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Vintage Appliances

Discussion in 'Your Vintage Home' started by Rosie, Dec 2, 2006.

  1. Back to something Lizzie said at the top of the page, about her seven cubic foot refrigerator; I don't know how many cubic feet mine is (I'm at work, 57 miles away from it), but it is a GE Monitor top from the early/mid '30s. I bought it when I bought my first house in 1980, for $160. It was in pretty good shape, intact, it worked, the glass drip tray was in it. The vanilla ice cream-white exterior paint was a little mottled when I got it, but most of that polished out with some automotive rubbing compound and wax.

    1980 was 37 years ago. When I bought it, I just wanted a cheap old-timey fridge, but I never dreamed I would have it so long. I have never owned a newer one. I did, however, receive a gift of a SECOND one, which also works (but had been painted turquoise with a brush), for the garage. The turquoise one is also a double-door one with a much larger coil on top.

    These refrigerators are absolutely amazing. They are both almost silent. They start with a tiny click and run so smoothly you wouldn't know unless you put your ear near the motor. When they stop, they give another faint click and a little shiver. They are both dependable as sunrise. The tag says they use 1/3 hp motors and they use a negligible amount of electricity.

    Anybody else using Monitor tops?
    David Conwill likes this.
  2. Alas, by the time I figured out what they were the Monitor Tops were all priced out of my reach. These days even a run-of-the-mill '40s Kelvinator or Frigidaire is climbing out of my grasp. I could kick myself for letting slip a Stewart-Warner a few years ago and I hold out hope that someday I'll find a Norge.

    I did just jump on a bargain-priced Zenith Cobramatic Hi-Fi, but that's not so much an appliance. We did have a lovely 1945-dated Caloric gas stove at our first home but it was very hard to find parts for and we don't have natural gas now that we live in Vermont.
  3. David -
    Truth, when I bought that monitor top for $160, it was the very limit of my grasp. At that time I was earning about $9,000 a year and, out of that, I probably got to take home less than $6K, or $500/month. The payment on my new (actually old 1915) house was $318.08/month. After other expenses (utilities, insurance, food...), that Monitor top took all my available cash savings for several months! But if I had bought anything else, whatever I bought would have been hauled to the dump and replaced several times by now. The Monitor silently persists. It has never failed and stands in the kitchen to this day.

    Imagine the happy buyer who took possession of it more than 80 years ago. It was gleaming white and newer than new. It was the envy of everyone who was still buying ice every day and dumping sloshing drip pans. What a marvel. I can't think of a single thing for sale in Target or Lowe's that the buyer could reasonably expect to last for 80+ years. On the other hand, the happy lady who probably took delivery of my fridge couldn't imagine it would still be working in 2017.
    Fading Fast and David Conwill like this.
  4. We have a monitor top (ck) and a flat top. Both need restoration (door seals, shelves rechromed), and they will be our fridges once we are no longer renting.

    The monitor top was $200 and the flat top $75. If you're willing to drive, I've seen them for free. They are particularly plentiful wherever GE had a plant- employee discount.
    David Conwill likes this.
  5. A lot of electric power utlities also had discount deals with General Electric. Our local power company maintained a downtown showroom where you could see the latest appliances, and they moved a lot of GE refrigerators and stoves from the 1930s well into the 1950s. They pushed the convenience of paying for your appliances thru a "small additional monthly charge" attached to your light bill, and especially when there was a lot money floating around in the years just after the war, a lot of homes here got their first refrigerators this way.

    The Monitor Top pioneered the idea of a permananetly sealed refrigerator mechanism, and this approach caught on with a number of other manfacturers in the 1930s. The Kelvinator "Polarsphere" unit in my fridge has run trouble-free in my kitchen for twenty-nine years now, so I can vouch for that brand's reliability. Consumer's Union considered the Norge "Rollator" unit to be the best quality refrigerator on the market in 1936 and 1937, and there are quite a few of these still in use as well.
    David Conwill likes this.
  6. I guess I should keep my eye on CL around Pittsfield and Schenectady!
  7. Yes! As a warning- most of the ones you will find will need restoration or be butchered. You likely won't find one someone has "restored" already. But if the mechanism is in good shape the vast majority of restoration is easy. If the gas is leaking, you have a very dangerous situation and a major repair. (Do some research on how to tell... if the gas inside has leaked out because the system was damaged by mishandling or corrosion.)

    For the vast majority it is only repaint (if you'd like), replace the rubber seal (under $100), and re-chrome shelves (you can send these out, but it is not necessary except for aesthetics). Hunt for the additions that go inside like the dripping pan, ice cube trays, etc. The seal on the door is going to need to be replaced- this keeps the motor from working overtime and is very important to do before you run it (besides a test run).

    It is *very* important when you move these things that you do so *very* carefully. The tops are like 200 pounds, and the freezer compartment hangs down. It is very difficult to get the top on and off without at least two strong men. It's very critical NOT to knock anything off. It's filled with SO2 or some other toxic gas depending on the model. Toxic gas, which if sealed in the system will not harm you, but if it starts coming out you *need to leave immediately.*

    Also, wait at least 24-48 hours after replacing the top to start it. At *least* 24-48 hours. The temptation is to get it home and get it together and then do a test run, but the gas needs to redistribute. Otherwise you can damage the motor. Whenever you move it, do this safety procedure.
    vitanola and David Conwill like this.
  8. Yes, to all Sheeplady said; PLUS ONE MORE. When moving a monitor top, there may be a temptation to tip it so one man can hold its "head" and another man can pick up its feet. Aside from the fluid issues mentioned by Sheeplady above, the thing will come apart. The top is held on only by gravity and the "lid" will flip right off if you try carrying it "sideways".
  9. Oh, yes, good point. Do NOT tip sideways. ETA: the top could likely kill you. The top is incredibly heavy.

    I don't want to make a big deal out of the gas, and scare people. But you want to be very precise moving these things. Be delicate as far as moving. That said, I had two in our home with a young child, and I was never concerned. If sealed, they are completely safe. If you damage the seal... not safe.
  10. vitanola

    vitanola My Mail is Forwarded Here

    I have been using them for thirty or more years. I have a DK series seven cubic foot machine in a tenant apartment, and had a big CG double door machine in my kitchen until I was able to replace it with a big fifteen cubic foot Kelvinator of 1925 vintage. The Kelvinator is a bit more trouble and expense to run, for it does not use a hermetically sealed compressor. It is a belt drive. When I rebuilt the compressor I installed modern seals and filled the system with "Hot Shot" R-414B in the place of the original Sulfur Dioxide. The machine works well and ices nicely. Now, I haven't been up to our "Up North" camp for four years, but if that little cabin has not been plundered we still have a Crosley "Icyball" there which also works quite well.
    Studebaker Driver likes this.
  11. Angus Forbes

    Angus Forbes One of the Regulars

    Our old (1920's) home has a vintage city-water-powered sump pump (along with a modern, electric one). Extremely helpful during power outages.
    Last edited: Feb 27, 2017
    Fading Fast and vitanola like this.

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