3 Really Bad Examples of Antique Spinning Wheels

February 23, 2013


A comment to my earlier post on pricing an antique spinning wheel asked for photos. I considered how best to achieve this. I could have taken one of my wheels and removed various parts, then speculated on what a wheel like that would be worth. But then I realized it would be better to take pictures of actual wheels up for sale and point out why they may not be worth the asking price.

This proved to be a much better way to go, and the number of both Ebay and Craigslist postings for spinning wheels provided ample fodder. The hardest part was picking out which examples to use.

First up is this sad case from the Midwest:broken minneapolis

First of all, the photo is terrible. Understanding that many people have limited photo skills and even limited photo equipment, relying largely on what they can do with a cell phone. This listing on Craigslist included a few close-ups which only showed that the finish on this wheel is completely shot — what would best be referred to as “barn-fresh” condition. But the most glaring flaw is that the poor thing is missing it flyer, bobbin, whorl, and maidens. Even with a pristine finish, this wheel will cost between $250 and $300 to have replacement parts made. Throw in another $50 to $100 to refinish and you are talking upwards of $400 on top of a hefty asking price. With that, you enter the range where you may as well buy a brand new Kromski wheel, because this is never going to be worth the investment.

By the way, the asking price of this wheel was $250 for at least a year, maybe two. Spinners in my antique spinning wheel group began discussing ways of putting this poor creature out of its misery. Finally, one of them contacted the seller and as kindly as possible, suggested that with the missing parts, the wheel really wasn’t worth anything. The seller reacted by lowering the price from $250 to $165. At very best, a seller might expect to get $50 if the drive wheel is in good shape. Meaning, no cracks on the hub, the axle is firmly in place and the spokes are all correctly set and not wiggling around. And that the wheel is not warped and turns true. It is hard to tel from the photo, but this appears to be of Scandinavian descent, or American-Scandinavian build, and probably was a fine spinner in her day. Age and neglect have taken their toll however, and even at $50, it would take a lot of work to bring this one back into spinning condition.

The next wheel is another seller’s pipe-dream. A style typical of Sweden or of Swedish-American make, these little wheels are called “slantys” by the antique spinning wheel people:

overpriced slanty

As lovely as this wheel is, there is absolutely no way on God’s green earth that this wheel (or practically any other) is worth this kind of money. $1,799.00 on Ebay will take it away! She does have her flyer, bobbin, and whorl intact, and also has the benefit of three additional bobbins possible on an on-board kate (or maybe just strung together, hard to tell). She also has a pair of wool cards included. However, she is missing her distaff which is the bit at the end of the bench sticking straight up. She may also be missing a back leg support that typically would run parallel to the floor and brace the two back legs. She not nearly as ornate as some of the little slantys can be. These typically turn up in the Minnesota area and northern region of the county.

Typically, they are priced around $75 to $225 depending on their condition and level of ornateness. This wheel would probably sell at around $150. One can only speculate on why the seller thinks the wheel is worth what is being asked for it. Possibly they feel they have a valuable “anteek” and want their money’s worth. Maybe after it has been listed for a year or more they will start to realize how obscenely over-priced it is. Unless they meant to list it at $179 and then it would be closer to reality.

And the third example I put up primarily as an educational moment for both the would-be spinner looking for an antique wheel and for the seller of one of these misbegotten creatures:


This is not a spinning wheel. I repeat: this is NOT a spinning wheel. This is the rather ubiquitous “spinning wheel shaped object” or SWSO that takes newbies unawares. I would be willing to place a very large wager that if you turned this wheel over, the underside of the bench would be stamped with “Made in Canada.” Note the fiddle-shaped bench and the 9-spoke wheel. It matters not that the flyer is missing — it wouldn’t work anyway. The flyer, bobbin and whorl on these things is all one piece, and the wooden flyer shaft has no orifice to spin through. Additionally, the tensioning screw … well … isn’t. There is just the knob on the end of the bench and the knob is stationary. Even if you were to put a working flyer on this thing, you couldn’t get the wheel to spin because you can’t tension it.

These SWSOs were made in Canada, probably during the late 50s or early 60s, as a purely decorative item. They are the bane of antique spinning wheel collectors. I suppose the dealers who stumble across them don’t know the difference, assume they work, and try to sell them as real wheels. This example is worth no where near the current asking price of $125. It probably isn’t even worth $25, although a woodworking spinner associate of mine says she buys them for cheap to get them off the market and then repurposes the bench into wooden handles. Apparently, they are made of a very high-grade maple.

Here you have three examples of very bad antique spinning wheel deals — missing parts, finish is destroyed, hideously overpriced, and not even a spinning wheel. If you are a handspinner, or a wanna-be spinner, and you want an antique wheel, that is a wonderful goal, but do your best to educate yourself. If you are someone looking to sell a wheel, don’t automatically assume it is the only one of its kind. Nothing is no unique you won’t find another one out there. Do your homework and price the piece fairly and it will sell. Life is too short and there are too many good wheels out there to either buy or attempt to sell a lousy one.



