"How Much Is
My Old Sweeper Worth?"


Quite frequently, I receive emails along the lines of, "I just found Aunt Tillie's old Sux-de-Luxe vacuum cleaner in the attic. How much is it worth?" Usually, such people have found my Cyberspace Vacuum Cleaner Museum and look to me for information on their new-found vacuum treasure.

Often, I am given little or no details about the vacuum cleaner in question: Some people don't even give the brand name, most don't provide photos, don't give any indication as to its condition, and don't indicate what accessories it has. Nor do they give any particulars about its provenance or how they happened to come into possession of it.

Not that it really matters· You see, very few old sweepers are worth a lot of money, even "mint condition antiques."

Why is that?

Well, I'm glad you asked. Pull up a chair, and Unkie Charlie will tell you allll about vacuum cleaner collecting. More than you probably want to know. But you -did- ask, so...


 
"CALLING ALL SWEEPER COLLECTORS,
"CALLING ALL SWEEPER COLLECTORS·!"



Well, old vacuum cleaners are, by and large, not worth a whole lot of money for the plain and simple reason there just aren't enough people who collect them. There's no great demand for them so there's also no real value for them either.

Certain old collectibles and artifacts, such as Barbie dolls or Mickey Mouse memorabilia or carnival glass or movie stars' nail-clippings or what-have-you, can be quite valuable - in high five- and six-figures, even, in some cases - because MANY people collect them and many people desire these objects.

On the other hand, very few people [relatively speaking] collect electrical appliances, much less old sweepers. They take up too much room. And to most people, vacuum cleaners represent household drudgery. Why would anyone want to collect things that represent dirty, filthy, unpleasant housework?

And who the heck wants a bunch of old smelly dirt-clogged, insect-ridden vacuum cleaners cluttering up the place?! (Who, that is, other than a very small handful of people such as Yours Truly, who suffer from a peculiar and rare form of insanity --- those of us who are inexplicably fascinated by old vacuum cleaners?! But that's another whole topic, already covered in my Sweeper Obsession page.)

Furthermore, there is no inherent or intrinsic value to old vacuums.

What I mean by that is, old coins, stamps, etc., have value in and of themselves because they contain - or represent - precious metals or gems. So the actual thing itself has value.

On the other hand, an old vacuum cleaner is just some pot metal or aluminum, along with bits of rubber, bakelite, leatherette, etc. I've never seen any sweepers made of diamonds or pewter, although I do know of a gold-plated Kirby. It belongs to Phyllis Diller as a matter of fact. Other than that notable exception, sweepers are made of very ordinary materials. Especially most modern ones which are -- by and large -- garish, cheap, "planned-obselescence" horrors of plastic hideousness.

 
Now come two big "HOWEVERS"·

 
"HOWEVER" Number One ·

In a nutshell: Whether or not a cleaner is collectible (to the average collector) has everything to do with its condition ---- or, that is, more importantly, with its "state of originality and completeness."

A machine that has been repaired numerous times over the years and now has, say, two brown wheels, one red wheel, a green cord, a purple bag, and a yellow handle, is not gonna be worth much to the average collector. Similarly, machines with missing or broken parts are going to be worth significantly less than a machine in complete condition. To some really obsessive collectors, the original attachments -- even the original cord with its original plug -- are important in terms of deeming the machine collectible.

An old machine that has been thoroughly rebuilt with brand-new replacement parts is not as collectible* as an old machine that may be a bit "shopworn" but still has the original bag, hose, cord, etc. Along that same line, though, an old machine that is in original but sorry condition is pretty much gonna be a white elephant, most likely. If a machine is incomplete, rusty, badly scratched or dented, doesn't run, is missing significant parts (like, say, the MOTOR), it's just not gonna be worth anything.

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( * to most collectors, at any rate: I feel safe here in speaking for most other collectors whom I know when I emphasize that the KEY to desirability is ORIGINALITY.)
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Most collectors have a keen eye for "design aesthetics." So, yes, it -is- quite important - vital, even -- for that old Electrolux to have its original woven cloth hose. It just doesn't look right with a white plastic hose rudely stuck into its streamlined maw.

Thus, an old cleaner in excellent condition, with all or most of the original attachments, bag, hose,trim, etc., will certainly be of some interest to serious collectors.

But, here again, that is presuming you can find someone who collects old sweepers, and that is not an easy task; but which does bring us to·

 
"HOWEVER" Number Two ·

The advent of on-line auction sites such as eBay has certainly taken vacuum cleaner collecting to a new height; certain old cleaners are commanding high-dollar bids the likes of which truly do astound those of us who have been collecting them for a few years.

I can't tell you how many old cleaners I have paid little or nothing for over the 25 or so years that I've been collecting, and I mean machines in beautiful or mint condition. It never occurred to me, in even my wildest dreams, that someday my collection might actually be worth something.

As it is now, however, I could retire this very moment, and rather comfortably so, if I elected to sell off my collection ---- that is, judging by some of the frightful rubbish that has come and gone on eBay, and in some cases for astonishing and practically unbelievable closing bids!

