A Guide to Vintage Whisk Brooms [Examples & Values]
Hi there! How are things? It’s hard living in such uncertain times, isn’t it? It hardly seems relevant to be talking about antiques, but work can be a welcome distraction. Meanwhile, I’m praying for health and hope for our nation and for those facing Covid 19 and the evils of racism. I know you are as well. Please, stay safe!
No way to smoothly segue into today’s topic, so here it is: whisk brooms have fascinated me for some time now. They come in all shapes, sizes, and materials, making them an interesting item to collect. I hope you enjoy today’s guide to vintage whisk brooms 🙂
The term “whisk” likely became associated with these small brooms because of their ability to quickly and easily “whisk away” dirt, dust, crumbs, or whatever happens to be bothering you. While small brushes have had various labels attached to them (we’ll look at a list below), for me, they all fall under the general category of “whisk.” So, there you go.
In this post, we’ll take a look at whisk broom history, values, and a number of examples. And in addition, we’ll learn the role the Shakers played in the development of the broom and consider the Amish contribution as well.
The History of the Whisk Broom
Sometimes called “hand brooms” or “dusters,” whisk brooms are smaller, hand-held versions of “regular” brooms. So its history is inextricably linked to the larger type.
Over 2000 years ago Jesus made reference to the broom–did you know that? It was news to me, but in Luke 15:8 during the course of telling a parable he says, “Suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it?”
In fact, some version of the broom has been in use since ancient times. Fine twigs or corn husks tied tightly to a sturdy branch allowed one to keep a tidy home, but not for long since these early brooms easily fell apart. The pressure applied while sweeping was more than the homemade implement could handle.
The Invention of the Broom
Enter Gregory H. Nobles, a Massachusetts’s farmer who had the inspired idea of using what came to be known as “broom corn” (shown above) to make a broom for his wife back in 1778. The sturdy but finer quality of this tasseled grass made it ideal for sweeping.
Here you see it in dried form, ready to be bundled and made into a broom.
As the story goes, he used the broom corn to create a round broom–typical at the time. It might have looked something like this one, though he would have made it by hand.
The Shakers & the Broom
I had the pleasure of sitting in on a broom-making session at the nearby Shaker Heritage Society. Paul Russell, a master broom-maker, took us step-by-step through the process of creating a broom.
This beautiful antique vise held the broom handle while he tightly wrapped the broom corn in place using cotton cord. In the case of more modern brooms and whisk brooms, wire is now used instead of cord.
Paul makes brooms in all sizes, including small, round whisk brooms like this one.
Historians credit Theodore Bates, a Shaker in the Watervliet community near me, with inventing a vise grip in 1779 that allowed the manufacture of flat brooms (Wikipedia). They proved to be generally more effective at cleaning than the round variety.
The vise permitted the broom to be flattened and the broom corn to be sewn into place. Almost every Shaker community eventually participated in the manufacture of brooms, producing thousands upon thousands throughout the 19th century.
The Amish & the Broom
A few years ago we spent a night in Lancaster County (PA) and took an Amish buggy ride that led us to an authentic Amish farm.
On the way out, we stopped at the family shop, bought some home brewed root beer and snapped a photo of their handmade brooms. Broom-making, like baked goods, furniture, and quilts, offer an opportunity for many Amish to use their “homey” skills to earn some income.
How Much are Vintage Whisk Brooms Worth?
I sell ordinary vintage whisk brooms, like these three (c. 1940-50’s), for $8-12 each from my antique booth. They are very reliable sellers so I always pick them up when I see them for a dollar or less.
Older brooms with distinctive features, like brass or silver handles or velvet trim can achieve prices from $15 on up. Below we’ll take a look at some examples and suggested values.
Vintage & Antique Whisk Broom Examples
The 3 1/2″ broom with the brass grip (or “cap”) and handle is a recent find for $3. It’s so perfectly shaped and balanced and all of its mechanics so discretely hidden by the cap. I would date it to about the 1930’s. Were I to sell it, I would price it in the $20-25 range.
