Many people who enjoy sewing like vintage sewing machines because they have impressive durability combined with historical charm. But it can be challenging to pick the perfect pre-owned sewing machine. You may be familiar with brands such as Pfaff or Singer, but have you heard about the Montgomery Ward sewing machine?
Sadly, no longer in production, the Montgomery Ward sewing machines were sold from 1872 until 2001. In this article, we have compiled together information about the Montgomery Ward sewing machines, including their history, range of models, how to thread the sewing machine, how to date old Montgomery Wards and what they are worth.
History of Montgomery Ward
Spoiler alert! Montgomery Ward did not actually make any sewing machines. Instead, they re-branded and marketed products made by other manufacturers in their sales catalogs.
The story of the Montgomery Ward sewing machines began when Aaron Montgomery published a one-page mail-order catalog for the rural area around Chicago in 1872. In the 18th century, it wasn’t easy for people in rural areas to access supplies.
This mail-order catalog was historical because it was the first one ever. Despite early opposition, the catalog business expanded fast and by 1883 it included 240 pages and over 10,000 items. The expansion continued despite the world wars and the Great Depression.
The fortunes of the company began to change in 1950 and by 1985 the catalog was finished and in the 1990s, the company declared bankruptcy. Montgomery Ward was bought by the Swiss Colony in the early 2000s reinvented as an online retailer.
So if they didn’t make sewing machines, why are they called Montgomery Ward sewing machines?
Instead of making their own sewing machines, Montgomery Ward sold badged sewing machines. What does this actually mean? It means they bought and rebranded products made by other companies.
The earliest models were made by Foley and Williams. Because they didn’t get great reviews, the production of the rebranded sewing machines soon switched to the National Sewing Machine Company. They had the contract until the 1950s when much of the production moved to Japan.
Montgomery Ward Sewing Machine Models
The Montgomery Ward re-branded several models during its over 100 years in business. Below, we have included some examples of the sewing machines the company included in their catalogs.
The Oakland by Foley and Williams was the cheapest sewing machine in the catalog. It didn’t get very positive reviews from the consumers, which was one reason Montgomery Ward moved to the National Sewing Machine Company.
This model was made by the National Sewing Machine Company and used a vibrating shuttle. Most Damascus models were decorated with gold highlights. It came in various designs, alternating between six different treadles. It was one of the early successes for Montgomery Ward. To read about Damascus, visit Sewing is Cool.
The Brunswick was also made by the National Sewing Machine Company and similarly to the Damascus was decorated in gold. It was a high-arm machine and could be supplied with at least three different treadles.
These sewing machines were made in 1954 and have “made in Japan” stamped on them. The 185A model sewing machines are solid metal and come in a lovely wooden cabinet. Instead of a foot pedal or a treadle, they come with a knee lever for control.
The J in front of the number indicates a Japanese manufacturer. The J1984 was part of the signature series. These sewing machines no longer came in wooden cabinets, but in metal carrying cases, making it easier to move them about.
How do you thread a Montgomery Ward sewing machine?
- Place a spool of thread on the threaded pin and wind the thread through the upper thread guides.
- Wind the thread around the tension disk and pull through the hook and the take-up lever.
- Pull the thread through the hook and down through the thread and needle bar guides,
- Thread the needle, pulling three to four inches of thread through the needle.
- Holding the thread, turn the wheel on the right so the needle passes down into the bobbin case and back up, catching the bobbin thread and pulling it up for sewing.
For visual instructions on how to thread a Montgomery Ward Sewing machine, watch this short video.
How to Date a Montgomery Ward Sewing Machine?
You can use the model and the serial number to find out the age of your machine. Dating your Montgomery Ward is not as easy as, for example, dating a Pfaff or a Singer sewing machine.
With Singer and Pfaff, there are online registers that tell you when the machine was made. This is not the case with Montgomery Ward, so be prepared to do some more detective work to date your sewing machine.
So what can you do to date vintage machines from Montgomery Ward? There are four ways we can suggest you try.
The first one is to check the manual, if you have one. Sometimes the manufacturing date is printed in the manual.
The second thing you can try if you don’t have a manual or the date is not printed in it is to use a Google image search. Look for pictures of sewing machines that match yours. Usually, the picture will lead you to sewing machine discussion forums or blogs written by sewing enthusiasts and experts.
Failing that, consider joining a sewing discussion forum and asking the other users for advice. Share the description and a picture, if possible, of your sewing machine and hopefully another user will recognize it.
The last suggestion is to search for similar items on eBay using the model number for your Montgomery Ward. Sellers often share key details of the sewing machines they are selling and you may find the date this way.
For advice on how to locate the serial number, have a look at this article from Silver Bobbin. The page also includes some handy tips on how to use a Montgomery Ward sewing machine.
Narrowing down the date using the model name or number
Knowing the model of your sewing machine will help to narrow down the manufacturing period, but it will not give you an exact date. The first Montgomery Ward sewing machines were made by Foley and Williams and featured in the 1913 catalog. The model name for these was Oakland.
The following models were all made by the National Sewing Machine Company which took production over from Foley and Williams until 1955. The models were “Damascus”, “Brunswick”, “Windsor” and “Amazon”.
From the mid-50s, the production moved to Japan, and the models made by the Happy Sewing Machine Company have letter + number combinations instead of names to identify them. The letter combinations HA, JC or JA were in front of the numbers. You can also identify these machines from the symbol that looks like a dove.
Is an old Montgomery Ward sewing machine worth anything?
On average, vintage Montgomery Ward sewing machines resell between $50 to $200, those classified as antique sewing machines can be valued higher.
There are different factors that will determine what buyers are willing to pay for a used Montgomery Ward sewing machine. So what are these factors? Let’s have a look at them before moving on to some examples of what old Montgomery Wards have sold for.
The Japanese-made models are considered to be the best quality Montgomery Wards and though they are newer, can be valued higher than some of the older machines.
Most Montgomery Ward sewing machines fall into the vintage category. Only those made before the 20th century are classified as antique. Generally, older means more money in the antique and vintage world, but not in this case because buyers will pay more for a machine that still works.
As mentioned above, the buyers of old sewing machines place a lot of value on the condition of the machine. Machines that no longer work or are otherwise in poor condition are valued lower than those that are still in perfect working condition.
Here are five examples of Montgomery Wards currently on sale.
- Antique Damascus Grand Rotary Sewing Machine, US $1,049.99
- UHT J1276 Sewing Machine, US $330.00
- Computer 2001 With Foot Pedal, US $259.00
- Montgomery Ward 30, US $199.88
While Montgomery Ward sewing machines may not have the same reputation as machines by Singer or Pfaff, many of the models are good, reliable sewing machines. The other good news is that because they are less known, you can find antique and vintage models of Montgomery Ward cheaper than the other brands.
Finally, we would like to share one more great resource with you. If there is no manual for your Montgomery Ward, you might find one on the Sewing Machine Manual website. If you would like to ask us anything about the Montgomery Ward machines, write your questions in the comments section.