Singer 48K

From NBWiki
Jump to: navigation, search



An internet survey of Singer 48K machines was conducted by NeedleBar in 2003/4 to determine range and scope of production, relative availability of hand crank and treadles, confirm type of shuttle, decals, where machines were purchased and other details.

This is an update to the findings and a report incorporating production figures from Singer that weren't available at the time. This model is not common in the US, having only been imported in recent times, as will be explained.

Key Features

The Singer 48K is a high arm, rectangular based Transverse Shuttle machine i.e. the shuttle moves in a straight line from left to right.

Singer 12, low arm, fiddle base

Sub-model descriptions, courtesy of Chrys Gunther:

48K1 - treadle, black balance wheel
48K2 - portable, black wheel
48K3 - treadle, plated wheel
48K4 - portable, plated wheel
Upper: Singer 12 - Lower: Singer 48K
The major difference between the Singer 12 and the Singer 48K is that the 12 is a low arm machine and the 48K has a high arm. The Singer 12 has a fiddle base, the 48K has a rectangular base. Survey respondents confirmed that the machines all use a hybrid shuttle (rather than a boat shuttle), similar to a vibrating shuttle, but with a flat side. The Singer 48K does not use 'left over' Singer 12 parts.
48K2: High arm, rectangular base

48K bobbin & hybrid shuttles on left, Singer 12 bobbin & shuttle on right with a Singer VS shuttle
The bell crank is much larger on the 48K and towards the left is a coiled spring. Whereas the older Singer 12 is attached to the base with hinges and screws, the Singer 48K uses hinge pins. These don't allow the head to be fully tipped back. The machine has a similar elongated rear inspection plate to the Singer 12 New Family machine.

Upper tension is controlled by the screw to the right of the face plate
Singer added a few innovations to the 48K; namely
  • instead of a boat shuttle and small sized bobbin of the Singer 12, a hybrid shuttle taking a VS bobbin was used. No other Singer machine uses a hybrid shuttle.
  • the use of a self-setting standard 15x1 needle, rather than the old round shanked 12x1.
  • a new upper tension control was positioned to the right of the face plate.
  • a shuttle eject mechanism was added too, although the majority of German TS machines had already been using shuttle eject systems.

The most commonly found 48K machines have black hand wheels. This was because it was more expensive to nickel plate parts and customers for this model were unlikely to pay for extras. Another reason for black parts is possibly a hang over from some countries, such as France, having placed taxes on imports of plated parts, classifying them as luxury goods [sewing machine article dated 1886, held by Claire Sherwell]. Instruction manuals are shown with a modest one drawer treadle, again not an indication of an expensive model.

The serial number is located behind the pillar. The machine bed measures 13" x 6 1/4", consequently the wooden base for handcrank models

is a different size from all other Singer models and if needed is almost impossible to find. The bentwood cover measures 19" x 9 1/2". The machine was available for sale with or without cover.


Elongated Rear Inspection Plate with Decals
Singer only produced the model 48K in Kilbowie and only decorated it with Ottoman Carnation ornamentation and Ottoman Carnation with Indian Star decals. The Indian sub-continent was an emerging market at the beginning of the 20th century and using the Indian Star decal was an attempt to stimulate the market throughout the Indian sub-continent. Special difficulties such as overcoming caste prejudice, language differences and limited access to women, made it a difficult market to infiltrate.

The Indian Star machines say 'Singer' in different languages on each point of the star: Onya, Singhalese, Gujarati, Kannada, Hindi, Telugu, Malayalam (or Tamil), Urdu. Singer 'Indian Star' Machines. Very few Singer 48K machines with Indian Star have been noted. The survey asked whether any models had the Chinese bed logo, but no models have been found with the Chinese logo.

Tracking down the origin of the Ottoman Carnation decals is described in Origins of the Ottoman Carnation Decals. This design of ornamentation had already been used on Singer's VS1, Singer 12 and Singer 28. The pattern was already 16 years old by the time it was used on the 48K. It was a tried and trusted pattern, not at the cutting edge of design for a new model.

