Can you tell me anything about the history of this piece? It used to be in my mother-in-law's house, but she gave it to my husband and me for safekeeping. How valuable and unique is it?
Dear M. B.:
This is a spinning wheel that is often called a Saxony wheel by collectors and by enthusiasts who still use such a device to spin fiber into thread and yarn. Once upon a time, most homes in the United States had one, because homeowners did not just run down to a nearby store to purchase their everyday clothing, bedding and floor coverings.
To be sure, commercially available thread and yarn was available in the United States after the middle of the 18th century. But if a person happened to live in the country, the tendency was to be self-reliant and make household textiles essentially from scratch.
A wide variety of antique spinning wheels are available to the collector. One familiar type is called the "great wheel" or "walking wheel," and it typically stands about 5 feet tall and was used to spin cotton or wool fibers. It was called a walking wheel because the operator stood and moved about as necessary and operated the wheel with a hand or even a stick.
The "castle wheel" looks a lot different than the spinning wheel in today's question because it is arranged vertically with a small table on top of the legs, and above that, the wheel and the flyer assembly. There is also a "Norwegian wheel," which is similar to the piece in today's question, except the table is horizontal, not slanted as it is in a Saxony wheel.
There are other types of spinning wheels, and the ones mentioned above are just a quick look at varieties often found in the American marketplace. As for the history of M. B's example, she should ask her mother-in-law if she is still living. If she has passed, M. B. might ask other relatives about what they know about the Saxony wheel.
If the information is not available, the history is probably lost in the mists of time because it is not remarkable enough to tell us much about its specific origins. The sausage turnings on the legs and spokes suggest that it was probably made in the late 18th or early 19th century.
Saxony spinning wheels are fairly common and have become something of a cliche that is avoided by many younger collectors. In the past few years, spinning wheels like this one have been selling in the $60 to $100 range at auction with a few fancier models selling for as much as three times more.
For insurance replacement purposes, M. B. should value her Saxony spinning wheel in the $100 to $150 range.
Helaine Fendelman and Joe Rosson have written a number of books on antiques. Do you have an item you'd like to know more about? Contact them at Joe Rosson, 2504 Seymour Ave., Knoxville, TN 37917, or email them at email@example.com. If you'd like your question to be considered for their column, please include a high-resolution photo of the subject, which must be in focus, with your inquiry.