Lines of women bent over their washboards and wringing out clothes is one of the most recognizable images from the past. To today’s modern couples, washing your family’s clothes by hand with a washboard seems complicated and time-consuming.
But washing machines aren’t something that people have always had. Before electricity and water were abundant, most people had to wash their clothes by hand, including scrubbing them on a washboard with soap and water. And we even had public washing rooms for folks to get their rinsing done.
Washing was even more important back then than it is now. People didn’t own wardrobes full of clothing, and concepts like “fast fashion” sounded like a fallacy or an oxymoron. Everyone knew that clothes, especially ones worn daily, should be laundered often and in the best way possible.
But now that we have washing machines do these washboards still have value? Can you resell them for any money?
The answer is yes. This article will explore what antique washboards are worth, why they have value, and the best places to buy/sell them.
The History of Washboards
It’s hard to trace the exact origin of the washboard. Sources like the New York Times claimed it was a great American invention around 1860. But other sources indicate that the first washboards first spread in Scandinavia. It is most likely that the technology for making heavy-duty, sturdy washboards was developed in Europe and then brought to America.
Washboards were initially made from wood but quickly transitioned to zinc and steel because of how well these materials resisted rust. Interestingly, many people who used washboards back in the day preferred using a galvanized sheet metal board over a wooden one.
Ironically, while the modern world considers washboards a relic of the past, people in poorer parts still rely on them daily. Washing clothes by hand is their only way to keep them clean, as washing machines require plumbing and, most importantly, electricity. So, though these washboards may be antiques, they are still valuable to people worldwide.
Today, you can buy antique washboards on sites like eBay and Etsy. There are also several physical locations where you can buy or sell these unique relics of history.
Fun fact: One factory in the United States still produces washboards.
So even though washboards may seem like quaint antiques to us, they are still essential household items for many people across the globe.
Evaluating an Antique Washboard
How can you tell if an antique washboard is valuable or not? There are a few things you can look for:
- Age: The older the washboard, the more valuable it is likely to be. Washboards manufactured before around 1915 are considered especially rare and desirable. They must be at least 100 years old to qualify as antiques.
- Conditions: Washboards with no rust or damage are more valuable than scratched and damaged ones. The closer a washboard looks to new, the better.
- Design: Washboards are made in several different styles, and some of these designs are more valuable than others. For example, a washboard with engraved advertisements will likely be worth more than one without one. You can do that to find out how much an antique washboard is worth.
- Materials: If the washboard is made from a corrosion-resistant material like steel or zinc, it will be more valuable than one made from other metals.
It’s essential to be at least able to give a ballpark estimation of an antique washboard’s value before you buy or sell it. There are two reasons for this:
- Being able to spot fakes
- Avoid overpaying or selling for a low price
It’s possible to make a new washboard look antique. For example, it’s possible to fake a washboard made from wood by sanding down the surface and then applying faux rust and scratches. But you can easily spot fakes if you know the difference between original zinc, steel, galvanized washboards, and other materials.
Most Valuable Antique Washboards
Let’s now see some valuable antique washboards. Many are cheap, but some are pretty pricey. We divided them by value so you can get a better idea of what to expect:
Cheap Antique Washboards – Less than $150
These washboards are beaten up and often have missing parts. But they will still be valuable to collectors interested in antique washboards just for nostalgia.
For example, look at this Antique Vintage National Wood & Glass Washboard selling for $29.99. It’s heavily scratched and rusted, with a broken glass window at the top. It’s not particularly valuable as a collectible, but it’s still usable. Perhaps we could have said a little more about the worth if the seller had given us more info (such as the year it was made).
If you are on an extra tight budget but still want an antique washboard, this Antique Small Wash Board Lingerie Wood Metal sells for only $13.50. It might not be a full antique, though. The seller put a considerable time range for it: 1900-1949. Technically, this means there’s a realistic chance this is a vintage item, not an antique. But if money is a concern, you won’t find a deal better than this one. The conditions of this washboard leave a lot to be desired. The wood is still good, but the metal part is covered in scratches and dents and is also stained.
Consider this Chinese Antique Washboard currently on auction for something more exotic. It’ll probably get to around $150. As you can see, it’s completely different from American washboards, being smaller and made from a delicate material like bamboo. Still, it’s in pretty good condition. It’s got some scratches, and the painted peony flowers on top are starting to lose their color. But this is still a nice antique washboard, and it’s worth the price.
Here’s a MOTHER HUBBARD Wooden Roller Washboard that sells for $109.95. Mother Hubbard was a character from nursery rhymes that made and sold shoes. While the wooden structure, especially on the top side, has seen better days, the piece is still in good condition and provides a fun, old-fashioned charm you won’t find anywhere else.