Design Patent 152220 George Squire's "two large dianthus-like flowers, one buttercup-like flower"
Ottoman Carnation Decals
Additional confirmation of the flowers intentionally being of a style of the Carnation and Dianthus family (dianthus being Latin for the Carnation family) was found in the original 1884 paperwork for the design by George Squire and witnessed by Singer's Lebbeus Miller. It reveals that the flowers depicted were indeed Carnations. Groups of flowers were described:

"...the center of the cloth-plate, contains two large dianthus-like flowers, smaller flowers, and pointed leaves, the branches or stems drooping or curving outwardly from the center.... the main ornament for the front side of the arm, represents a curved branch having two dianthus-like flowers, smaller flowers, and pointed leaves, a slender portion of the branch extending into a word - in this case the word "Singer" - placed at the forward part of the group."

In a second, similar design also by Squire, a buttercup-like flower was introduced:

" of the cloth-plate, contains two large dianthus-like flowers, one buttercup-like flower and intertwined outwardly curved stems bearing numerous buds and small pointed leaves."

These decals are therefore nothing to do with orange slices, oriental flowers or peacock tails as perpetuated in some quarters.

Instruction Manual

Ruffler for 48K
Old Kilbowie Tuck-marker shown on a VS machine in 48K manual
According to Singer literature, all machines were supplied with a copy of instructions. Those manuals reported were mainly copies emanating from one source in the USA, dated May 1900 (Form K284). Other original copies of this manual have turned

up with the same date, as well as originals in German dated 1902 (2554) and Italian (K294) dated 1908. It is not known whether other dates for the English manual were printed.

The Italian 1908 manual includes a list of Singer 48K part numbers.

In the attachments' section of manuals all the illustrations for attachments are shown on Vibrating Shuttle machines rather than a 48K. The shuttle shown is also a Vibrating Shuttle, rather than the hybrid shuttle. It is common for Singer not to have updated all its new manuals. The old style Kilbowie Tuck-Marker is shown, and the new style Ruffler #26156 is illustrated (but was only available at additional cost), except in Germany where neither were illustrated nor mentioned.

Singer 48K Instruction Manual

Production Figures and Survey Responses

Comparing numbers from Chrys Gunther's analysis of Singer's Production Figures for Popular Machines, it can be seen that the Singer 48K was produced in much greater numbers than other collector's models:

Singer 48K - 535,150 - manufactured for 13 years
Singer 115 - 333,544 - manufactured for 12 years
Singer 101 - 230,475 - manufactured for 12 years
Singer 206 - 180,500 - manufactured for 17 years
Singer 222K - 108,900 - manufactured for 8 years
Singer 30K - 15,500 - manufactured for 11 years

According to Singer's released dating information, the model was produced in batches dating from January 1900 to June 1913. Singer has not released detailed information of pre-1900 model production, but in the internet survey conducted by NeedleBar in 2003 & 2004 (pre-release of Singer dating records), no 48K machines were found to have been produced before 1900.

The 48K was only produced in the Scottish factory in Kilbowie; none was manufactured at Singer's Elizabethport factory supplying the United States.
Graph Showing Machines Surveyed, by Serial Letter
Production of 48K

48K Production Figures:

  • Serial Letter M - (Jan-Jun 1900) - 20,000 machines
  • Serial Letter P - (Jul-Dec 1900) - 50,000 - machines
  • Serial Letter R - Jan 1902 - Dec 1903) - 102,500 machines
  • Serial Letter J - (Jan 1904 - June 1905) - 120,150 machines
  • Serial letter S - (Jan 1906 - June 1907) - 100,100 machines
  • Serial Letter V - (Jan 1908 - June 1909) - 60,100 machines
  • Serial Letter F - (Jan 1910 - June 1913) - 82,300 machines

The responses collected from the survey showed an overwhelming number of machines, over 45%, with a serial number beginning with the letter R, despite more machines having been manufactured under J. It seems likely that the high number of machines reported with R serial letters was due to more of this model being sold in the UK market at that time. Possible factors affecting this are discussed under Economic Climate, below.

One of the aims of the survey was to discover the location of 48K machines. The main results a) mirrored internet use b) interest in Singer 48K machines c) already established trends to buy from eBay in the US and Canada, while those in the UK and Europe often found these machines 'in the wild'.

Of those reporting machines with an R serial letter, 55% of machines were in the UK, 32% in the US, the rest in Germany, Canada and Japan.

