Thursday, June 20, 2013

Singer 401a

Trolling through the only thrift store in town, I spotted a blonde - not a female, I'm too old for that - this was a blonde sewing machine cabinet. Now, blonde furniture hasn't been in style for quite a few years, so, if it was not just an empty cabinet, this held some promise of a vintage sewing machine.

I didn't recognize the cabinet as Singer, and figured it would contain a Japanese machine of the 1960s.
To my surprise, when I lifted the lid, inside was a Singer 401a!

 I think I've told this story before, but a Singer 301 was my first machine and a 401 was my second machine and my first zig zag machine. I still have a soft spot in my heart for slant-needle Singers, even though I have better sewing machines and I already have too many slant-needle Singers. I don't see many of these around any more, mostly late model plastic machines.

Accumulated dirt made this one look like it had been stored in a barn for some time. It was missing the slide plate and one spool pin and the bobbin winder tire was disintegrated but the stitch selectors and balance wheel turned freely, it had the power cord and foot control and the price was right, so I brought it home.

When I removed the head from the cabinet, I found a tag saying, "Make Offer". Apparently the machine was offered at a local yard sale and no one was tempted to make an offer, so it was donated to the thrift store.

The old girl cleaned up nicely and with just cleaning and oiling and replacing of a few common parts, it sews nicely. I have sewn three small projects on it and am quite pleased with my latest find. Now, I have to pick another machine to get rid of because I am under a one-in-one-out mandate.


Michelle said...

The 401A is the by far, my favorite vintage sewing machine. I get excited each time I see one, and I usually bring it home. Ok, not usually, I DO bring them home, no matter what shape they are in.

Anonymous said...

Hi Ed: I have a 401a and the round brown knob won't push in. The other one behind it turns find. Do you have any ideas except lots of oil? Thanks for any help...

Ed Lamoureux said...

Dear Anonymous, Please see my July 2010 post, "Singer 401/500/600 Stitch Selectors" --Ed

Sheila R said...

Nice find! Blonde furniture is back in vogue. I'm curious - what are some machines that you like better than the 401?

Anonymous said...

I just found this exact model (Singer 401A) at a local thrift store today and purchased it for $19.99. Unfortunately, it only came with the ZZ foot, and had no other attachments, cams, or manual, so I'm hoping I can locate some of the cams on Ebay. The hand wheel was frozen, so the needle wouldn't move up or down. Also the rubber wheel on the bobbin winder was cracked. I dropped it off at the Viking Husqvarna dealer who just repaired the cam stack on my VH#6020, and she quoted me a $90 price to loosen it up and have it serviced. I'm really looking forward to trying out this machine once I get it back in couple of weeks. I'm an amateur collector and have 19 other machines. The other singers I have in my collection are a 15-91, 534, 543 and 2250. A Singer 5528 was my daughter's XMas present 2 yrs ago as her 1st machine (she's 13).


Drema said...

I own one of these babies and love it!

Anonymous said...

Just bought one today...going to need some cleaning

Joe said...

Mom just told me today she wants to sell her 401a. Light usage. Cabinet. Manuals. All accessories. A bajillion bobbins. I'll see if there is a quilting group in the Bay Area interested. Thanks for the information.

Anonymous said...

Hi Joe, do you still have your Mom's 401a? If so, email me at I'm interested. Thanks.


Lisa said...

I was just reading your blog, and recall a very similar situation, just last weekend. I was looking at thrift stores for a nice/decent cabinet for a 66-18 I'm restoring (not period - I need it to really run well), and my Aunt came across a really nice cabinet that I actually walked right past. VERY long (and cool) story short, I am the proud owner of a, SURPRISE, 401A!!

The serial number is NA501*** and according to the Singer site, it's a 1951. Here's my question, where can I find a reliable history on this machine? I've heard so much but now I'm seriously confused - My research said that they were introduced in 1957 for Christmas... which makes my numbers all wonky.



(If I sent this twice, I'm sorry - The system is new to me)

Ed Lamoureux said...

My old Sewing Machine Blue Book (which is not always totally accurate) says the 401 was sold from 1958-1960. I see that the Singerco site states that NA501 serial numbers were manufactured in 1951 but I believe the 401 was much later than that. The ISMACS website shows NA serial numbers being produced from 1951 to 1959. I suspect your machine falls in the later part of that series. -Ed

Bernie Pokorski said...

