From Singer sewing machines to vintage toastie makers: the gadgets that refuse to retire

We discover your oldest working gadgets – plus, find out to ensure your new appliances are long-lasting buys.

In a recent issue of our Saga Exceptional newsletter, I reached out to you, asking what are the oldest gadgets you own? I anticipated a handful of responses landing in my inbox, but to my surprise, I received an overwhelming flood of more than 500 replies. As I delved into these messages, I found them utterly fascinating, prompting me to share some highlights with you here.

What emerged from your stories was a delightful trip down memory lane. Many of you are still happily utilising wedding gifts from the Sixties, vacuum cleaners purchased back in the Seventies, and my personal favourite, Babyliss crimpers from the Eighties. 

Moulinex mixerCredit: Saga Exceptional/Janet Lowe
You didn’t disappoint with all your fantastic old gadgets that are still getting so much use even now

Considering the alarming rise in electronic waste, with an estimated 50 million tons of e-waste being generated annually, it warmed my heart to see that these vintage gadgets are not just relics gathering dust but are actively being used and cherished.

Now, the burning question: which gadget earned the esteemed title of the oldest among them all? 

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The oldest gadget

Centuries-old Singer sewing machine wins oldest gadget accolade

The oldest gadget title goes to a hand crank Singer sewing machine from the turn of the century. Mike Jefferson emailed to say that it was passed down from his wife’s granny and is still used today.

“Despite its weight, it’s still pressed into service when the need arises,” he wrote. “I admit to being pressed into reluctant service too, after all, someone has to turn the handle!”

The first Singer sewing machine was made in Boston, USA in 1851, and the company opened its first overseas factory in Scotland in 1867. By 1913, Singer had sold more than three million sewing machines worldwide. It’s likely that Mike’s Singer was manufactured around 1870, when Singer opened its first factory in England.

Close behind was a toasted sandwich maker from 1937. Nicky Jackman is the proud owner of this gadget and told me that it originally belonged to her parents.

“It looks like a tiny bed warmer  – those copper things that are used decoratively these days,” she wrote.

“I’m guessing that it dates from 1937, when my parents married as it may have been a wedding present, however, it could be even older. You fill it just like a modern electric toastie maker but lie it on your hob and turn it over when one side is toasted and do the other. Yummy!” 

The oldest electrical gadgets

Plug these in – and they still work!

While the sewing machine and toastie maker are admirable, there’s one thing lacking from these gadgets – electricity.

But the Saga Exceptional community didn’t disappoint, and I was gobsmacked to see how some of your more mature gadgets were still not only working but are also being used in your everyday life. 

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1950s: Handheld Hoover Dustette Model 100

It’s great to see brands from yesteryear that are still going strong, like this handheld Hoover.

Owner Stephen Leckstein says that he doesn’t use it very often as the suction isn’t as powerful compared with modern-day vacuum cleaners, but I love that it’s still working all these years down the line. 

Mid-50s: An electric airing cupboard

From the mid-to-late Fifties comes an electric airing cupboard. I have to admit, this was something I’d never heard of so was delighted to discover this old appliance.

Colin Reeve said it was something his mother bought back in the Fifties, but that he still very much uses it these days as he doesn’t have an airing cupboard.

“It did break down a couple of years ago, but it is so simple I was able to fix it myself in minutes,” he told me. 

“While I had it apart, I took the opportunity to rewire it as it still had the old fabric covered mains lead – which was a bit frayed! My main worry is what we’d do if it ever fails completely. There’s nothing like it made these days.” 

1957: Radio valve

Proving that age doesn’t diminish beauty or functionality, this exquisite radio valve from 1957 continues to captivate.

Proud owner John Gould enjoys its melodious tunes every single day. Its enduring sound quality stands as a testament to its lasting craftsmanship.

“The sound it gives out is really nice,” he wrote. 

1960: Ronson Escort hair dryer

It wasn’t just entertainment tech and kitchen appliances you wrote to me about, many of you also had grooming gadgets that were still going strong.

This gorgeous hair dryer caught my attention as it’s still in the original vanity case.

Owner Joan Grant says it’s still operational. I’m now hankering after a hairdryer I can wear over my shoulder. 

1979: Toshiba microwave

Back in 1974, the first domestic microwave hit the UK market, marking a significant leap in kitchen technology.

Eunice Weller’s microwave, a Toshiba model, was a state-of-the-art Christmas gift in December 1979, embodying cutting-edge technology of its time. 

“I can vividly remember my husband staggering up the stairs with it on Christmas morning, wrapped up in Christmas paper!”, Eunice shared with me. 

“We’ve had many checks on it over the years and it still works absolutely fine. It’s never broken down. They really don’t make microwaves like mine anymore – I wouldn’t want to be without it.” 

The most intriguing gadget

Do you know what it is?

When John Glenn’s email landed in my inbox, I found myself faced with a challenge: decipher the purpose of his mysterious gadget, an item he has owned since 1946. Proudly, I can say I cracked the puzzle, but can you? 

The intriguing device in question turned out to be a hand-held calculator, and John shared its fascinating history with me.

“The design was completed by Curt Herzstark while he was a prisoner in Buchenwald circa 1943,” he wrote.

“He was allowed to continue the work he had started in the 1930s, the Nazi regime recognising its value. After he was liberated, he took the designs to Contina in Liechtenstein who began production in 1946.

“Mine was made in that first year of production. They were manufactured until about 1970 and were favoured by motor rally navigators over electronic calculators as they were more robust.” 

The two gadgets that stood out as still working and being used by you regularly were Kenwood and Moulinex mixers and – the ultimate Seventies and Eighties wedding gift – Moulinex electric knives.

