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ISMACS’ Sewing Machine Book List

A guide to the literature that typically turns up on , in secondhand book shops and who-knows-where? Compiled with considerable help from Graham Forsdyke.

Many of these are old and all but a few are out of print. Scarcity, market forces and good ol’-fashioned greed have conspired to inflate the prices of most sewing machine books. However, realistically priced examples are still to be found. Be vigilant. Not all book dealers know the true value of their stock. On a couple of occasions I’ve seen one of the notoriously expensive volumes turn up on eBay with a low buy-it-now price because, to the seller, it was ‘just another textbook’.

Many of my British sewing textbooks bear the legitimising stamps of a cash-strapped pubic library selling off old stock, if that’s any clue.

A trawl through the manufacturers’ pages on the Smithsonian website will uncover many entire books – there for the reading/downloading – on all aspects of machines and sewing, boot-making, etc., plus manuals, catalogues and ephemera. A formidable resource.

The Smithsonian Catalog, a lavish production running to over 50 pages, lists the archive material stored at the Smithsonian Institute. The material is slowly being transferred to the Institute's web site. Back when Grace Cooper wrote her sewing machine history, the Smithsonian's libraries held only 30 pieces of literature on the subject. Today there are close to 1000. Ms. Cooper’s book was made available free to ISMACS members some years ago and is downloadable online from the Smithsonian.

Many people are rightly suspicious of e-books – usually dispatched via CD or digital download, though sometimes printed. There are two types: one, a scanned version of reputable publications no longer in copyright and, the other, a (usually) home-made, amateurly written ‘new’ publication. I have not seen many good ones. Indeed, be very careful when considering a machine manual written by anyone except the original manufacturer.

There are probably many more books on the subject and glaring omissions on my part. If you would like to add to the list, we’d be delighted to hear from you.

John Langdon
[email protected]

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ISMACS is an organization totally independent of all sewing-machine manufacturers, past or present and is not affiliated with any of the companies mentioned in these pages.  Please Note: Do not contact any ISMACS official in an attempt to solicit a valuation - it is not possible other than by hands-on assessment and your request will be ignored.