Anker RZ Sewing Machine – German Made – A Brief History & Review

Originally Posted – 2/1/2018
Last Updated – 6/13/2022

Hello everyone today we are going to be discussing another one of our vintage sewing machines. Like a lot of our sewing machines, the Anker sewing machine model RZ started its humble beginning as a treadle sewing machine. Unlike most others, the fact it was a treadle machine had more to do with geographic location and availability of reliable electricity. The Anker RZ was available in West Germany in either orientation, but with only the major cities having electricity and most of its population living in the underdeveloped rural areas it would only be natural to for the majority of its non-export sales to be people-powered in the form of a treadle or hand-crank machines.

This vintage German-made sewing machine is a powerhouse! Not only does it have a cool history, but it’s also still functional today. Here’s an overview of what makes it so great.

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Anker RZ Sewing Machine
We found our first Anker RZ quite by accident during one of our flea market excursions. It is in, what I believe is, its original cabinet. It is one of the factory electrified versions. We currently have four Anker RZ sewing machines, our original one, one that was found in a trash can by a friend’s son, one that we got at an auction with all of the goodies, and one that was made for Westinghouse. The Westinghouse machine looks identical to the other three except for the name.

A Brief History of Anker RZ Sewing Machine

The RZ was introduced in 1930 by the Anker Werke AG in Bielefeld, Germany. There were two versions of the RZ, one was pre-WW2 and the same body style with some minor differences was post-war. There is also a third sewing machine introduced around 1952, sporting the name Anker RZ automatic but it is a completely different body style with some of them being a cast iron body but the majority were cast aluminum with a very noticeable weight difference. Our Anker RZ is one of the pre-war models and it is the only one we have any personal experience with. Therefore we are not comfortable trying to do an in-depth comparison of the various models.

How To Tell If Your Anker RZ Is Pre-War or Post-War

The pre-war RZ is easily distinguishable from its post-war sibling by simply looking at the needle positioning lever and at the stitch width controls. The pre-war RZ needle positioner only controls from needle center to needle right and on our machine, there doesn’t appear to be any graduation markings or boundary marks. It is possible the markings have worn off with time. Whereas the postwar needle positioner is marked for Left, Center, and Right. (L-C-R ) is cast into the body of the machine.

Basic Functions of The Anker RZ

As for the stitch width controls that govern the transition from straight stitch (SS) to zig-zag (ZZ) and determine the width of the bight, they may at first appear to be identical but the pre-war machines start with a selector lever to the Right marked (0) for no ZZ. The ZZ width is increased by moving the lever to the Left and graduations are from 0 to 4. The post-war model starts at 0 on the left and moves to the Right with graduations from 0 to 5. Both machines have ZZ stop limiters both to the left and the right for doing buttonholes and over-lock stitches.

The stitch length is regulated by a slide lever, vertical on the pillar with the typical (0) in the middle with (Reverse) to the top and (Forwards) down towards the bed of the machine. Stitches are measured in mm with the longest being 6mm. The feed dogs can be dropped below the bed due to a horizontal lever at the bottom of the pillar marked (S) on the left and (E) on the right. (S) = sewing and (E) = embroidery. The upper tension is controlled by the typical center spring-driven pressure plates with a numbered knob and an indicator line to act as a reference point when balancing a stitch.

Anker RZ Bobbin Case, Bobbin, and Needle Size
The RZ uses a class 15 bobbin and bobbin case paired with a 16×1 needle, our bobbin access cover actually shows a 16×87 needle stamped into the plate. That needle cross-referenced to a 16x 231, 287WH, DBx1, and system 1738 (A). The 16×231 is a common industrial needle and I found a very wide variety of replacement needles manufactured by Schmetz. I am fortunate that our LQS’s are more than willing to order me special needles when I run into a machine that needs them. We have had success with these metal class 15 bobbins and this bobbin case.

Final Thoughts on Anker RZ Sewing Machine

The German engineering involved in creating the RZ was certainly some of the best in its time. It sews with impeccable smoothness and precision, partially because it seems to have more places to oil and lubricate than most other machines incurring similar usage. And secondly, because it was built like a tank, it is the heaviest domestic machine we have ever handled. Weighing in at roughly 38 lbs. Roughly because to weigh it, I weighed myself holding it, and again without holding it and subtracted to find the difference, which was 37.7 lbs, according to the digital scales.

You will notice that I have said nothing at all about the speed and power of the machine; I don’t think it is fair to judge a machine that is not in its original form. Our machine has a replacement motor on it and I am not sure what the original motor size or speed was. Ours is a 1.5 amp 3000 rpm motor. It handled everything I expected it to and then some. The only improvement would be the addition of an electronic foot peddle. But it can wait till the knee controller quits. The Anker RZ is truly a joy to use and it has a history that requires its own blog post some time to understand, it can also wait.
Anker RZ Sewing Machine Manual
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If you have an Anker RZ that needs a little TLC you should check out our restoration section. If you are looking for a project to make on your RZ stop by our free quilt patterns.

So until next time enjoy your machines your way and may you never run out of bobbin five minutes before you run out of the seam.

This nifty German-made machine is a beauty and has a brief history as well as an overview of its functionality. Plus, there’s even a manual available for download! How cool is that? If you’re in the market for a vintage sewing machine, this one should definitely be at the top of your list.

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