Owners of machines reporting V serial letters were the most widespread, having bought them in the UK, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, USA, Canada and Australia.

Over 7% of respondents owned more than one 48K.

A few machines were reported from Singer's dating tables that are flagged with an "R". This is a different R from the serial number letter designation. According to Chrys Gunther's research, these are Renewals. This is an inventory management system used to track costs, shortages and performance, etc. Inventory levels are determined at a certain amount. When levels drop more production is ordered. Meanwhile more large orders come in. (e.g. from big factories ordering lots of industrial machines). Levels have to be constantly re-evaluated and adjusted. Certain batches are flagged as renewals for purposes of elaborate calculations. This is an internal factory process and the machines are no different from the other machines. Singer Serial Numbers

Locating pin holes
Singer 48K Treadle on Manual Cover, Only One Drawer
The majority of machines reported in the survey were hand cranks, particularly those reported having been bought in Canada and the USA, presumed to have originated in the UK. Hardly surprising when one considers that in recent years antiques dealers prefer to ship hand cranks from England (where they are plentiful and cheap) rather than treadles to the US. The trend to supply Singer 48K machines for sale in America, where prices reached are higher than in Europe (due to all hand cranks not having been supplied as readily in the US when new), has continued since the 2003 survey. Respondents from Australia and Germany reported more treadles than elsewhere.

All hand cranks reported had treadle belt holes in their wooden base in order to affix to a treadle base, as a combination treadle if necessary. Many reported having the locating pin holes to steady them on a treadle table. Earlier machines are less likely to have these locating pin holes according to the style of combination treadle supplied. Singer Combination Treadle/Handcranks and Other makes of Combination Treadle/Handcranks

Sales Documents

When Singer in Kilbowie introduced the 99K in 1911 and the 128K in 1912 (12 and 4 years respectively before production of those models in the US), it seems that the Singer 28K took over from the 48K, covering the lower end of the market. The Singer 28K, being at the bottom of the market, wasn't mentioned in sales listings after the introduction of the 128K, despite the 28K being manufactured until 1941.

48K Trade Card: Courtesy of Randle McBay
Sales Information on Trade Card: Courtesy of Randle McBay
Similarly, there appears to be an almost complete absence of advertising material for the Singer 48K. Even during 1905 (J serial numbers) when 48K production was almost at its peak, the model is absent from Singer's UK sales brochure. The 48K does not appear to be mentioned in UK machine brochures or price lists during its entire 13 years' production.

A trade card appears in Charles Law's Encyclopedia of Antique Sewing machines, but on close inspection it will be found to be a Singer 15 from 1893 (before the 48K was produced). This absence of widespread 48K advertising in the UK points towards it being aimed only at the budget end of the market when attempts to persuade a customer to purchase a more expensive model had failed, and as a cheaper export model aimed at overseas markets.

The only advertising that emerged as a result of the survey is courtesy of Randle McBay. It is interesting to note that

  • Cash Price with cover was £4 12 6 reduced to £3 12 6,
  • compared with the cheapest Cash Price with cover of £5 15 0 for a Singer 28K in 1901. The 28K was the cheapest model in the sales brochure, before 128K production began.
  • and £5 15 0 for a 128K in 1912, again the cheapest model with no listing for the 28K from that time onwards.

The 48K was Singer's cheapest selling family machine.

Economic Climate

48K with 48K and Indian Star Decals
Although German industry was initially late developing family sewing machines, with the rise of German technical schooling [Germany as a Competitor, 1898], German low arm models quickly became outmoded. Manufacture of German machines with a more practical higher arm allowing greater amounts of fabric under the arm, a rectangular base, plus features such as a shuttle eject, better bobbin winders and a variety of decals, became popular. After almost a decade of Germany dominating the non-US markets with their rectangular high arm models, Singer must have been aware that their low arm "New Family" machine, the Singer 12, was out of date by 1900. At that time the non-US market was already awash with German TS machines (see the numerous examples in the German section of the NeedleBar Picture Library), undercutting Singer's prices, helped by lower wages and cheaper manufacturing costs in Germany, where production of low arm fiddlebase machines (except for some Saxonias) was already much less, in preference to the high arm models. So Singer was late to enter the market with this rectangular bed machine.

