The “Blackside Featherweight” can be an obscure find, unless you know what to look for, because it may just look like a regular Featherweight with only a few darker looking parts. However, there are some important distinctives, so you don't want to presume that just because a Featherweight has a blackside part, that it falls into the collectible “Blackside Featherweight” category. Proceed cautiously when purchasing one.
Before we discuss “blackside” specifically, we must delve into a bit of history from WWII. As you know, there were shortages and rations of certain metals and alloys to aid with the war effort. Chromium was in such short supply that it was restricted for war material use only. This government restriction is reported to have reduced chromium usage by about 60% during that time. Moreover, copper, iron, steel, and aluminum were critical with several scrap metal drives held around the country.
The US government also utilized the manufacturing industry for the benefit of the war, including the Singer Manufacturing Company. The War Production Board ruled, by order of the L-98 Limitation Order, that production of some civilian goods greatly diminish. This order, effective, June 15, 1942, included the manufacture of family sewing machines, attachments, repair parts, etc. at the Elizabethport, New Jersey Singer factory. The order remained in effect until July 1945.
To coincide with the moratorium on chromium, a black oxide (blackside) finish was regularly used on metal parts. Black oxide is a result of a bluing or phosphating process (sometimes called Parkerizing, named after its developers in the early 1900’s). This process continues to this day and is often used on firearms* and their corresponding parts. The first parkerizing techniques only used manganese phosphating, which produces a charcoal black finish. Zinc phosphating, invented in 1942, produces a light to medium gray finish. A Blackside Featherweight will have some of these blackened parts.
*Upon posting this information on our former website, one of our customers and friends in the business e-mailed us with some insightful information. In one of his earlier "careers" he was in the gun business and spent six years working for Colt Firearms Company as their Western States Sales Manager and as their Customer Service Manager and as their Manager of Historical Research back in Hartford, CT. Over the years, since about 1910, Colt has produced millions of their .45 caliber, semi-auto, self loading pistol. During World War II, the demand for this gun far exceeded the production capabilities of the Colt Plant in Hartford. To solve the problem, the U.S. Government let out contracts for this gun to a number of "civilian" manufacturers that changed over to war-time production of the .45 auto pistol. One of the least known of these sub-contractors was the Singer Sewing Machine Company of Elizabeth, New Jersey.
On April 17, 1940 a contract to build 500 of the .45 auto pistols for the U.S. Army was sublet to Singer. After the limited production of 500 guns they ceased production of firearms. There were only 500 made during 1940 (this out of a total war-time production of millions of the same model gun). The slide of the gun is marked, "S. Mfg. Co, Elizabeth, N.J. U.S.A. The Singer marked gun is, today, a much sought after collector item demanding a price of upwards of $32,000.00 to $45,000.00 for one in "near-mint" condition.....Much more than any Singer Featherweight model on today's collector market.
So, how can you spot a Blackside Featherweight? The most notable blackside part is the faceplate, which you can compare in the two photographs below. Its scrollwork is identical to the chrome-finished plates of that era, but the color is darkened and not nearly as reflective.
Above Left: Blackside Scrolled Faceplate
Above Right: Chrome Scrolled Faceplate
Another indicator is the presser bar lever – most true blackside Featherweights have a presser bar lever that appears black. Although this is not always the case. There have been a small number of blackside Featherweights reported that have chrome presser bar levers. You will want to refer to the serial number on the bottom of the machine to see if it falls in line with the correct time periods for when blackside Featherweights were manufactured.
Above: Blackside Presser Bar Lever
Below: Chrome Presser Bar Lever
Presently, there are two specific production runs that contain Blackside Featherweight 221 sewing machines: July 1, 1941 and September 19, 1945. The Blackside Featherweight serial numbers are not necessarily consecutive, rather they are intermixed with the standard Featherweight machine serial numbers within those time frames. And if that wasn’t confusing enough, there have been machines (in those production runs) reported to have black presser bar lifters and black stitch length indicator plates issued to standard (non-blackside) Featherweights. Now you can see why you want to proceed very carefully before making a purchase.
Blackside Stitch Length Regulator Plate
In addition, on all reported blackside Featherweights, the stitch length indicator is also all black
(with the numbers being white).
Above left: Early chrome stitch length indicator
Above right: Common two-tone stitch length indicator - black with silver-colored borders.
Above Left: Chromed Handwheel
Above Right: Solid Black Handwheel
Prior to AG818000, all reported Featherweights have a handwheel rim that is chrome. However, on all reported blackside machines, the handwheel rim has been the shiny black japan finish, like that of the machine.
The parts listed and illustrated below are blackside parts that have been suited to many Featherweights through the years. However, they may not be indicative of a bona fide Blackside machine, particularly if it lacks the faceplate and other items listed above.
These blackside parts are more common to find across many Featherweights: Bobbin winder, bobbin winder tension bracket, presser bar tension screw, thumb screw, attachments.
Blackside Bobbin Winder
Blackside Bobbin Winding Tension Bracket
Blackside Presser Bar Screw
Blackside Thumb Screw & Presser Foot
Blackside Attachments, Bobbins & Accessories
There were many parts and attachments that continued to be produced in the blackside finish after WWII. Some of them are more common to find than others, however, finding them with a blackside finish can be a hobby and collection all its own.
Many of you are probably wondering how much more value does a "Blackside" finish add to a Singer Featherweight. Well, like most things given a dollar value, price can be subjective and can have so many variables based upon availability, condition, inclusions, location and venue. We have seen them sell anywhere from $200-$500 on eBay depending on whether the seller knew what they had and the condition. Machines in really nice condition have been known to sell to collectors anywhere from $800-$1500 by a reputable dealer - but even that can go higher or lower depending on the variables at time of sale.
It doesn't happen very often of course, but on rare occasions we will have a Blackside Featherweight available in our Shop. Feel free to contact us anytime to be put on a list for the next one we have in stock.