HI Ed,

I recognize your name from past correspondence with you on one of the yahoo sewing machine groups. I have question: in the last photo of the 401A machine, it shows a red sticker on the front rail of the machine, to the right side and below the bed. I have a similar sticker on my Singer 500A machine,, and it's Singer sticker, stating that the machine was re-possessed at one time. Does the sticker on your machine say the same?

Regards, Bernie "Son of A Singer Man"

Richard Beman said...

Hello, in reference to the remarks as to when the #401 machine was produced. The Singer #401 was manufacturing challenge for the Singer company. They were in trouble in regard to WW2 recovery. they had previously ruled the sewing machine industry and now had competition from Europe and Japan, who produced machines with many "bells and whistles" and at a competitive price.
Singer had to come up with a "winner". The answer was the #401 machine.. The #401 had been designed with patents bought from Bernina and Vigorelli . Bernina stipulated that the machine could in no way resemble their machine. Legal battles ensued and the machine was allowed to be manufactured in 1957, allowing sales for Christmas of 1957, despite claims of earlier production. The first machine was very overbuilt, with a #301 motor, tension assembly, bakelite cord connectors, bronze bearings and heavily
chromed screws on the face of the machine. The #401 was sold until 1961 when the #500 machine was introduced..

Anonymous said...

Ed Lamoureux said...
"My old Sewing Machine Blue Book (which is not always totally accurate) says the 401 was sold from 1958-1960. I see that the Singerco site states that NA501 serial numbers were manufactured in 1951 but I believe the 401 was much later than that. The ISMACS website shows NA serial numbers being produced from 1951 to 1959. I suspect your machine falls in the later part of that series. -Ed"

I have just acquired a 401A and am trying to learn as much about it as I can. I have come across an excellent site that explains how to date your machine using the serial number. If I understand it correctly, Singer allotted a range of serial numbers in one year; to be used over the next several years. For example: One million NA numbers were allotted in 1951 for models 301, 301A, 401A and 403A and appear to be used from 1951 to 1956. One million NB numbers were allotted in 1956 for model 301, 401, and 403 and were used from 1956 to 1961. And so on.... The site states that Lisa's serial number "NA501****" was manufactured in the Anderson factory in 1956. My 401A NB561*** was manufactured in the Anderson factory in 1958. A great deal of confusion when trying to date your model, for sure! I believe, caused in part, by the date serial numbers were allotted vs. the date a model was manufactured. Here is the site: I am just a newbie at this, so hope this helps. Lynn

Richard Beman said...

Hello, the #401 machine had not been conceived in 1951, so no serial numbers could have been allocated for it at that time. As I stated before, the #401 was an expensive venture for the Singer company. The #401 used patents purchased from Bernina and Vigorelli as well as the slant needle design of the #301. Here are the correct allocation and manufacture dates..
NA 500001- NA 700000 1956 None were manufactured and sold until the 1957 Debut..
NA 700001- NA 900000 1957
NA 900001- NA 999999 1958
NB 300001- NB 600000 1958
NB 700001- NB 800000 1959
NB 800001- NB 900000 1960
NC 000001- NC100000 1961
Thank you, Richard Beman

Anonymous said...

I have one that's in a small cabinet with a stool. I kept it for sentimental reasons but have no more room for it. How do I go about advertising and selling?

Anna Herring said...

I was given a 401a from a 92 yr old sweet lady whow name is Laura. She worked for singer for over 40 yrs.
The machine is in top running condition. In its original cabinet with bench. The original tan box with barely touched manual. All the attachments are still in the box. Which includes the coin and the screwdriver. Also a buttonholer in its burgundy case.also a souvenir (I believe pattern perforater)still in the box with a paper template or something. That's all I can think of off the top of my head. Laura stated she paid almost $700.00 when the machine came out. I know her memory isn't always the best so is that an accurate price for a machine in the 50's? Also where would I find my serial number on the machine ?
I am a novice when it comes to sewing my daughter and I are learning together since shes expecting her first child. I am just exstatic that I was given such a beautiful machine. Even came with all her sewing items. After digging in the drawers and what I found were some patterns from the same era that are still good enough to still use. A box with silk thread from Cartier. Paper needle packages that have never been used. So on and such. Any ideas on a estimated monetary value of her gift ?

Dan said...

Would any know where I can obtain a moving bobbin plate/cover in Perth WA ?