German TS machines weren't imported in any great numbers into the USA during the 19th century, due to the protectionist import duties of 45% on imported sewing machines [various sewing machine journals, 1883, 1898, 1901, 1905] in order to protect the US market, thereby making it uneconomical to ship low cost machines to the US. Germany also imported large numbers of sewing machines and the imposition of greater duties on imported machines into Germany at the beginning of the 20th century led to Singer establishing the Wittenberge factory in Germany, in an attempt to get around greater import duties.

Singer traditionally targeted the higher end of market sales and 90% of their sales were for family machines [Godley, Selling the Sewing Machine] until the acquisition of Wheeler & Wilson in 1905. The new 48K therefore attempted to follow German production in supplying a model to cover the lower price brackets and compete with other low cost machines in expanding markets, such as Russia and the Indian sub- ontinent, where German machines were already established.

The anomaly of so many reported machines falling in R serial letters, although the peak of production was J, may be have been due to more 48K machines being sold in the UK at that time. It could be explained by a number of factors, noting that Kilbowie machines were widely exported in great numbers.

  • 1902 Singer's Podolsk factory in Russia opened. But in 1904-5 the Russo-Japanese War interrupted production. Kilbowie supplies were diverted to supply Podolsk's obligations. Podolsk had been unable to satisfy demands since opening and Kilbowie was instructed to "make a material increase in [its] Russian allotment, even if to do so it will be necessary to reduce the shipments to other countries where the stock requirement is not so urgent." [Davis, Peacefully Working]. This would have affected the supplies of all models available in England and elsewhere. 1905 saw the strike at Podolsk, leaving 115,000 unfilled orders to be replaced from Kilbowie.
  • From a high in 1900, sewing machine sales in the UK dropped through 1901, 1902, 1903 & 1904 [Godley] indicating a depressed economy in which cheaper models would be more desirable.
  • Assuming a possible lag in sales from batch dates, 1904 was still a year of depressed sewing machine sales; recovery didn't begin until 1906 e.g. Bradbury noted an increase in sales of cheaper machines, Biesolt & Locke commented on an increase in the cost of raw materials, Singer's Wittenberge factory was due to come on line [sales information, held by Claire Sherwell]
  • Singer's imposition of canvassers being paid commission only, rather than a salary plus commission c1904. Previously a canvasser was paid a weekly wage of perhaps 15s 6d, plus a selling commission of 7 1/2% and a collection commission of 5% [sewing machine documents: Salary or Commission & Singer Canvasser Disputes, 1905, held by Claire Sherwell]. This may have led to canvassers being more hungry for sales in a poor economic climate.
  • 1905 saw an increase in the cost of raw materials, most countries raised duties on imported sewing machines making the 48K in England an

attractively-priced machine.

Sales Destinations

From the Instruction Manual
Singer's emerging sewing machine markets at that time are divided into four separate categories [Godley, 2000], each with their own different challenges to sales:
  1. Advanced & Industrialized Western Europe
  2. Less industrialized Europe including Russia, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Scandinavia
  3. Non-industrialized countries such as the Ottoman Empire (60000 machines sold in 1902), India, South Africa
  4. New World of Australia & New Zealand

The New World had the fastest growth during the overall production period of the 48K, having more disposable income. Diffusion of sewing machines in less industrialized Europe was less than 1% of the population having a sewing machine in 1890, rising to 2% in 1902 and over 5% in 1914. In the undeveloped regions, South Africa and the Ottoman Empire grew faster than India in this period.

Households in these slower growth areas are likely to have bought machines at the lower end of the price spectrum.

The Singer 48K was introduced in 1900 in a late attempt to provide a low cost machine for developing markets and as a budget model in all other countries supplied by the Kilbowie factory. In doing so, Singer hoped to cover both ends of the market with a model more advanced than the Singer 12. It was produced in greater numbers than many other collector machines, though less than Singer's mainstream family models, and its distribution is widespread.

With thanks to everyone who responded to the 2003 NeedleBar survey, and to those who have submitted information since then, also to Randle McBay, and especially to Chrys Gunther for her invaluable assistance and input.

If you have new data or would like to contribute to the information collected so far, please write to Claire at or drop a line to the NeedleBar Forum

Pictures: Claire Sherwell

© Claire Sherwell & NeedleBar 2003, 2008, 2009