Selling a Machine Tool Museum

1-5/8” Greenlee automatic 6-spindle screw machine

Peter Bowman owns a small job shop near Green Bay, Wisconsin. He wrote me an email Monday asking for advice on how to sell the assortment of manual machine tools his father has accumulated in his small shop where Peter initially learned about the business.

Please read Mr. Bowman’s letter below and reply with suggestions. I will write my own reply on the blog in the comments following the letter.

Hello Lloyd,

My 75-year-old father just shut down his machine shop and asked me to sell off everything. The place is a museum of 1940-1965 manual machine tools and I can’t get anyone interested in making an offer for any of it, maybe because I’m at the end of the road here in Green Bay, WI. I have (2) 1-5/8″ 6-spindle Greenlees with (literally) a ton of tooling, a 1952 3″ G&L bar (boring mill), a 12″ chuck 1962 Monarch lathe, a 30” Blanchard, radial drills, grinders, dozens of lathe chucks, drill presses etc. etc. etc. – all of it in working order, but too old and worn for production guys and too big and costly to move for hobbyists. The scrap guy says he’ll take it, but I won’t get anything out of the deal. Is this why most people give in to the auctioneers and their high prices? I was able to sell off the few CNCs and the gear department for the same amount the auctioneers estimated, so it’s really just the leftovers here. I’m just trying to raise some cash so an old man can supplement his Social Security enough to stay in his house, but at this point it looks like we’re going to scrap it all out. What do others do in this situation? He owns the building, so there is no hurry – perhaps after we fall off the Cliff people will be looking to spend some money. Any advice would be appreciated.

Peter W. Bowman, Song Industries, Inc.

Question: How would you sell this stuff?

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19 thoughts on “Selling a Machine Tool Museum

  1. AvatarLloyd Graff

    I wouldn’t call your assortment a true museum. I think yours is a step above museum vintage. The Greenlees have value for that small fraternity of guys in Rockford and environs who need spares to keep their beloved multis going. The Monarch actually is worth money for folks who need a toolroom lathe, and there are still many. The Monarch name is gold to some, so I would guess it is worth $7000 to somebody if it is clean. (Bring in a couple of kids on a Saturday, pay them $100 each to clean up the nice tools.) The Blanchard grinder could be worth $5,000 to $7,000 and the G&L bar should be worth $12,000 to $15,000 on eBay if it is still a viable machine for a maintenance outfit here or in India. A centerless grinder, if it’s a Cincinnati, is still useful if it works. I saw several ancient EA models a few days ago working next to brand new CNC Tsugamis. People still need to grind bar stock and parts.

    Your problem is how to extract value without spending too much time on the project. An auctioneer has a similar problem. He can’t dedicate his time to lost causes. Normally, an auctioneer wants the buyer’s premium plus expenses.

    If you cap expenses at $10,000 you might get a reputable Midwestern auctioneer (the Twin cities have several) to do an online sale. You will probably get $50,000 out of it plus scrap.
    You could take a do-it-yourself approach on eBay for six pieces, but if you sell only the G&L and the Monarch you’ve killed an online auction for the package.

    Readers, what would you counsel Peter and his father?

  2. AvatarJeff

    check with other shops in area and hold a joint on-line auction (shop around for who)…
    find the cheapest way to prep the lots ….
    critical mass more /varied lots goes a long way for getting more interest – we do this about every 3 years to move obselete /broken equipment and works good (3 to 6 shops involved)- establish load out /rigging pricing helps for out- of towners
    set min price above scrap value …..
    what doesnt sell goes to the scrap yard
    we scrapped 3 items from over 300 lots in last sale ………..

  3. AvatarKen

    I would find a broker who sells machines to India, China, and other places that have a need for manual equipment.
    It will be somewhat costly to move this to another country but on a ship in a container most likely not much more then in the states on a flat bed.
    One lot purchase might be done perhaps to a country that has need for it and has little ability to manufacture machines like this.
    Otherwise I would just put them in the hands of a good broker here in the states. Ebay though is best.