Rounding up this section is this Antique 1915 Nat. Washboard VIM 180 that can be yours for $89.99. It’s in better condition than other washboards on this list, but it’s still not worth a lot. The pictures show that the glass is clean and that there is only minor damage to the soap holder. Still, it’s not enough to put it in the high-value category.
Mid-Range Antique Washboards – $200 – $400
These washboards are more valuable than cheap ones and more expensive to purchase. Many of them have perfect or near-perfect conditions, which makes them great additions to your homes.
Let’s start with this Rare Primitive Antique Wood Washboard that sells for $255.56. This piece is so unique that it has a high price despite being cracked in the middle. Plus, there are other heavy signs of age and poor storage. But rarity trumps every other factor when it comes to value. This genuine antique washboard will improve home decor while providing a functional purpose.
Here’s an Antique 1Hand Carved Washboard Advertising 1800s for a different piece. Yes, you read that right; this is an advertising washboard. The company’s name, “A.C. James Soap Company,” is engraved on top. A. C. James was a company that specialized in soaps and other household items. Their products were known for containing natural ingredients. The washboard is dated around 1900, and there are some signs of wear. Oh, and this is particularly rare because it’s made from stone. Most washboards are made from metal or wood. You can get this unique piece for $299.99.
Continuing our streak of washboards advertising soap companies, here’s a Cobalt Porcelain Enamel Soap Saver National Washboard. The practice of advertising soaps on washboards aimed to reach a broad audience. Washboards were both kitchen and laundry tools, so they were seen by many people daily. It was free and continuous advertising for the soap companies, who didn’t mind subsidizing the washboards for advertising. This one is precious because it’s made from porcelain enamel, making it highly durable and attractive. But it also has a significant flaw. One of the wooden planks on the backside is broken, which affects how it’s used. You can get this piece for $250.00 on eBay.
Rounding up this section of our list is this Early Antique Primitive Pine Wood Scrub Washboard that sells for $242.96. The peculiarity of this washboard is in the material used. Where most washboards relied on wood that came from oak and cedar, this one is made of pine wood. Pine wood is easier to find because it’s usually felled when trees are cleared for new construction. While the back planks aren’t appropriately attached, this piece is still in great shape.
Top-End Antique Washboards – $400 and above
These are the best of the best in terms of antique washboards. These are unique places that don’t sell anymore, or their quality is so outstanding that it puts them into a prestigious category.
The first washboard we want to bring to your attention is this Swedish Early 19th Century Folk Art Washboard in Pine, circa 1830. The first washboards were built in Scandinavia, and this model is likely among the first ones of its kind. This piece, being almost 200 years old, is for big-time collectors looking for something unique and valuable. There are some cracks on the surface, but the piece is still in good condition. An interesting detail is a hole on top of it, which makes it easy to hang to let it dry.
And finishing our list is this Northern African Wood Dashboard. This list was sorely missing an African entry, and this one doesn’t disappoint. First, it has a unique handle that makes it more mobile than other entries on this list. Probably people needed to walk a lot to find running streams on water, thus requiring a more portable model. Second, it’s made from tamarind wood. Tamarind is often used in Africa because of its durability and resistance to rot. The piece has some age-related damage but nothing major that affects the price.
FAQs about Antique Washboards
How do I know if an antique washboard is valuable?
Several factors affect the value of antique washboards, including the quality of wood or metal used, the condition it’s in, its age, and where it comes from. Some are more valuable than others based on these factors, so you should research unique washboards and experts in this field before making a purchase decision.
Why was antique washboard advertising used?
Antique washboard advertising was mainly used to inform potential customers about the benefits of using a specific soap brand. Washboards were used in the home and laundry room, so it was easy to spread the word about new household products. Most washboard manufacturers didn’t mind offering free or discounted washboards for advertising purposes.
What are some common materials for antique washboards?
The most common materials for antique washboards are wood and metal. Both are durable and last for many years, but some antique collectors prefer one over the other based on their aesthetic appeal or historical significance. Research the materials used with an expert in this field to find out if you have a valuable washboard.
Washboards have been used for over a century as household tools, whether in the kitchen or the laundry room. They have undergone much change throughout their existence, being made from materials that range from expensive and beautiful to simple and rustic. Whatever your choice is, washboards are suitable investments because they cost less than other household products and can last for decades.
If you’re interested in antique washboards, be sure to check out the models that are currently on the market. Whether you’re looking for a piece with unique historical significance or something made from hard-to-find materials, you’ll find exactly what you’re looking for.
And you can also use them to wash your clothes. It’s as easy as loading your clothes and filling the tub with water. Make sure to use a mild detergent, such as soap flakes or liquid laundry soap diluted with hot water, for optimal results.