A Singer Model 27/28 Puzzle-Box!

A box without hinges, key, or lid, 
A golden treasure, inside, is hid. 
What is it? 

A Singer “Puzzle Box”!!:

The top reads: “PATENTED FEBRUARY 19, 1889″

My father and I went out antiquing today. Today being Australia Day, we did what all red-blooded Aussie blokes do!

We went to the annual Fryerstown Antiques Fair.

Nine hours of father-son bonding. And in the 30’c heat, we almost bonded permanently! Phoof! It was hot!

The Finding of the Box of Power

I’ve been mesmerised by these things ever since I saw pictures of them on the International Sewing-Machine Collector’s Society (ISMACS) website. And I figured I’d like one for my own long-bobbin Singer 128 sewing machine. I remembered seeing such a box at the previous year’s antiques fair, and went off today in hopes of finding one.

I knew that my chances were slim. Such things are rare in Australia. We never made this stuff, we only ever imported it. Whatever exists today is whatever hasn’t been thrown out, smashed, trashed, lost in floods, fires or tornadoes, and which has been lovingly stored in someone’s attic or basement.

We perused the market and saw many interesting things, took pictures and bought a couple of trinkets. But nothing was there that made us go “oooh…”. Or at least, not for the prices they were asking! I don’t go ‘ooh’ unless I get a good return on my investment!

Chugging home, we passed through a small-town antiques shop. We stopped and went inside. And, laid out on the table like some ancient tapestry was the puzzle-box…

The box completely unfolded, showing everything inside. I’ve examined pictures from old manuals, and I think mine is about 95-98% complete. There are one or two small pieces missing. Hell, it’s 100+ years old. You can’t expect everything…

I was enthralled and I almost did a wild little skip of joy. But then I saw the price and the skip of joy might’ve led to me twisting my ankle as I came crashing back down to earth again. But, I was lucky enough that the owner let me knock off a third of the price. So, I rolled it up and trotted it back home.

What is a Singer ‘Puzzle Box’?

Collectors call these whimsical little containers ‘Puzzle Boxes’. Probably because the only way the box folds up properly is when EVERYTHING is in its correct position (otherwise the lid won’t close). But, when these were introduced in 1889, they caused a sensation. The design was so ingenious that the designer, John M. Griest, a Singer Manufacturing Co. employee, was granted a patent for it.

The Puzzle-Box all folded up

They were originally called “Style Boxes”. And they were designed to hold a complement of attachments and other accessories (bobbins, screwdrivers, needles, thimbles etc), which would be used with the new, improved Singer vibrating-shuttle line of sewing machines. In all, 14 variations of the ‘Style Box’ was created. And they were accordingly named sequentially. There are no markings on my box to tell me which of these fourteen variations mine is. If anyone can work it out based on the photographs, please let me know! 

The box with one side dropped open

The puzzle-boxes came with all kinds of attachments and bits and pieces. Bobbins, screwdrivers, hemmers, binders of varying sizes, seam-guides (an essential attachment if you can’t hold your fabric straight to save your life), and all other manner of nick-nacks. They are without a doubt, one of the greatest things ever invented for a sewing machine after the point-eye needle.

My four long bobbins for my 128 now have a home of their own! Don’t they look cute all tucked up in bed?

Puzzle boxes were manufactured for both Singer round-bobbin No. 15 domestic machines, and for Singer, long-bobbin No. 27 & 28-class domestic machines. The puzzle-boxes catering to each style of machine varied slightly, due to the size and style of the bobbins used in each respective machine.

I love the ingenuity of design with this box. But one thing I love even more is just how solidly its built. Steel parts, purple felt, and solid wood sides. These days, we’d get something like this made of plastic parts in a plastic box that cracks and warps and melts. This has held its shape and integrity for at least 100 years.

We Interrupt this Program to Bring you some Breaking News…

Here are some of the antique sewing machines which I saw for sale, while I was out antiquing today:

A Singer 27 “Coffin-top”, probably from the turn of the century

Then I saw this, next to it…

Singer 27 with an early-style bentwood case, which would eventually become a trademark of Singer

And then I saw this cute little number…

Jah, das ist ein Frister und Rossmann transverse shuttle nahmaschine, mein herr. Gemacht im Deutschland!

This was a cute little thing I saw in an antique shop on the way home…

An antique “NATIONAL” machine. Cute, huh?



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  1. Dianne Rutherford said,

    January 28, 2014 at 3:34 AM

    So glad I found your comment on Lizzie Lenard’s blog. I have had a “Puzzle Box” for many years and never knew what it was called. None of the attachments fit any of my machines but I kept it anyway because it is so unusual and I have always appreciated vintage items, no matter what they are.

    • scheong said,

      January 28, 2014 at 8:43 AM

      I’d be very surprised if Lizzie didn’t have one!

      • February 9, 2014 at 9:33 PM

        Hello Scheong,

        Got here in the end!

        That’s a great find. You have lots of old versions of attachments that changed slightly over the years – a tuck marker, a ruffler, narrow hemming feet. And all in that lovely wooden box – you lucky cake!

        Well I have got a puzzle box, a 1930s version in the black tin. When I was buying my 1936 201K treadle we had agreed the price (I never pay over the odds) and then the lady said “And there’s this in here” – opened the little compartment on the inside of the cabinet door and there was the puzzle box looking up at me. A terrific bonus – it’s complete, and still has the little diagram showing how to fit them all in the box.

        That a lovely Frister and Rossmann too. I’m always interested to see the nice German machines that crop up in Australia. It is such a pleasure sewing with a machine with a porcelain handle in hot weather. It keeps your hand cool. Ideal for Aussies.

        Muv aka Lizzie Lenard

      • scheong said,

        February 10, 2014 at 8:29 AM

        Hi Lizzie! Great to see your comment!

        If I could justify it, I would BUY a T.S. Machine for my humble little collection. But the issue is that you just can’t get the needles for them anymore. And certainly not here in Australia!! I always wondered how something made in Germany in the 1800s made its way all the way across the ocean to here. I fancy that an immigrant probably brought it with him, or that it was a spoil of war during WWI or II. Maybe an Aussie Digger snatched it up and brought it home for his wife/girl.

  2. Lisanne Bérard said,

    August 23, 2014 at 2:17 AM

    I am so shocked…. I just found a Puzzle box in my basement….I bought this 100 years old house 3 years ago and just sold it…. Cleaning up in the basement, where I don’t really like to go…. I found a box with ropes and all sorts of things but, there was this box. Took it out and what a surprise ! I have an old Singer metal base that I fixed as a breakfast table. I have been sewing all my life. I even have a brother in law who used to buy and sell antiques…! But I had never seen or even heard of this. My heart is pounding. It’s as if this house was telling me that it’s ok to go …. I feel so good.

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