The broom on the right bears the typical metal cap, wire wrapping, and cotton stitching of the most common whisk broom, but it’s hardly common. It, too, is quite dainty at just 5″ in length and is clearly well-made. I have used it in a number of photo shoots, like for my level rack, so it’s priceless to me 🙂 But I would value it at $12-15.
This reddish whisk broom is of a completely different design, with the broom corn thrust into drilled holes in the wooden handle and likely secured with glue. Value of this c. 1940’s whisk broom: $10-12.
Similar in style to the previous hand broom, this one has a metal cap and plastic bristles, dating it to the 20th century. Value of this c. 1950’s whisk broom: $10-12.
I’ve heard references to “Fuller brush men” for years. Have you? They sold their wares door to door (for 114 years!) and off-color jokes would sometimes be told about them. Poor fellows.
The brushes, known for their quality, “became not homely commodities but specialized tools obtainable nowhere else,” except from a Fuller brush man (American Heritage). And proving their distinct value, millions have been sold through the years and the company remains in business to this day.
In any event, the brush was a fun find– round with a white wooden handle and white plastic bristles. Value of this c. 1960’s brush: $10-12.
The broom in the back is pretty standard, but the one in the front has a blue velvet “collar” with matching thread that sets it apart from many others. This c. 1940’s whisk broom sold for $18 in 2014.
An here’s another with a velvet collar–this time white–but with a silver plated handle and white plastic bristles. This c. 1930-40’s whisk broom sold for $15 in 2015 (had some bristle stains on the reverse).
My latest acquisition: a small whisk broom with a red, wooden handle (c. 1930’s)–LOVE IT. Value: $12-15.
This lovely butler or crumb brush (c. 1910’s) with floral repoussé handle, made of sterling silver with hair bristles would have come with a matching tray. It sold for $35 in 2015.
Other Names & Uses for Whisk Brooms
As I mentioned in the intro to this post, these small brooms have had a variety of different names or purposes attached to them.
At one point in our history, in homes with servants, it was common for crumbs to be “swept” off the table between courses onto a matching tray. Those brushes were known as “crumb” or “butler’s” brushes.
Before a man walked out of the house for work, his wife might have brushed the collar and shoulders of his coat with a “collar” or “clothes” brush.
And a barber would use a similar brush to remove hair from a patron’s neck and shoulders after a hair cut or to apply talcum powder after a haircut to allow for easier removal of cut hair and prevent chaffing from one’s collar.
Here are a list of common names/uses for small brushes:
- Whisk broom
- Hand broom
- Crumb brush
- Butler’s brush
- Clothes brush
- Collar brush
- Hat brush
- Barber’s brush or barber’s neck brush or barber’s talc brush
Decorating with Antique & Vintage Whisk Brooms
The warmth of aged broom corn and the whisk broom’s homey appeal make it the perfect accessory for farmhouse style decorating.
Collected together with a few other antiques, like this tomato pin cushion, needle case, and antique glasses, would allow you to easily create a charming vignette.
Decorating with them is fun 🙂 Be sure to tell me in the comments below about your favorite whisk broom and whether they are good sellers for you.
UPDATE (August 24, 2020):
Meda, a faithful follower for years sent in this photo of her charming collection of whisk brooms:
Notice the vintage Flemish Art (pyrography) rack they’re hanging from(!). You can visit her on Instagram and enjoy many of her vintage and antiques.
Thanks for stopping by!
Bye for now,
I’d SO appreciate a pin!
These little brooms sell fairly well for me here in the Midwest. Average selling price here is $6-8. They definitely make a nice display!
Glad to hear it’s not just me Terri! They do have a lot of character 🙂
Interesting post Diana! I collect them, I think I may have sole one in the past that I didn’t really like the looks of. I have them displayed in a wire bucket in my laundry room 🙂
Glad you enjoyed the post Tania! Would love to see a photo of your collection 🙂 Are you in the FB group? You could post one there or shoot me an email…
This is a great article! My hometown of Mattoon, Illinois used to manufacture brooms. We are located close to the central Illinois Amish community of Arthur.. I grew up with whisk brooms and my mother even gave me a crumb brush with a small dust pan. I still have it.
