Antique Washing Machine Collection Cleans Up

Collector puts a shine on 700 antique washing machines

| May 1999

  • The washers shown here represent roughly half of Lee Maxwell’s collection of restored machines.
    The washers shown here represent roughly half of Lee Maxwell’s collection of restored machines. Those housed in this room are either hand- or foot-operated, using everything from water power to stationary engines, belt-power to treadmill. This room also houses Lee’s collection of Maytags spanning the years 1909 to 1983. Washers in an adjoining room are primarily electric, though some are run by gas engines.
  • A Scando washer from east Germany, produced in the 1930s.
    A Scando washer from east Germany, produced in the 1930s.
  • A salemen’s sample ABC (Altorfer Bros. Co.), and the genuine article.
    A salemen’s sample ABC (Altorfer Bros. Co.), and the genuine article. The pair are not an exact match, but close. Lee has several salesmen’s samples in his collection.
  • A Happy Home steam washer, atop a Jewel Vapoer stove.
    A Happy Home steam washer, atop a Jewel Vapoer stove. The washer uses about an inch of water, annd the clothes were tumbled in a steam environment. “I think it did more to sterilize the clothes than to wash,” collector Lee Maxwell says.
  • An example of a hand-cranked washer with the agitator on the underside of the lid
    An example of a hand-cranked washer with the agitator on the underside of the lid. Lee finds washers on two extended “hunting” trips each year, from coast to coast and border to border.
  • Double tub washers were popular with big families
    Double tub washers were popular with big families. The drive mechanisms for this washer’s agitators are reminiscent of the Pitman rods used in hay mowers. In the early days of this century, washing machines were used mainly by the middle class. “The wealthy people sent their stuff to the laundry,” Lee says, “and the poor did their wash by hand.”
  • The Crystal washer made a noble promise: “To lighten the burden of womankind.”
    The Crystal washer made a noble promise: “To lighten the burden of womankind.”
  • Some of the old machines contained touches of artistry.
    Some of the old machines contained touches of artistry. The agitator in this Thor Gentle Hand washer features graceful “hands” imprinted with “hand gentleness — machine speed.” A man who sold Thor washers in the 1930s on the dealer’s showroom floor, salesmen amused themselves by painting the hands’ fingernails red.
  • Lee Maxwell with one of his washers
    Lee Maxwell with one of his washers. He also collects electric engineering lab equipment, vacuum cleaners and butter churns.
  • Dogs and goats were trained to work the treadmills on early washers
    Dogs and goats were trained to work the treadmills on early washers. One visitor to lee's museum recalled that when she was a young girl, her mother used a goat to power the washer’s treadmill. When the got got tired, the woman said, her mother  put her on the treadmill.
  • No relation to the current owner
    No relation to the current owner: “We were really excited to get this one,” Lee said. Some pieces in his collection art donations, including a clothes drier from the 1950s that, when its door is opened, plays a chime version of “How Dry I Am.”
  • In operation, The Little Giant resembles an amusement park’s Tilt-a-Whirl
    In operation, The Little Giant resembles an amusement park’s Tilt-a-Whirl. It was designed as a machine to wash just “dainties.” Lee has several compact, table-top washers in his collection. “For a while after World War II, this was all you could get,” he says.

  • The washers shown here represent roughly half of Lee Maxwell’s collection of restored machines.
  • A Scando washer from east Germany, produced in the 1930s.
  • A salemen’s sample ABC (Altorfer Bros. Co.), and the genuine article.
  • A Happy Home steam washer, atop a Jewel Vapoer stove.
  • An example of a hand-cranked washer with the agitator on the underside of the lid
  • Double tub washers were popular with big families
  • The Crystal washer made a noble promise: “To lighten the burden of womankind.”
  • Some of the old machines contained touches of artistry.
  • Lee Maxwell with one of his washers
  • Dogs and goats were trained to work the treadmills on early washers
  • No relation to the current owner
  • In operation, The Little Giant resembles an amusement park’s Tilt-a-Whirl

Lee Maxwell doesn't own every antique washing machine ever made. It just seems that way. 

Lee has herded an orderly procession of more than 500 “revived” antique washers into two large buildings at his rural Colorado home. Another 225 – not yet restored – fill every corner of a nearby barn. The collection, which focuses on the first 35 years of this century, also includes everything from washboards to advertising materials, salesman's samples to signage, all housed in 12,000 square feet of buildings. Does Lee ever have the sense that things have gotten out of hand?

“Oh, yes,” he says with mock gravity. “But it’s too late now.” There are no annual shows or swap meets for collectors of antique washing machines. If there were, the gathering could be held at a kitchen table. Lee says he knows of just three “serious” collectors (those who have more than 50 pieces in their collections).

“There’s virtually no collectors of washing machines,” he says. “People have just passed these by.”



The utilitarian washing machine, he speculates, simply can’t compete with the appeal of vintage automobiles, tractors, stationary engines and gas pumps. And he may be right: we’ve all seen collectors who get misty-eyed just talking about their first Model T or the first Deere Dad bought new. But when was the last time you saw anyone, of any age, wax nostalgic over Mom’s old washer?

Lee’s collection started, as do all such ventures, innocently enough. For years, he and his wife furnished their home with antique furniture and primitives. When her aunt gave the couple an old hand-operated washer that she had received years earlier as a bride, the couple regarded it as a novelty.

tucker
11/21/2017 8:21:43 AM

i have a haag brothers double tub washing machine complete in good shape came with a kick start gas engine can anyone tell me what it is worth?


tobias_boles
11/21/2017 8:21:42 AM

i have a haag brothers double tub washing maching that came with a gas kick start engine can any body tell me what it is worth?


Nancy Pendleton
7/26/2011 2:29:30 PM

Our family has a 1930 Dexter Gas Engine Washer. The gas engine has been replaced with a small electric engine. Could anyone tell me what would be a fair price if we were to sell it? Expect for the change in the Engine it has all of it's parts in tack. Thank you for any help you could give us.