Separators, Churns Milking Machines
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The market for this newfangled method of getting the cream out of milk was huge - so big in fact that Sears, Roebuck & Co. devoted the first seven pages of its 1908 catalog to a dramatic sales pitch that was difficult to ignore. Sears touted its $26.30 price tag for a 250-pound-capacity machine as '$44 cheaper than our competitor's offer.'
Sears also reminded farmers that a third of their workday was spent feeding, herding and milking cows, and that the only real profit came from butter. If a third of the butter was lost through improper cream recovery, Sears asserted, the farmer made no money.
At peak production in 1918, nearly 200,000 hand-cranked separators a year were coming off the production lines of 30 American factories. At the forefront were popular manufacturers such as Mellote Co., Waterloo Co., Peerless Co., Sharpies Co., International Harvester Co., Massey-Harris Co., B.F. Avery Co. and the Cockshutt Plow Co. With so much demand for the products, many of the big farm implement firms naturally wanted in on the action.
By the late 1920s, a shiny new cream separator could be found on nearly every farm. Farm wives used the cream to make butter for home use and sold or traded surplus cream to the local store keeper. Farm-fresh butter was a valuable commodity, which, combined with the proceeds from hen house production, furnished many farm families with yearly cash for new shoes and school clothes.
Twenty-five years ago - when I tried to make a living as an antique dealer - I could pick up a van-load of hand-cranked cream separators for as little as $200.I usually sold them within a week or so to gift shops (as flowerpots) or to goat herders (to separate their cream). The rusty 'decorator'-quality machines brought about $50, and a clean, working model might fetch $100 or more. Tabletop separators were the best sellers because the 'country kitchen' decorating motif was just catching on.
Today, those same separators bring four or five times the money. A comparative rarity, such as an early De Laval Alpha No. 1 Baby Separator, could fetch $600 to $1,000 from a dairy equipment collector. A more common 1928 De Laval machine might cost between $250 and $450 in good condition.
Most other brands of pre-war, vintage U.S. and Canadian machines that are offered for sale on eBay seem to fall in the same price range. Rusty survivors of the 1940s rarely bring more than $100 at country junk shops. Toy separators, however, are extremely collectible. A tiny cast iron McCormick-Deering model with moving parts recently sold for more than $200.