During the "glory" days of Singer Sewing Machines, Singer produced the model 201 from the 1930's to at least the 1950's. It was their finest (and highest priced) machine. Thousand of these machines were produced – and most of them are still sewing as finely and consistently today as they did when first produced.
Research the Singer 201 and you'll find more than one reference saying that the 201 is the finest sewing machine Singer ever made. While I can not authoritatively say the same (I have not tried all the machines Singer ever made!), I have not found anything about the 201 that would make me disagree with that statement.
I really appreciate fine mechanical and electronic devices. I like old Hammond clocks and organs, tube amplifiers and vintage guitars, vintage sports cars, gizmos and gadgets like that. About 10 years ago (in a fit of mid-life crisis) I bought a used Porsche 944. When I sit down at the Singer 201 and press the foot pedal, I get a very similar feeling to that experienced when cruising down the highway in the Porsche at a way-too-fast speed – the smooth and comfortable feeling of machinery performing perfectly.
I compare it to a Porsche – and I've seen others compare it to driving a Ferrari! It's really quality American iron back from the days when that really meant something!
Singer produced at least four different versions of the 201:
201-1 – Treadle version
201-2 – Potted motor and gear-driven
201-3 – External motor and belt-driven
201-4 – Hand-crank (original factory, not later conversion)
The 201 is a sturdy and heavy machine – not a portable at all! This is not a slim and sexy sports car – it's a full-sized, classy and luxurious grand touring sedan! It's built to last – but does need maintenance to perform its best. You'll need to oil it regularly and also grease the gears from time to time. You can unscrew the circular silver plate on the backside of the machine to reveal the gears and the increasing points. Use regular Singer Sewing Machine gear grease (not oil!). Use sewing machine oil only at the recommended oil points. This rotary hook machine uses a Class 66 bobbin (means very little vibration, great stitch quality, and easily found bobbins.)
The machine is easy to thread and easy to use. The fact that some of these machines are going on 80 years old and still outsewing modern machines is a telling point – they're probably last at least another 80 years! Maintain them well and they'll keep sewing – well, longer than you or I probably will!
One reason the machine is so easy to use is that it is a straight stitch only machine. A single stitch … but a beautiful and perfect straight stitch! You will not find yourself "fighting" the 201 like you might battle with low end plastic machines – less time fighting means less time fixing and redoing problems and less frustration!
Even though the machine is straight stitch only, Singer and other vendors made a host of attachments that offer a world of possibilities – free-form embroidery, buttonholes, zig-zag, blindhemming – pretty much anything you want from a quality sewing machine is easily achievable.
Best of all, prices tend to be really low (supply and demand – Singer made zillions of these machines!). You'll often pay way less than you would for a plastic import that may die a deserved death after a few weeks or months of sporadic sewing – and you'll gain a lifelong sewing servant.
How should you view the Singer 201? Well, think back on the Porsche / Ferrari analogy – except lower the price to less than $ 100! This machine purrs like the well-crafted piece of machinery it is. It feels "quality: if you know what I mean.