Thank you for sharing.
I’m so glad you like the post, Deborah! Thanks for taking the time to let me know 🙂 So neat–your connection to brooms, and what a blessing to have such a sweet heirloom from your mother–
My father used to own Century Broom Works on Marshall Avenue in Mattoon which at one time was the 3rd largest broom factory in the country. back in the 50’s-60’s.
So brooms run in the family! Thanks for stopping by and sharing your history with us Daniel 🙂
As usual, I enjoyed your post on brooms. In Indianapolis, Indiana there was a blind man who made brooms and sold them in downtown Indianapolis. He was a well known fixture and sold a lot of brooms. However someone start complaining and there was such an uproar about wanting him to move from a spot he had been for years. I believe he did have to move but still people bought his brooms. Our business was in downtown and we had one of his brooms that my hubby brought home. Thought you would enjoy a story about brooms.
I’m so glad you liked the post, Sharon! Loved hearing about the local blind man and his brooms. Sounds like his story had a happy ending–thankfully. So nice that you have one of his brooms as a memento 🙂
I love this post! We also collect whisk brooms & found a very small (3 1/2”) one today. I supposed it was used as a whisk for clothes. I sometimes use one of ours – they’re very practical.
I’m so glad you enjoyed it Shirley! Your new one sounds like a real cutie. Yes, that’s my best guess to0 for using these tiny little whisks.
What an interesting post about hand brooms. Just goes to show you…..there is a collector for everything!
Hope you are keeping well and Safe.
Fort Erie, Ontario
So great to hear from you Elaine, and I’m glad you found the blog post interesting. It’s definitely true that there’s a collector for everything, LOL. We are safe and well, thank the Lord. I hope the same for you, friend.
Very enjoyable post! I really liked reading your information on them and see how the gentleman made them. The red handled one could come live with me any time! 😉
My father years ago had a relative, cousin I believe who was a Fuller Brush man! ☺
It’s amazing how many memories come flooding back when we see “old” things, isn’t it 🙂 So glad you enjoyed the post, Karen–
Such an interesting post, Diana! I’ve collected a few through the years & have them hanging on an antique rack. I’ll email u a pic. I love your little one with the silver cap. 😍
Thanks for sending the photo Meda! I’m going to add it to the post as soon as I finish with this comment 🙂
Hi Diana, I too have collected whisk brooms from time to time (meaning, when I see one I like, I buy it). But I also sold a couple when I had my booth. Two of my favorite possessions in life have been my Fuller hair brush and my Fuller dusting/crumb brush that came with its own little V-shaped metal dust pan. I even found an almost new dust pan to replace my rusted one recently. The brush/dust pan was ideal for dorm living – compact & effective (of course, THAT was a long time ago!).
I enjoy keeping up with your “collections” and your weekly “finds”.
Thanks for the informative article. I will now look more closely at whisk brooms when I see any, and maybe I will find some interesting ones for my booth!
Love my collection spurred on by Diana! Such an inspiration and wealth of knowledge
Hey Diana, oh my goodness, I was always enthralled by my dad’s whisk broom. I guess it was the size, which seemed perfectly child size, but I wasn’t ever to touch it, needed to stay where he could find it. The funny thing, I don’t remember him ever using it! hahaha Thanks for the memories.
Diana, so interesting about the whisk brooms! I had no idea there was so much versatility amongst them, but I will certainly be on the lookout for the vintage ones from now on. In fact, I found 2 vintage ones at a thrift store months ago. I sold both of them during the pandemic, not realizing they were collectible. Then I saw another at an estate sale that they gave me for nothing, and though it’s not sold yet, I’m sure it will. I enjoyed your article!
Love whisk brooms ! We always had one in the house growing up, and I believe it’s one I still have, although I am not sure any more which one it is. I found a red straw hearth broom at an estate sale a few year ago and learned more about it online. But I didn’t write it down, and now I can’t find the information any longer. Might you have any information ?
