The Singer 15 Class

Singer 15-1

Philip H. Diehl invented a vertical oscillating shuttle for Singer in the late 1870s, and this was the basis of the Singer 15 class with the introduction of the 15-1 (AKA Improved Family) in 1879 as well as a number of industrial models—specifically the 17 and 18 class for shoe making as well as some early 15 and 16 subclasses for specific garment industry applications. This type of shuttle is called an oscillating shuttle in early catalogues and generally referred to as a "long beak" by collectors so as to avoid confusion with the horizontal oscillating hook used in the 66 and 99 class.

Of all the Singer models, there is probably far more variety in the 15 class than any other; I have counted close to 100 different submodels, most were designed for quite specific industrial  applications and even include chain stitch models. In this article I will concentrate on the main domestic incarnations you are most likely to encounter:




15-1 introduced in 1879

Notable for its distinctive fiddle or serpentine bed and long beak shuttle, this model had a very primitive tension with a screw in stud and no tension release. The 15-1 was slowly superseded by a number of intermediate models in the 1890s with the familiar 370mm × 178mm bed and a 1 o’clock bobbin case. There is evidence that Singer stole the design for this fingered bobbin case vertical oscillating shuttle from Dürkopp but the records are rather murky on the matter. Regardless of who designed it, this case would come to be generically known as a "15 class" in the 20th century.


15-1 Ser.No. 8239952 (1888)

New parts (and complications)

Bobbins (Singer part # 2073) and shuttles are still available thanks to the long-beak continuing to be used in industrial machines used in the shoe making industry.

Feet are low shank, and while technically any low shank domestic foot suitable for straight stitching will fit, there are feeding issues with hinged feet because of the feed dog design. This means that many modern feet, including clip shank, are not suitable so I recommend keeping an eye out for vintage feet.

New throat and slide plates are not really available, but a new HA-1 slide can be cut to size.


Tension parts. Original is best as all parts of the 15-1 face plate and tension are obsolete or not quite as good as the original parts. However, the HA-1 tension nut and tension plates will work if the originals are lost and I find the #32575 check spring intended for the 66 class is a better match than any 15 class spring supplied to me.

The 15-1 was slowly superseded by a number of intermediate models in the 1890s with the familiar 370mm × 178mm bed and a 1 o'clock bobbin case. There is evidence that Singer stole the design for this fingered bobbin case vertical oscillating shuttle from Dürkopp but the records are rather murky on the matter.
Regardless of who designed it, this case would come to be generically known as a "15 class" in the 20th century, but I urge you to not fall into the trap of calling non-Singer central bobbin (CB) machines "clones" as (except for the bobbin, bobbin case and shuttle hook) there is some variation among these machines.
Strangely, Singer decided to return to the long beak shuttle with the 15-22 and continued to use it in industrial shoe vamping machines (17 and 18 class) and these models are still in production in Asia and this is why shuttles and bobbins are still available.
I have not been able to find much information about the early 1 o'clock bobbin case 15 class machines of the 1890s, possibly because of the patent dispute with Dürkopp.



"Vali" Ser. No. V74094 designated between Jan-June 1908

 


15K26 and 15-30 went into production in Kilbowie and Elizabethport (respectively) around the turn of the century

My knowledge of the 15-30 is mostly indirect, but I have two examples of machines which are either 15K24 or 15K26 although there is some uncertainty around the catalogue meaning of H.O. in a catalogue produced in 1907 for Singer machines produced at Kilbowie. The tension and decal are the only significant difference between these machines.

Initially the 15K26 was manufactured with an unusual pillar mounted winder, but in the 1910s it was fitted with a wheel guard mounted winder like its American cousin. Both models have 370mm × 178mm bed and a 1 o’clock bobbin case. Typically the 15K26 tension has a screw in stud and an internal pin to release the tension, and the 15-30 has a pin and plate tension release but as you will note by Vali’s tension, there may be exceptions. The balance wheel on these models is heavier and has a deeper shaft than later models.

