The days are gone when nearly every home had a working spinning wheel, but collectors and spinners today still seek out antique wheels for their beauty, historic value and usefulness. To identify an antique spinning wheel, you will need knowledge about antique furnishings and spinning wheel parts.
Request the provenance for the antique spinning wheel, if available. This information will tell you the wheel's age, origins and perhaps the history of its ownership.
Examine the workmanship. Look for signs that the spinning wheel was handmade, such as slight differences in diameter of the legs. Machine-cut pieces are more uniform and were not made until about 1860.
Check the finish. A spinning wheel finished with lacquer or varnish probably dates from after the mid-1800s. Clear shellac was used before then. A very old piece might have an oil or painted finish.
Look for signs of age. An old spinning wheel that has not been cleaned or used will have built up grease and lint in the orifice or other parts. The flyer hooks might be worn, grooved or broken. The orifice also could show a groove where yards of yarn have passed through.
Look for a manufacturer's mark. Farnham wheels, made in Owego, N.Y., in the 1800s, have the "Farnham" signature stamped or burned into the top or side of the wheel table. Other types of signed wheels include "Truesdell" and "E.S. Williams."
Missing or broken parts can subtract from the value of a spinning wheel.
A guide to spinning wheels is a good source for illustrations of spinning wheel parts.
Unless the wheel is a rare collector's item, antique spinning wheels are relatively inexpensive--about $300 for a simple horizontal wheel.