  4. AvatarDuane Henry

    I would suggest a call to Steve Hall at Production Machinery Co in Rockford Illinois.
    He buys used machine tools and re sells them.
    We have dealt with him and been impressed.
    Good Luck.

  5. AvatarRay Frattone

    I agree with Dan Richter, eBay is the way to go if you don’t have to move it all at once.
    Anything and everything sells on eBay. We purchased over the last few years a mass spectrometer, an electron microscope,a carbon low range and sulfur determinator, an induction furnace, a microwave digestion system and more crazy equipment.
    I am sure you can move all your stuff.

  6. AvatarAl Kiesel

    I have sold all manner of machine tools and shop supplies on e-bay. It is amazing
    to me what some people are willing to buy ! It does take time managing the listings
    and shipping. On the machine tools would recommend lisiting customer pick up at your

  7. AvatarNeil Westervelt

    I also have sold on E-Bay some good some no so good. I you have the time to do it E-bay is probly the best avenue. I sold a 1″ Greenlee for $500, but was able to move a Mazak CNC lathe for fair market value, both on E-bay. It can take quite a long time, but if the bulding is paid for I would say use E-bay.

  8. AvatarRoger

    If your dad has made a living from these machines for all these years consider yourselves well served and move on. Call the auctioneer. If you have lots of time and consider Ebay fun, go for it.

  9. AvatarFred Jenkins

    I love old stuff and have a feeling for it.

    It would be nice to have a “museum” (Science and Industry kind) take it as a donation
    lock, stock and barrel. Also nice to see the shop moved whole as a time warp. The Edison Laboratories in West Orange,NJ would be an example.

    A trade off might be the recipient picking up the rigging and freight bill.

  10. AvatarAndy Forgit

    We see this every week in New England where an elderly shop owner stays in their niche to the long awaited retirement then expects the new generation to welcome the opportunity to take over. Sorry, no skills available to efficiently operate these tools.
    50 to 70 year old machines have seen the end of their usefulness and more machines than I can count have gone to scarp metal yards. China is buying the best technology, India maybe or Mexico but I would go for the eBay sale and or for scrap value.

  11. AvatarBruskie

    Hello Peter Bowman,

    There may be a bit of hope for those Greenlee Screw Machines and the tons of tooling that could fetch a bit above scrap price. Give my friend Brian Winters a call and see if he’s interested in a road trip!

  12. AvatarBruskie

    I shoudl have mentioned in my above post that Brian is not only a friend but also a “Fraternity” Brother! 🙂

  13. AvatarChuck

    I would consider buying the blanchard and other grinders for our shop…. Give me the contact info and we will talk…

  14. AvatarMark Lucas

    First of all: Everyone stop selling equipment to overseas operations. You know darn well that is one of many reasons our economy imploded a few years ago.
    Second of all: All machine tools with a simple on/off control are worth their proverbial weight in gold to a small machine shop and shouldn’t even be considered for scrap. They are easy to repair because you only have to worry about mechanical failure. Newer machines with hydraulic/air/electrical problems will set you back in repair costss if you are unable to do that kind of complex control work, and the time it takes to deal with a repair to that type of system.
    I am a maintenance machinist and a machine tool preservationist. I own a small shop in Alton, Illinois where we save machine tools otherwise destined for the scrap heap. We keep them indoors, and restore them when time alots. Some of them find new homes with other collectors.

  15. AvatarAlbert B. Albrecht

    The American Precision Museum Windsor VT may be interested in the older machines -if they have historic value – you might donate the machine to the museum and take a tax write-off.

    Albvert B. Albrecht

  16. AvatarRic Gudell

    Illinois Manufacturing Foundation is a not-for profit adult vocational/technical school located in Chicago; we’ve operated a training programs for general machining, screw machining and CNC machining for over 30 years. For a six or seven year period (1990-1996), we operated a multiple spindle screw machine training program in collaboration with the City Colleges of Chicago. You may want to consider putting your multiples and their tooling in our school shop to serve as training machines for those being trained for the precision machining industry.


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