"Vali's" tension breakdown:

Comparison to "Vera's" tension breakdown.
The tension pin is inside the tension stud (part F)

 

New parts (and complications)

Bobbins are standard CB or 15 class Singer part # 2518 or heavy duty CB Singer part # 2996 and
Bobbin case is the standard 1 o'clock CB, Singer part # 15277

Feet are low shank, and while technically any low shank domestic foot suitable for straight stitching will fit, there are feeding issues with hinged feet because of the feed dog design. This means that many modern feet, including clip shank, are not suitable so I recommend keeping an eye out for vintage feet.

Tension parts. Original is best as all parts of the face plate and tension are obsolete or not quite as good as the original parts. However, the HA-1 tension nut and tension plates will work if the originals are lost and I find the #32575 check spring intended for the 66 class is a better match than any 15 class spring supplied to me.

The only cranks and balance wheels suited to these machines are the original ones.

15K80 superseded the 15K26 in the late 1920s or early '30s (verification needed)

With an easier to manufacture tension, and a balance wheel which was standardised with the other main domestic models of the time (66, 99, 127 and 128), probably to streamline production. While the 15K80 should have been quickly superseded by the 15K88 as it lacks reverse or a feed dog drop, it remained in production till well into the 1950s.

 

New parts (and complications)

Bobbins are standard CB or 15 class Singer part # 2518 or heavy duty CB Singer part # 2996 and
Bobbin case is the standard 1 o'clock CB, Singer part # 15277

There are no "feed" issues with hinged feet.

Most parts are available with few complications. New balance wheels and hand cranks are compatible.

 


15D88, 15-88 and 15K88 and related submodels added a 3rd shuttle type to the Singer 15 "Household"class. Featuring an 11 o’clock bobbin case, right to left threading and feed dogs which could be dropped for darning and embroidery, as well as a more sophisticated stitch length adjustment with could be set to reverse for back stitching, this subclass was developed the early 1920s by the design team at the Wittenberge factory in Prussia (Germany) and was in production by 1924. It would be another decade before this 15 class submodel was manufactured in the USA (Elizabethport) as the 15-88 and Great Britain (Kilbowie) 15K88 and related 89, 90 and 91 models. The ~88 was a treadle, ~89 a hand crank, ~90 belt drive motor and the ~91 potted motor. The most popular variation in the USA was the 15-91, but most of the Kilbowie machines were belt drive and sold as 15K88 regardless of how they were powered.

The USSR took posession of the contents of the Wittenberge factory and a Soviet factory used the tooling for the 15D88 to produce sewing machines for several decades. I have only seen photos of these.

New parts (and complications)

Bobbins are standard CB or 15 class Singer part # 2518 or heavy duty CB Singer part # 2996 and
Bobbin case is the standard 11 o'clock CB, Singer part # 125291

Tension parts, the spring is specific and a number of the parts are the same as the 201K. The needle clamp is also the same as the 201K

There are no "feed" issues with hinged feet.

Most parts are available with few complications. New balance wheels and hand cranks are compatible.


15M75 converted to treadle-crank

There are other domestic Singer 15 class submodels, such as the aluminium 15~75 (mechanically a 15~88, ~89, ~90 with a different body) which Australians are most likely to find as the Monza produced 15M.

I have never seen an example in Australia but the 15-96 is a common domestic submodel found in North America

The Kilbowie factory’s last blast 15 model in the early 1960s, the 15K110 was a 1 o'clock BC model which adopted some of the innovations developed by Toyota, Brother and Janome in the early 1950s.

After the Singer factories in the USA and Kilbowie stopped manufacturing any version of the 15 class, it continued to be made in Taiwan and later China for places where a simple mechanical machine which could be treadled or hand-cranked was preferable to an electric machine which could do a variety of stitches. Sadly the quality of the Chinese made machines dropped to match the price NGOs with the best of intentions are willing to pay and so while they are on occasion imported into Australia to be sold as "nostalgia" machines, they are really only suitable as décor.

   

 

 

NOTES:

I use a ~ to denote the same submodel number was used for machines made to the same specifications.

 


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