I found it. I remembered it was a school. Berea College.
Love your whisk broom article. Been collecting them for awhile, just for me. I have several different types of brooms/brushes hanging as a valance in my kitchen. Always have my eyes out for more.
Thank you for the information, I enjoyed reading it. I had no idea there are so many types of whisk brooms. Years ago, I made a rustic looking broom and used to enjoy decorating brooms with flowers and ribbon.
I’ve seldom seen whisk brooms; will have to keep an eye out. I have my Fuller Brush clothes brush (on the bookcase in the front hall for last minute brush offs) and my Mom’s–near my iron to clean off fuzz (especially the Kleenex I left in a pocket!) when I iron! I also use it on tangled fringe–a spritz of spray starch, some brushing, then ironing and that ratty looking fringe is beautiful again! I do love the ceramic/porcelain half dolls ones–I have several of the half dolls–some are dollhoused sized! Prob a topic for another post!
Fascinating! I always called the larger corn brooms, whisk brooms, too. I find, when I sweep my concrete patio, it sounds like “whisk.” 🙂
I love this post and now have something new I need to start looking for!! Thank you for such detailed information! 🙂
This was a fun post. I started collecting whisk brooms about 10 yrs ago, and have several of the ones you’ve shown. Some of my unusual ones include a Berea College, a leather-encased boar’s bristle, a sterling hat brush, and a sweet child’s that has a red handle with a little decal, and some of the husk bristles tinted red. I have several of the porcelain half doll brushes also, my favorites being those who are flapper girls! I only sell the ordinary ones, and even some of those I have duplicates. I just love it when they’re worn!
Thanks for the information on whisk brooms! This past weekend I found six whisk brooms at an estate sale. I put two in my booth, and your information helped me to price the brooms. I want to see how well they sell in my booth before I list the others on eBay. Thanks again!!
I don’t know how I missed this article when it first came out, but it was very interesting. I have a small window in my booth and used varying sized whisk brooms as a valance. I attached cup hooks close together over the window and hung wish brooms in all shapes and sizes to create an unusual valance. I sold 11 to one person so am back in the collecting mode again. Thanks again for the Info and although we are geographically distanced ( I’m in Panama City, FL) your tips and pricing data are most helpful. Stay Safe!
LOVE the idea of your whisk broom valance Betty! I’d love to see a photo sometime 🙂 Thanks for letting me know that my blog posts are useful to you–that makes my day!
Diana, I know little about whisk brooms , so I really appreciated this article – not only for the information, but because it is so well written. And such beautiful photographs! I have a question if I may: what other fibers are whisk brooms made of? I have one made of very fine dark brown natural fiber – it is not any kind of corn or straw or animal bristle. Could it be sisal? It is woven and very intricate, almost like a basket with many handmade knots. Fancy!
You can see it here: https://www.ebay.com/itm/383764166918 ….. Or I could send a photo.
Thanks for your lovely work and for any help you can offer!
Stay well, stay safe.
Hi Sharron! I’m glad you enjoyed the post 🙂 Your interesting whisk broom very well could be made of sisal or some other natural material. Unfortunately, I am NOT a whisk broom expert, just a whisk broom lover, LOL. Good luck getting to the bottom of it!
I have the whisk broom furthest to the right in Meda’s picture at the end of your post. Can you tell me the value of it and anything about it?
Thanks so much!
Hi Jo, unfortunately I don’t have any information about Meda’s brooms. I suspect the one you’re asking about was made out of a unique species of broom corn or yellow broom corn dyed red. I would value it at about $10.
My Gran used a whisk broom to dampen clothes for ironing. She then rolled them up, put them in a plastic bag and stored them in the fridge before ironing.
I love hearing about old-fashioned ways that we’ve mostly forgotten about. Thanks for sharing your Gran’s laundry “trick” with us Carla!
remember the wisk broom when i was a kid
Whisk brooms are my life the rest is just details. I found heaven here at this site!! Thank you for taking the time to educate me on what some of my potential finds are worth.
You’re so welcome John! I’m glad you enjoyed the article 🙂