A special machine that’s a product of its times.

Click here to see all the Pfaff 30 posts.

I picked up the Pfaff 30 this last Monday from a church here “locally.” Local to me, at any rate. For my German neighbors, it’s more like “half across the country” - it was a 40 mile drive over to pick it up.

The folks there collect and distribute clothing and small appliances to needy families. They dispose of donated things that aren’t in useable condition.

Someone donated a Pfaff 30 some time in the last couple of months. The folks at the church gave it to someone to use, but got it back because it was “broken.” They don’t have personnel or a budget to do repairs, so they decided to dispose of it by giving it away to anyone who wanted it.

I found the advertisement for a “Pfaff 30 in need of repair” and thought I’d like to fix it up. If I got it going, I’d just give it back to the church and they could give it to somebody who could use it.

The photos in the advertisement they posted made the machine look really shabby, and it appeared that the drive belt was broken. Outside of that, you can usually count on the old machines working if they aren’t visibly damaged. This one looked solid but grungy - and somehow odd.

I didn’t make photos when I picked it up - things were a bit chaotic. Before moving it or even picking it up, I had to wipe off the worst of the spider webs and remove the long strands of thread that hung down out of the cabinet.

It looked like this when I got it home:

Still grungy
Still grungy1
Still grungy2

The balance wheel turned easily, and everything moved smoothly. The drive belt had been broken in the past, but it had been patched together with second short piece of leather belt clipped on to make it long enough.

There was a spool of black thread and a bobbin with gray thread in one of the drawers, so I threaded it up and gave it a quick try out.

First seam
First seam

It sews as is - even the thread tension is close to correct.

Since it runs (as expected,) all I really need to do is clean it up, oil it, have a little fun with it, then give it back so that it can be given to someone who needs it - and figure out what looks so odd about it.

I looked at it for a while, then realized that it looked odd because some of the parts that are normally chrome or nickel plated are black.

At first I thought some previous owner had painted things over, but the closer I looked the more I became convinced that the black parts were original.

Here are some of the things that should have been chrome plated but were black:

Black instead of chrome
Black instead of chrome1
Black instead of chrome2
Black instead of chrome3

Close examination showed that there wasn’t any chrome under the black parts - there were dings and scratches where the metal was exposed. No chrome showed through any of the scratches in the paint. More interesting was that the large cover plate on the back was not painted. Rather than being chrome plated, it had been blued - that’s the black stuff you normally see on guns.

I could see someone removing chrome to get rid of rust and then painting it black. I can’t imagine anyone going to the effort to remove rusted chrome and then bluing the metal. Besides which, rust so bad that you have to refinish the machine would have damaged the works - but there’s no damage to anything outside of dings and scratches.

While pondering the source of the black, I decided to look up the serial number and see how old the machine is.

The serial number (3611958) puts its date of manufacture sometime in 1940. Ah, ha! It was made during World War II. That might explain shortages of various metals for the plating.

I asked on a German sewing machine enthusiast site, and was told that some members had seen similar “mourning” machines in black that were made during the war.

It turns out that there was a serious shortage of what are known as “Buntmetalle” in German. That’s non-ferrous metals for the English speaking folks.

There were collection drives for such metals during the war, with a rather drastic law enacted in 1940 to protect the donated metals from theft - death penalty for stealing metal that had been donated. (I couldn’t find an English article about the metal collections in Germany during the war. Google Translate does a readable English translation.)

This Pfaff 30 bears witness of the conflict that killed so many people. It is somehow fitting that the missing brightwork was replaced with black.

Out of the millions of sewing machines Pfaff produced, the 100000 or so “mourning” machines produced during the war make up maybe one percent. That makes this Pfaff 30 a moderately rare machine with a sad story behind its unusual appearance.

Click here to see all the Pfaff 30 posts.