A Concise History of the Featherweight Case
For Singer, the number one selling point for the Featherweight was its portability with the lightweight design of the machine unique and desirable. For the Singer Featherweight to truly be portable, however, it also had to have a lightweight and compact case - one that would hold the machine, controller and all the accessories. The Singer Featherweight case is distinctive, and a component that unquestionably sets the machine apart from others Singer made. In this article, we will analyze the different Featherweight case styles and the various components throughout their years of manufacture.
Type I 1933:
Some of the most unique cases for the black Featherweights were the very first ones. On the outside you will notice the small brass latches, clasps and hinges. These were not quite a strong as the later style, but they still locked and kept the machine somewhat secure.
Upon opening the case you will be greeted by the distinct green interior and "hanger bracket." That bracket is designed to press on the cover plate and hold the machine in place during transport. It was a good thought by Singer, but it was soon removed we assume because it was often broke off, and it left marks on the cover plate.
In the type I cases the metal foot controllers hang from a metal bracket in the top tray. This design was also short-lived, probably because the foot controller is supported by thin wood which often splits, and the cord hangs below scratching the machine surface. You can also observe the three divided sections of the tray in the photo below:
Type II 1934-1935:
The second case that Singer made is somewhat similar to the previous one, but it is still quite a different case. On the exterior it has the same latches and handles, but if you compare this case to the previous one you can see that it is about 3/4" shorter.
On the inside the case has the green lining like the previous case, but the top tray is enclosed and organized much differently. There is also no hanger bracket.
Type III 1935-1946:
With Singer's third Featherweight case, they used a new style of latches that were much more sturdy than the previous ones. The interior is no longer green but the common black color lining.
Case IVa 1947-1950:
This case style is very similar to the last one with the only update being the handle which is more sturdy than its predecessors.
Case IVb 1950-1951
Case IVb is a very uncommon case most often found in 1950. It is alike to IVa, but features the ribbed bakelite handle instead of the leather one.
Case Va 1950-1952:
This was the first Featherweight case Singer made with the metal side tray. Because there is no top tray, these cases are shorter, but a little bit wider. On the inside of the case there is a new bracket to hold the foot controllers in the lid of the case.
The type Va cases feature the ribbed case handle.
Case Type Vb 1952-1953
The type Vb case features a smooth Bakelite handle compared to the ribbed handle of type Va.
Case VIa 1953-1957:
The final US Featherweight case type had a different style foot controller bracket and a new style of clasps.
Case VIb 1960-1961
This case subtype is a little bit tricky to categorize, because it wasn't used with Featherweights produced in the USA, rather it was used with Red 'S' badged 221 machines manufactured in the UK and shipped to North America. The cases were made in North America, but the machines were not. This case subtype features the screw-in handle and can be found with a metal side tray or the red plastic one.
221K and 222K Cases:
The cases for the black Featherweights made in the UK were similar to the US ones, but still different in quite a few ways. Below is a list showing the black UK Featherweight cases in order of when they were produced.
Case IV-UK 1947-1949
The first case issued for the UK made Featherweights was just like case IV in the US on the outside, but the interior was slightly different because Singer was using a different oil can in the UK.
Here is a photo of the oil can bracket on the US IV case:
Here is a photo of the oil can bracket for the UK IV case:
Case IV-UK #2 1950-1953
This was the last UK Featherweight case that included a top tray. At this point in time the Featherweight cases for the US Featherweights had already started using the side tray. On this case Singer updated the handle to a bakelite one, and they added a new style case latch.
This was also the first case that Singer used for the 222K Featherweight. Because the 222 is a taller machine and would hit the top tray, Singer removed and did not include the tray when they used these cases with the 222.
Case V-UK 1953-1959
This case was used for both the 221K and 222K during its production time. It has a side tray instead of a top tray, and it also has the added foot controller bracket in the lid.
In approximately 1958 Singer started using a red plastic tray mounted on a bracket instead of the metal tray screwed to the case.
Case V-UK #2 1959-1961
The final case for the black 221K and 222K machines is similar to the one prior, but the handle and has been updated and screws into the lid of the case.
Tan Featherweight Case 1960-1962
When Singer started producing the Featherweights in different colors, they had to change the case colors as well. The cases for the White and Tan Featherweights were much different than the black ones. The handle for the Tan Featherweight cases was identical to the last black on in shape, but it was a dark brown color. Singer used a much different style latch system with these cases, and the tan cases do not lock like most other cases. The interior had the same features as a side tray black case, but everything was of course a tan color.
White Featherweight Cases 1963-1970
With the white Featherweight Singer started cutting a few corners, like the hardwired cord and shortened bed; the cases that went with these machines were no exception. The wood was thinner, the covering was not as strong, and there was no designated spot for the attachments or foot controller. The upside to the White Featherweight cases was the variety of ones that Singer made. Singer sold the White Featherweight in the US, Canada, and EU. Each region that Singer sold the White Featherweight had multiple different case styles:
US White Featherweight Cases:
In the US Singer had two different white Featherweight cases. One had a fabric type covering and a handle held in by pins. The case also locked.
The second US White Featherweight case had a paper type covering and the handle molded to a shape that would fit into the brackets. This case did not lock like the previous one.
Canada White Featherweight Cases:
The most unique Featherweight cases were the ones produced for the White Featherweights marketed in Canada. The cases were a smaller and not a hard wood case like the others. They are a vinyl type material and most common in blue, but they have also been seen in turquoise and red.
The interior color of the blue cases was either gray or cream.
Europe and UK White Featherweight Cases
The cases sold with the White Featherweights in Europe and Australia are quite possible the cutest cases Singer made, with a violet "Houndstooth" interior and a variety of exteriors.
This case has latches that flip down instead of up!
Featherweight Case Peculiarities
Above are the photos of the standard cases, but there are other interesting cases and case components that are quite unique.
Corduroy Case Insert:
In about 1937 Singer started adding a corduroy insert to the lid of a select few Featherweight cases. There were two styles of the corduroy insert, and they both were only seen in the type III Featherweight case. Both inserts are very rare and add value to the machine and case.
This was the first style corduroy insert seen in 1937
This is the second style insert seen from about 1938-1940
Case Latches and Clasps:
There were also some different latch styles on the Featherweight cases. These odd latches may call into question the originality of a case, but we have observed them a few times. We suspect it was something that the case manufacturers used if they ran out of the normal case latches for a period of time.
This latch set was seen on a few III cases in about 1936-1937
The set below was seen on occasion with the type Vb-VI cases in 1952-1953
Because of the various latches that were used for the Featherweight cases, there were also several different keys. Below is a photo of the keys for the more common Featherweight latches.
On the left we have the key for the type I and II latches, next is the key for the type III, IV, V and VI latches, following that is the key for the 221K and 222K case latches starting in about 1950, to the right of that key is the key for the white and green White Featherweight cases with the fabric covering, and to the right of that key is the oddly shaped key for some of the vinyl Canadian White Featherweight cases.
Where were the cases made?
The cases that were made for the Featherweight, were most often not marked with the location of where they were made, but there are some clues as to these cases origins.
Below is a photo of the cardboard insert in the bottom of a Featherweight case. Marked on it is "South Bend, Indiana." Singer produced much of their earlier cabinets and cases in South Bend which at one point in time was the largest cabinet factory in the world.
South Bend ceased making cases after the war, so it is unknown where many of the later Featherweight cases were manufactured. The only clue that we have to the production of later cases is the stamp located on the bottom of some type "VI" cases.
The case is one of the most important and distinctive elements of the Featherweight. This post should enlighten you on the many variations and changes made throughout the years.