Vintage 1936 Singer model 221 "Featherweight" sewing machine, $15.

If you've been to many yard sales or flea markets, you've undoubtedly seen those old black singer sewing machines, most of which aren't really worth bothering with. But the Singer model 221 and 222 "Featherweight" machines are always worth bothering with if the price is right, and you only have to do an eBay search for Singer Featherweight to see how much some of these machines sell for. How do you tell them from the other non-featherweight models? They're really small. Notice the ruler in the photo that shows this machine measures only 10 inches from the needle end to the motor end. That's noticeably smaller than just about any other sewing machine you’re likely to encounter.

We found this in the utility room off the carport of a yard sale in a trailer park. As I peered in the door, I saw it sitting on a shelf and asked the owner if it was for sale. She told me that no, it wasn't for sale. So, I just stood there and looked at it for a few moments. Heck, she said, she didn't really know if she was ready to sell it, and added that she didn't even know if it worked anymore. So, I didn't say anything, because I knew that her silence meant that she was thinking up a price. I expected her to pipe up with something like, "Well, you know those machines are expensive as heck. They sell for hundreds on eBay, so I'd have to get at least..." But apparently what she was thinking was, "How much will he pay me for that old machine? He obviously really wants it, but I don't want to scare him off. Hmmm..." When she said "How about $15?" I knew she had no idea what it was.

This scenario was a great example of the fact that so often in this business, you and the seller will mentally be on different planets. When I'm at a yard sale and see something valuable, and the seller tells me, "Oh, that's not for sale," I always ask, "At any price?" Of course, the seller often does reaffirm the fact that the item's not for sale, and the matter is closed. But things can get interesting because sometimes the item really is for sale, but for a price the seller didn't know she could ever get for it. As an example, a seller may think that a particular item couldn't possibly be worth more than $30 or $40 dollars, and therefore isn't even worth selling at that price. If I really want it, though, I'll have to pay the exorbitant sum of $80. But I know that I can unload the item on eBay for $500, which means that $80 is a very equitable price. See what I mean? Different planets.

Now for a quick warning. In the photos above, you'll notice that the machine in the bottom two photos is not a model 221, but a very similar machine, a model 99, which will bring you only a fraction of what a model 221 will bring you on eBay. The confusion lies in the fact that these two machines look very similar and are about the same size. The easiest way to tell them apart is to look at the light shroud and the bobbin spindle on the top of the machine.

On the 221, the light sits under a little shroud that's actually part of the body of the machine. On the model 99, the light is on the other side of the machine, and is actually a separate unit that's attached to the machine. On the 221, the thread bobbin sits on a separate, flat piece of metal that screws onto the top of the machine. On the model 99, the thread bobbin sits on a spindle that's secured right to the top of the machine.

It's important to know these differences, because it's not unusual to run across one of these old machines missing the little badge that identifies the model. At times like these, it's up to you to make the identification. And it's very important that you can do so, since the model 99 is worth only a fraction of what a 221 is worth! This particular machine sold on eBay for $180.

Photo of 1936 vintage Singer 221 featherweight sewing machine