Antique Trader readers solve mystery barn find

Once again, readers entered where experts feared to tread. They explained the use and history of a fellow reader’s mystery machine, one that once belonged to her father. A hearty thank you to every reader that wrote in. Thanks! — Editor

The item on page 10 of the May 12 Antique Trader is a watch cleaning machine. A watch movement is dismantled and placed into the basket then manually cleaned, rinsed, and rinsed a second time before going into the final drying chamber. It is completely manual, and the operator (watch repairman) would clean the watch in each cycle as needed based on how dirty it was. It predates ultrasonic and automated machines. Its proper name is “L&R Watchmaster” and dates from the 1950s. I spent many hours running one for my family’s business and have many fond memories of using them.
— Michael Bowers, via e-mail

From what I can make out in your pictures on page 10 of your May 12 issue of Antique Trader of the ‘Mystery Machine’, this looks to me like an old watch and clock parts cleaning machine. The watch parts would be placed in the mesh containers and those would be placed into the larger containers with the cleaning / rinsing solutions. From back in the days when watches and clocks were actually repaired by a jeweler or watchmaker!
— J.L., via e-mail

My father-in-law has a machine just like yours, it is used to clean watch parts. One jar holds cleaning solution, the second one would hold a neutralizing liquid to the solution and the third one would be empty so that the parts could be spun dried in that jar. It is a washing machine for watches and also rings. It is worth in working condition around $250 to $400. A new one will cost $1,000 on up. Hope this helps you.
— Mark, via e-mail

What you have is a 1950s watch cleaning machine, it contained 2 jars of cleaner and a jar of rinse, every watchmaker had one. It should sell for $100-$125.
— John Lividotti, via e-mail
P.S. I was a founding subscriber in the 1950s

As a former jeweler and watchmaker the machine was used in the cleaning process of watches.
The watch movements would be taken apart and placed in metal baskets then would be spun and cycled through the different jars of cleaning fluid.
— William Emmons, via e-mail
PS. I like the new format of the magazine.

The Mystery Machine in last week’s Antique Trader is a watch movement cleaner.  I purchased on identical to the one pictured for $25, but have seen them sell on eBay up to $100. From the picture, it looks as though it needs to have the old wiring redone, just as mine did. 
— Jim, via e-mail

Looks to me like an old time jewelry cleaner used by jewelry shops and repair  shops. Hard to tell for sure from photo, but I am pretty sure.
— Lowell C. Horwedel,
West Lafayette, Ind.

I refer to the 2 pictures of a machine on Pg. 10 of the Trader, May 12, 2010.

This is a wrist watch cleaning machine. The repairman places the parts in the wire basket, twists it onto the ring on the rod from the motor, lowers it into the jar, half full of commercial cleaning solution. There should be a button in the sealing ring on the post side. When this is depressed by the jar rim, the basket rotates back and forth at the rate set by the rheostat. When clean, the motor is raised out of the solution but still in the jar. When the Rheostat is turned the basket spins one way, spinning off excess solution. (My L. and R. Mastermatic machine has 2 rinse jars.) The final position, seen in the lower picture is the drier. There should be a toggle switch on the front to turn on the heating element. The basket is spun slowly until the parts are dry. I have had my machine for over 50 years and it looks very modern aside of this one. It appears to be very old. Since it was made for a very limited use by a professional I would believe it has little value.
— Dr. Eric E. Batchelor, via e-mail ?

Send your questions via e-mail to or to Antique Trader Q&A, 700 E. State St., Iola, WI 54990. Photo guidelines: Save as jpeg or tiff, 200 dpi or higher, and original image at least 4 inches wide and 4 inches deep.

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