Thursday, July 28, 2011

A Visual Guide to Identifying Singers from Crappy Craigslist Photos, Part 2: Narrowing Down the Model 15

In the last entry we learned to deduce if we were looking at a model 15--or something else--based on the giveaway "runway" and "ski jump" of the machine's profile.

If it is a model 15, we'll next figure out if it's a 15-91 with the potted (direct-drive) motor, a 15-90 with the side-mounted (belt-drive) motor, or an earlier model 15 that might have been treadled, hand-cranked or converted to electric.

If it's a 15-91 or 15-90, it will have minimal decals on the arm, just saying SINGER with some slight flourishes (see top photo). Earlier model 15s will have more extreme, ornate decals on the arm and pillar, like these:

Photo too small to see detail, but you can see a lot of gold on the arm, too much to be a modern 15.

So if you've determined it's a model 15 and see those large splotches of gold on the arm and pillar, you'll know it was an earlier 15. The earlier 15s don't have reverse and I don't collect them, so that's the extent of my coverage on the early 15s.

Now on to the more modern (and common, around me) later model 15s: The 15-90s and 15-91s made from the 1930s through 1950s. These all have reverse and this circular stitch length indicator plate:

(The 201 is the only other machine you'll see with this circular plate. We'll get into that later.)

The 15-91 is what I most commonly see here in the NYC area. The potted motor is easy to spot if you're lucky enough to see non-operator-side photos of the machine:

Sometimes the photo is taken from the operator side, from slightly above. In that case, look for the little "sunset" of a potted motor peeking over the machine's horizon. Sometimes it's just a little black bump that cannot otherwise be explained.

Or from a rear 3/4 angle, in which case the potted motor cannot hide completely behind the handwheel:

And sometimes, yes, people will photograph it from that one angle that makes it completely impossible to see if a potted motor is there:

The good news in that latter case is, that very angle that hides the potted motor is also perfect for revealing whether it's a 15-90 with the side-mounted motor. See the side-mounted motor peeking out here?

So to back up a second, if you see this photo...

...the absence of a side-mounted motor peeking out here (and the simple decals on the arm meaning it's a modern 15) pretty much guarantees it's a 15-91, with the potted motor just hiding from the photographer.

Okay, Quiz Time. Look at the following crap-tastic photos: Which is a 15-90, and which is a 15-91?

I threw some very tricky ones in there, using some of the worst photos I could dig up. Check below to see if you got them right.

1. Side motor, 15-90
2. No side motor, tiny bump of potted motor, 15-91
3. Side motor, 15-90
4. Side motor, 15-90
5. Tiny bump showing side motor, 15-90
6. Cannot see side motor. Potted motor is visible but with white tape on it, tricky. 15-91
7. Terribly dark photo, but the slightest irregularity in the handwheel shape shows you a potted motor is hiding back there. 15-91
8. No bump showing side motor, 15-91

If you were able to pick some of these up, hopefully you've amazed yourself. These are some terrible, terrible photos that you probably never imagined you could glean useful information from; yet we can figure out the models in them if we know what to look for. When you look through as many ads as I do, this can save you a lot of time, phone calls, e-mails, driving, and the seller and buyer wasting each other's time.

The photos are too small and crappy to tell the actual condition of the machines, of course, but knowing what models they are can at least help you quickly narrow your search.

Go on to:

Part 3: Is it a 201?

Part 4: Is it a 66?

Part 5: Is it a 99?

Or go back to:

Part 1: Is it a model 15?


  1. One of my first "finds" was a 15-91 on Craigslist. I studied that crappy photo and enlarged it with the computer and studied it some more. I hoped it was a 15-91 but wasn't sure. I finally chased it down and was so pleased that I persisted. It sits on the bench now awaiting attention. Gotta order the Brownell bits first.

  2. I've got a 306 that I mistook for a 319 from a crappy Craigslist photo. after an hours drive, and for only $20, I had to take it home. After that I got a lot better at photo IDs, but I'm learning a lot more from this thread. thanks!

  3. Coincidentally, I just got back from a 2.5 hour drive where I picked up my first 306, a black one. If I find a 319 I'll be sure to pore over it and list the differences here. These are great looking machines.

  4. Hi, it's nice to see all your help with identification. You seem to have missed the most obvious way to tell a model 15 machine: the tension is on the faceplate of the machine instead of on the front. That little lump sticking out of the left hand end is an absolute giveaway in all of your photos.

    Dorothy in Oz
    TreadleOn member

  5. Hi,
    I'm in the market for a 15-91, and came across a pretty decent Kijiji (the Craigslist alternative in Canada) set of photos. I'm 99% sure it's a 15-91, but the stitch selector plate is nickel (and beautiful). The price is great, and at the risk of losing it to your readers, do you know if there was a limited edition etc. with a nickel plate?


  6. My 15-90 (identified thanks to this site) also has the nickel stitch selector plate.

  7. I have a 15sv10 in excellent condition and would to find more information on it. Could you possibly help?


  8. In the section breaking down whether the unit is a 15-90 or 15-91 (side mount versus potted motor) Picture number three shows a 15-90 (I better have gotten that right!) On the wooden base at right is what appears to be a keyhole. I have the same keyhole on my unit and it appears to be used to adjust the motor controller. Is this correct? I have been unable to locate information on this type of 'speed adjuster'. Can you enlighten me on this?


    1. Sean, that's not to adjust the motor controller; it's to activate it. Singer offered an optional knee bar that could be inserted into the hole. The operator then controlled the motor by pressing against the bar with their right knee. I actually have this arrangement on my Singer cabinets and I greatly prefer it to the foot pedal.

      - Nick