“We have a wonderful Moulinex carving knife which is still going strong after 48 years,” wrote Hugh Kirkby.

“We have the original blades, with their cover, which have never been replaced or even sharpened. This is one of the best and most reliable bits of kit anyone can remember.”

Carolyn Stevens is also still using her electric knife, which was a wedding gift.

Our oldest electrical gadget, that is still working as well as it did then, is an electric knife that was a wedding present to us from my late father-in-law Ken, when I married his only son John on 20 July, 1985,” wrote Stevens.

“It’s not ‘old’ to us, it’s just always been part of our kitchen’s ‘small kitchen gadgets’ drawer we have at home.”

And it’s a test between Kenwood and Moulinex as to which made the best quality mixer – lots of you are still using both of them regularly.

“I have my mother’s original Kenwood mixer that has a blender on top and a mincer attachment on the front,” wrote 80-year-old Margery Swinton, who sent me an image to prove she still very much uses it for her baking.

“It’s still working fine, though I had to get the old electric wiring replaced as it had rubber coating around and it had gone stiff and was crumbling off.”

David Chopping also rates his Kenwood food mixer (main photo at the top of this article), which he bought for his wife in 1973.

“It has been in regular use, and still holds pride of place in our kitchen, but the cover is getting worn,” he wrote. “Our daughter thought we ought to modernise things and bought us a Kenwood food mixer, the modern version. The older Chef is stronger and still better, so both get used!”

Janet Lowe wrote in to wax lyrical about her Moulinex food mixer, which was originally given to her as a stop-gap until she could afford a new one.

“When I got married in 1970, we were living on a shoestring and an old lady gave me her Moulinex food mixer,” she wrote.

“She didn’t need it anymore and suggested I could make good use of it until I bought a better one. Goodness knows how long she had it before me, but it is still going strong after all these years as my only food mixer, which I use regularly for all my cake baking.” 

Tips to find a long-lasting appliance

What to look out for when choosing an appliance

If your trusty appliance has come grinding o a halt and you find yourself in need of a replacement, there are ways to ensure that your new purchase stands the test of time. Although we can’t promise it will endure for 73 years… 

1. Less is more

When choosing an electrical appliance, less is usually best. As a rule of thumb, the more your appliance can do, there’s more that can go wrong with it.

Yes, a coffee pod machine that is also a speaker sounds cool but if it’s really just coffee you want, choose a simple coffee pod machine instead. 

Look for a model with the features you need and avoid the ones you don’t. 

Can it be repaired?

When something electrical breaks, it’s always worth seeing if it can be repaired first. Either speak to the manufacturer or a local electrician or plumber – they will soon be able to tell you if it’s worth getting it repaired. 

Appliance expert, Brian Johnson at MyJobQuote.co.uk says new rules mean that these days appliances should be easier to repair than they were previously. 

“Right to repair rules in the EU and UK have forced manufacturers to make appliances easier to repair and spare parts more readily available,” he says. 

“And repair cafés and workshops are growing in popularity. So, it’s now easier and more cost-effective to repair rather than replace many appliances.”

2. Do your research

“It pays to do your research when you’re buying new electrical appliances – some brands consistently come out on top for reliability,” says Johnson.

“At the top end of the scale there are brands such as Miele and Siemens but mid-range brands including Bosch, Neff and AEG also come highly rated at a slightly lower cost.”

Before you even think about parting with your cash, Johnson also advises reading lots of different reviews.

“This will give you a good idea of the brand reliability and standard of customer service you can expect from the company,” he says.

“It will also make you aware of common issues with specific models.”

3. Don’t assume a high price tag equals high quality

Johnson warns that paying more doesn’t always mean you’re getting a product that’s going to last a long time.

“Sometimes you’re paying for the stylish design as much as the features and durability,” he says. 

“In addition, some companies are better at handling faults than others, so it’s always worth checking this out when making big purchases.”

This brings us nicely onto our next point…

4. Check the length of the warranty

The longer the warranty the better. For example, Shark offers a five-year warranty, which means if your vacuum cleaner breaks down during that time, they will repair it or replace it.

The important thing to remember is that you must register for warranties as soon as you purchase your appliance, otherwise you may not be covered or have a shorter time span for which to claim for repairs.

For more advice on warranties, check out the Citizens Advice website.

5. See what spare parts are available

“Although newer appliances should have spare parts available, it’s worth checking just what parts are repairable and if the spare parts need importing,” advises Johnson.

“This can vastly affect how long large appliances such as washing machines and ovens can be kept in working order.”

6. Make sure it’s easy to clean

“Any appliance, whether it’s big or small, needs to be kept in good condition for it to work well for a long time, so, make sure it’s easy to clean,” advises Johnson. 

7. Get physical!

While we all love the ease of shopping online, Johnson says sometimes you won’t be able to tell the quality unless you go in-store and see – and more importantly, handle – the appliance you intend to buy.

“If possible, especially when it comes to buying smaller appliances, head to your local electrical store to see them in person,” he says.

“As soon as you handle it, you should be able to tell if it’s cheaply made as it will feel flimsy and plasticky.”

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Jayne Cherrington-Cook

Written by Jayne Cherrington-Cook she/her

Updated:

Jayne is the Senior Editor at Saga Exceptional. She cut her online journalism teeth 24 years ago in an era when a dialling tone and slow page load were standard. During this time, she’s written about a variety of subjects and is just at home road-testing TVs as she is interviewing TV stars. A diverse career has seen Jayne launch websites for popular magazines, collaborate with top brands, write regularly for major publications including Woman&Home, Yahoo! and The Daily Telegraph, create a podcast, and also write a tech column for Women’s Own.

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