Snowy Day Projects

February 10, 2013


We had snow. LOTS of it. Not as much as the folks in Connecticut or Massachusetts, but far more than we typically get here in the winter. See the bird feeder with its snowy cap on?:

snow garden

I had made a promise that if I was snowed in this winter, I would start restoring the assorted walking wheel parts I had won at auction over the summer. Here are the Miner’s Heads all ready for their bath:

miners heads 1

And here are the MOAs:

miners heads 2

It was alot. I didn’t get QUITE as far as I wanted, but did get all those miner’s heads through a bath of Murphy’s Oil Soap.

I had my own great wheel in for some judicious cleaning and oiling for an upcoming event. She needed new bearings and, since I had a whole bucket of corn husks soaked, I spent some time making extra pairs of bearings for my renovations, too:

miners head restoration

I also cleaned up and oiled the miner’s head and MOA for MY wheel. Note the walnut oil. This is fabulous for oiling wheels to which you do not want to add any color. Walnut oil is a clear oil and has the added property of swelling shut hairline cracks. I am happy with the final results:

miners head

Tom-Tom is happy with them, too:

tom tom

AND I got time to spin a little:

blizzard spinning

This was some nice Blue-Faced Leicester I’d gotten at Rhinebeck. It ranges from a deep purple, almost black, to a bronzy-brown like the color of a brown fig. I love it and it spins like silk.

All told, it was a productive weekend!


More about Flyers

February 8, 2013


Are you getting tired of flyer stories yet? I keep harping on them because I can’t emphasize enough the importance of them. This past weekend, I was in an antique mall in Pennsylvania where they had a Danecraft wheel for sale. Danecraft was a furniture company that make reproduction Saxony-style wheels back in the 1970s when the Bicentennial was approaching and everyone was nostalgic for the Colonial era. For all the research that supposedly went into these wheels, there were some design flaws. I have one that is an excellent spinner but some folks find them too easily broken. The one in PA was beyond broken — it was missing not just the flyer but the whole Mother-of-All and tensioning screw. Even with that level of disability, the antique store was asking $495. And this for a wheel that in prime condition is worth $100, if it spins. The mind, it boggles ….

Today’s specimen did not cost $495. It did not even cost $100, and that is good because it had the wrong drive wheel on it. Fortunately I had at home a similarly mismatched wheel and once I had the two together, was able to swap drive wheels and get two correctly matched wheels.

The flyer, however, was a problem. Of course. I seem to find the most craptastic flyers of all times. Here’s what we had this time:


bisson mended flyer 01

Note the distinctive spine down the center of the flyer. This was the style of a family of wheel makers named Bisson. In this case, the wheel is marked Jos. Bisson. Note the left arm of the flyer — see the seam where the wood changes color?

bisson mended flyer 02

Two nails. Not even glued on.

bisson mended flyer 03

Now, yes, someone made a brave attempt to repair this flyer. I’m a big fan of functional repairs, when they work. I think a functional repair adds character and shows the utilitarianism of a piece. But, like a Red Ryder b-b gun, you’ll put your eye out with this thing.

A flyer does just that — it flies while you are spinning. It will turn so fast, you won’t even see it moving. If you are spinning and paying attention to your fiber and this thing let loose, it could do some serious damage. One spinner reported that when her flyer gave way in mid-spin, it was flung across her living room and put a dent into the wallboard. Yes, they spin that fast.

Clearly, if Mr. Bisson was to be made to spin again, it would NOT be with this flyer. Additionally, the MOA mount was loose to the point of falling off:

bisson moa mount

The crusty old finish I could deal with, but the level of woodworking required was beyond my skill level. Therefore, the wheel was packed off to Fred Hatton, a marvelous woodworker in Pennsylvania who is the hero of many a spinner with an antique wheel. Fred builds replacement parts.

After summering in the Poconos, Mr. Bisson returned home in spinning condition with a lovely new flyer:

bisson 1

A faithful reproduction of the original Bisson, down to ridge on the flyer. The flyer shaft, bobbin, and whorl are all original; only the flyer arms are remade.

And the MOA repegged:

bisson 2

The wheel is a fantastically smooth spinner and having the craftsmanship of a new flyer only contributes to the smoothness:

bisson 3

While we are talking about missing bits and replacement parts, note that the maidens holding the flyer are NOT Bisson maidens; they are from a Canadian Production Wheel, probably a Bordua. The MOA is suspect, too, although it IS Bisson, judging by the little “pine tree” tip on the left. The wrong maidens and suspect MOA contribute to a lower value for this wheel and are points I was able to use to negotiate a very reasonable price for this wheel. The reasonable price was necessary to off-set the cost of having the new flyer made.

Next thing is to clean this crusty old piece, something I am not exactly looking forward to, given that it appears to have a red milkpaint finish on the bench. This will be a tricky restoration, something that will further contribute to the cost of this wheel. By the time she is done, I will have probably $400 invested in her, a price she will not command on the market so she no doubt will stay with me for the immediate future. Fortunately, she is an excellent spinner so she will be put to work when she is cleaned up!