On eBay, that formidible cyber-world of Trailer-Trash Yard Sales,* some rather junky old vacuum cleaners have closed for over a hundred dollars; in a few notable cases even several hundred dollars. (Please do note, by the way, that I characterize eBay as a "cyber-world of Trailer-Trash Yard Sales" without prejudice --- inasmuch as I'm there nearly every day, either buying or selling.)

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*I had quite a reality check when I once took some "priceless antique" Oriental scrolls to the venerated Sothebys office in Beverly Hills for appraisal. The aloof appraiser took one disdainful look at them thru the half-glasses perched at the end of her bony nose, pushed herself back from them as if they were made of the vilest polyester, and tersely indicated that "Sothebys appreciates your interest, but we would be unable to appraise or consign the scrolls." Her parting shot: "You might get something for them on *ahem* · Eeeee-Baye." ·. Her lips curled around that last word as if it were some blasphemous profanity.
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But I digress· Back to the hundred-dollar junk-cleaners on Eeeee-Baye·..




OKAY, OKAY· SO HOW MUCH IS AUNT TILLIE'S OLD SWEEPER WORTH ALREADY?!

All the foregoing having been said·

If you are reading this because you emailed me with a query about an old sweeper, the best I can tell you is·

Your old cleaner is, basically, worth what someone will give you for it.

Sorry if you were expecting a more earth-shattering revelation, or a more clear-cut, infallible estimate of its value. But that's the best I can tell you.

You might get lucky and pair it up with the one person on the planet who's just absolutely dying to have that exact, particular machine, and who may be willing to pay you tens of thousands of dollars for it. On the other hand, you may have a stylish "retro" planter on your hands that will make a cool flower-pot for a Boston Fern or something.

The older your sweeper is, the more outstanding its overall design/aesthetics, and the more original its condition, the more it will probably be worth.

Uprights

If it's an old upright, does it have the original bag? It's not that hard to figure that out: The bag would have the manufacturer's name and/or logo on it. It will not say "to fit Hoover" or "fit-all bag" or "Hoover made by Metropolitan" or anything like that. And the bag's color and "style" will fit the machine. If you have an old Kirby that has red and grey trim, and the bag is neon orange vinyl, it is not original. Trust me.

And if it does have the original bag, what sort of condition is it in? Does it look as new, or does it look like something that was hauled up from King Tut's tomb? Is the bag's color vivid and bright, or faded and spotty? Are there holes in it? Things moving around inside? Does it smell like something died up in there?

And, as I said above, all the components should match!


Tanks and Canisters

If the machine is an old tank or canister cleaner, the hose will probably be a very stylish WOVEN hose, made of cloth or nylon. Plain, ugly, white plastic ribbed hoses are not original equipment to a 1937 Electrolux. Trust me.

And, again, as with the bag on an upright, the more pristene the condition of the hose, the more desirable it will be. If it has fossilized into an unbendable tube of vulcanized rubber, and the color is some nondescript brownish-greyish shade, it's not going to elicit any great amount of interest.

All canisters would have been outfitted with a fairly complete set of attachments --- at the very least there should be a hose, two steel wands, a set of rug and floor nozzles (sometimes a two-in-one cobination), upholstery nozzle, dusting brush, and narrow space cleaner ("crevice tool").

Many old cleaners also had deluxe or optional attachments - paint sprayers, floor polishers, hedge-clippers, refrigerator-lifters, sanders, drills, vibrators, insect-eradicators and rug shampooers; to name but a few of the more exotic accessories you might find on a high-end vintage sweeper. The more attachments you have, the more your cleaner will be worth. If there's only a single cracked plastic wand and a ripped-up or petrified hose, with no nozzles or fun-to-use air-powered tools·.. well then, don't expect to get a whole lot for the ensemble.

Oh---- the other thing that will add value to your machine is if it's still in the original box, if the attachments are in original boxes or cartons, and if you have original paperwork on it such as instruction booklets, advertising materials, sales receipts, etc. etc.. All these sorts of "paper goods" will add to the desirability and value of old sweepers.

So, take a good look at your machine from the viewpoint of a collector and you should get some idea of its collectibility. Then, if you are convinced it's worth something your best bet would be to list it on eBay or some other auction site. (See http://www.ebay.com.) If it's really cherry, even =I= might go beserk and bid to the death for it!


 
IN CONCLUSION·

If you have made plans to retire to the Canary Islands on the proceeds from the sale of your old sweeper, you might wanna rethink those plans. For even the most gorgeous, most original, most mint-condition machines typically won't go for more than a couple hundred dollars, occasional exception on eBay notwithstanding. The highest amount anyone has paid for a sweeper that I know of was mid four-figures for a very early prototype machine from a major manufacturer. However, that machine was very old, very rare, one-of-a-kind, and in excellent, all-original condition.

Most likely, you'll be lucky to get more than a hundred bucks or so, and again, that's presuming the machine is in excellent or at least very-good condition.

Good luck·. And if you DO make a killing, and DO retire to the Canary Islands, please send me a postcard. I've always wanted to go there.


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Charles Richard Lester
Curator
Cyberspace Vintage Vacuum Cleaner Museum

 
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