singer. In every question, the iconic Singer brand was the overwhelming choice. Not surprisingly, the Featherweight models are the most desired, but the other common classics all ranked well: 66, 99, 300 series, 400 series, 500 series. Survey respondents significantly consider themselves most knowledgeable on Singer models.

Other brands with a strong showing included Bernina, Kenmore, and White.

Pfaff and Elna were not indicated in large numbers, but were noteworthy.

Brother, Morse, Necchi, Wheeler & Wilson, and Wilcox & Gibbs were represented in very small percentages. Other brands' showings were so slight that they were statistically inconsequential, such as Davis, Domestic, Husqvarna, New Home, and Viking.

Buying & Selling

  • 64% of respondents collect but do not buy and resell VSMs.
  • 33% say they occasionally sell VSMs privately, not professionally.
  • A mere 3% indicate that they sell VSMs frequently but not professionally.
  • Less than 1% sell VSMs on a "professional scale."

Shipping VSMs

Shipping VSMs can become a sore subject for both sellers and buyers. Proper packing is a constant concern for all, and careful packing plus reliable shipping methods add considerable cost to the transaction. Many have paid as much or more for shipping than the cost of the machine itself. Still, 44% of respondents indicated that they are willing to purchase machines that must be shipped to them.

Traveling for VSMs

  • 87% of survey respondents indicated that they would travel distances no further than 300 miles to pick up a coveted VSM. Meanwhile, 44% of all respondents would expect to travel no more than 100 miles.
  • 13% of respondents would travel beyond 300 miles.
  • 2% would travel 800 miles or more.
  • Three respondents indicated that they would travel 2,000 - 2,500 miles to pick up their most desired VSM. Five individuals would travel between 1,000 and 1,500 miles.

Gifted Machines

Within the VSM community, gifting machines is a frequent topic. Most collectors willing to give up a machine do not expect "top dollar," and more significantly, about half of collectors have been a party to a gifted machine. That's an exciting statistic in characterizing the VSM community - many are happy to not only share knowledge, but to share the very gems that we all love.

  • 58% of respondents have received a free machine from someone other than a family member.
  • 51% own an heirloom machine that was passed down to them from family.
  • 49% have gifted a machine to another person.

Availability of VSMs

Question: How would you characterize the availability of VSMs within 200 miles of your city?

Percentage Responses
Availability seems low compared to other areas of the country. 35 % 255
Availability seems similar to other areas of the country. 50 % 361
Availability seems better than other areas of the country. 11 % 79
Availability seems significantly better than other areas of the country. 3 % 25

Pricing of VSMs

Question: How would you characterize the pricing of VSMs within 200 miles of your city?

Percentage Responses
Pricing seems low compared to other areas of the country.

8 %

Pricing seems average compared to other areas of the country. 52 % 374
Pricing seems high compared to other areas of the country. 35 % 247
Pricing is outrageous compared to other areas of the country! 5 % 35


We asked survey respondents to indicate their favorite resources and reference material for VSMs. The following were mentioned frequently.




Please note: There are abundant specialized groups on Facebook and Yahoo. If uncertain how to find a group specific to your type of machine or preferred brand, feel free to ask in the comments below, on our Facebook page, or at VSMLife.

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  • Chris – it’s definitely unfortunate and frustrating to a lot of collectors that parts seem to cost more for even the most common machines, than the machine itself – unless perhaps if it’s a motor that has been truly reconditioned to “good as new.” I know the topic surfaces in many groups online, but some parts sellers point out the effort they make to acquire the items, stock them, and manage their sales online. If they can’t make some cash, I guess it wouldn’t be worth it for them to offer the parts so many of us seem to need. My personal approach is that if I need a part for a machine that is common, I just find another one of the machines cheaply. I think the challenge for many is that they aren’t able to effectively seek out their own “parts machines” to cannibalize. Thanks for your input!

    James on
  • I have 11 machines from 1889 to 1935 so far every one I have acquired has needed parts or surgery, I am retired so have time on my hands, I find it mildly ridiculous that you can pay more for say a motor and footpedal, than for a complete working machine, I know of one person, there are probably many more, who buys the machines strip them down and sells the parts, so far from a machine he bought for £25 about 28 $ he has realised £105 and he still has the main body,

    Chris Fagan on
  • We observed the trends beginning with 100 responses, all the way through 800 response. Essentially, nothing changed in the ratios no matter how many additional responses there were. No percentage on any particular response fluctuated in a meaningful manner.

    As for wanting more responses – we agree. The survey was offered to groups of tens of thousands of VSM enthusiasts, naturally. It was posted many times throughout 5 weeks across social media. We did what could be done, but given our observation of only the slightest changes in percentage ratios from 100 to 800 respondents, we feel that the survey data is a fair representation primarily of U.S. collectors. Given that the average number of VSMs owned is 17, we also feel comfortable that the represented cohort indeed qualify as collectors.

    James on
  • Good to know there are so many others like yourself and the list of sites and references is appreciated! Would be interesting to know the regional breakdown of the answers on availability and pricing, if at all possible. Thanks for the effort and info in initiating the survey!

    Diana G. on
  • 800 people is a very small percentage of the vintage sewing machine community. I wish the survey would have been presented to a larger audience.

    Cari Pease on

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