Farm Collector Blogs > First Things

A Sweet Collectible: Antique Cream Separators

by Leslie McManus

Tags: National Dairy Month, cream separator, early 20th century life,

 A separators and an unusual round DeLaval milking machine crate. Courtesy of Kent Gordon. 
A separator and an unusual round DeLaval
milking machine crate. Courtesy of Kent Gordon.

June is National Dairy Month.

It is also, among other things, National Iced Tea Month, National Candy Month and National Don’t Eat Cheese After Noon Month. And no, I don’t make up this stuff: As Will Rogers famously observed, “I don’t have to!”

Back to Dairy Month. At Farm Collector, we’re celebrating that by taking a long, hard, loving look at cream separators. In the history of civilization many noteworthy discoveries have immeasurably improved the lot of mankind and fostered the march of progress. Penicillin? General relativity? Copernican theory? Yes, each has its place – but don’t overlook the role of the cream separator.

Without cream separators, the process of separating cream from milk would be vastly slower, less efficient and highly prone to quality issues. Without separators, there’d be less cream – and less ice cream.

Industry experts might argue this point, but I’m pretty well convinced that America runs on ice cream. Need proof? Visit any antique tractor show. If you see people – especially men – standing in line, chances are very good that there’s an ice cream freezer at the far end. In my experience, there are at least two things that the average man has very little patience for: shopping and standing in line for anything other than ice cream. Auctions are a curious exception to that rule, but that is a topic for another day, say, during National Auction Month.

Early methods of separating cream were slow, inexact and prone to contamination. To the farm family, the modern separator must have seemed an absolute marvel – and one that paid its own way, to boot. Imagine the arrival of a device that not only worked with stunning speed but also generated a regular revenue stream. On many farms, the cream separator made “extras” possible; on others, it literally put food on the table.

In the early 1900s, cream separators quickly became an indispensable feature of farm life. As a collectible, the category is broad and deep. And yet, like Rodney Dangerfield, the cream separator gets little respect. Anyone who’s used one is quick to vouch for the nuisance of cleaning the intricate mechanisms. But it’s time to abandon old grievances. In the name of all that is smooth and frosty, in the name of shakes, splits and sundaes, take a second look at cream separators, and scoop up a sweet relic of the past.