Drinker-Collins respirator (iron lung)

iron lung

Michelle Knows Antiques is a great way to find the value of your antiques. Submit your antique for appraisal on our easy to use form. Here is a recent appraisal from Michelle’s column in Discover Vintage America:

Q: I have a restored 1937 Drinker-Collins respirator (iron lung) featured on American Restoration and restored by Rick. I may need to find an eccentric buyer who wants an absolutely unique (and very large) conversation piece.

A: An iron lung is a negative pressure ventilator that consists of an airtight metal tank that encloses the entire body except the head and forces the lungs to inhale and exhale through regulated changes in air pressure. It was invented by Philip Drinker in 1927 and is most often associated with Polio patients. A patient could “live” in the iron lung for many years if needed but in most cases treatment of a few weeks or months was enough to reverse the paralysis of the chest muscles one of many symptoms associated with Polio.

You might be surprised at how many people would be interested in an item such as this with all the doomsday, pandemic excitement going on this would be a valuable asset to someone with the room to store it. There are also other genres of collectors who might be interested, those who are in to the unique items and medical device collectors.

Since the piece has been fully restored, and I am going to assume it is functioning, you could expect it to sell it for $8,000-$9,000.

You indicated that you had invested $15,000 with the restoration so I suggest that you put your asking price around that value and come down if you need to. It is much easier to lower the price than raise it. Best of luck in finding a home for this most interesting piece of history.

Here is a brief article about Polio and the iron lung. It is interesting to note that in 2004 there were 39 patients still using the device. – http://amhistory.si.edu/polio/howpolio/ironlung.htm

note – All prices given are for sale in a private sale, antique shop or other resale outlet. Price is also dependent upon the geographic area in which you are selling. Auction value, selling to a dealer or pawn shop prices are about ½ or less of resale value.

Written by Michelle Staley

Michelle Staley has over 35 years of experience as an antique collector, picker and dealer. She has done hundreds of insurance and IRS appraisals in addition to just satisfying another collector or dealer’s curiosity concerning what an item is, does or its worth. Other experience includes her work as a forensics consultant and in archeological identification and dating.

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  1. Have one for sale in great unrestored condition. Please send message with any questions or for pics. Thanks

    • Would like to see photos of the machine as it might be something our Rotary Club would be interested in to exhibit. Rotary has been involved in Polio eradication for the past 35 years and this machi9ne would show current generations what people had to go through. My number is (203)438-6010 or send me an email at: alexsr@karsanidi.com

      • Michelle Staley

        I looked all through my notes and could not find an email address or contact information for this person. I also did a search online to see if one was up for sale but came up with nothing there either. You might keep an eye on eBay or even craigslist.com to see if one comes up for sale.

        Thank you, Michelle

        • Do you still have these and can you send me pictures? I am interested but am not sure how to contact you. Where are you located.

          • Michelle Staley

            If the iron lung is not functioning the resale value is around $200-$300, this value assumes that the exterior condition is good. If the iron lung doesn’t work and the condition is poor the value drops about $50. Thank you

          • Michelle Staley

            The price would depend on whether or not it is in working condition and the condition of the exterior and interior of the iron lung. If in poor condition and not functioning the value would be around $200-$300. Thank you, Michelle

    • Jeffrey J Olson

      I will purchase the iron lung at once. Please send any and all info to me so we can make arrangements. Thank you

    • Michelle Staley

      Thank you for visiting my appraisal site.

      Someone just left a comment that they have on for sale. I am getting ready to approve the post.

      Hopefully he will contact you.

      Cheers, Michelle

  2. I have one that is in good shape and working and rebuilt years ago. It is built for I assume for a child/teen as its much shorter. It is in fact for sale if anyone has any interest.

    • Michelle Staley

      Thank you for visiting my appraisal site.

      I just posted a comment from someone looking for an iron lung.

      Look through the comments section.

      Cheers, Michelle

    • Craig Harrington

      Similar to an earlier comment, our Rotary Club is looking for one to display in raising money to eradicate polio. Working condition is not important as it would mainly be used as a prop. Please let me know the price or if you know of another one (again, it doesn’t have to be in working condition) and where you’re located. Thanks.

  3. Michelle,
    I have an Emerson Iron Lung Respirator for sale. I believe it’s from the 50’s. I have not tried it, but it may need a little work to bring back to working condition. It will be a great addition to a collection.

  4. William SUTHERLAND

    My name is William SUTHERLAND, aged 71, and I am the son of Dr. Donald Sage SUTHERLAND who introduced the Iron Lung to Northern England in 1938 when he was Medical Superintendent at Monsall Hospital in Manchester.

    • Hi Byron,

      I saw your post that you had iron lungs for sale. What is the price and do you have any photos of them?


  5. William O. Overbeck

    My Aunt died in 1952 after being in an Iron lung for only four days. She was pregnant. I wrote a story for possible publication and/or for stage. If anyone has one for sale you can call me at 719-5789759.

  6. We have an Iron Lung apparatus for sale. Located near Portland, Oregon. Gladly accommodate appointments to see. Please email me to express and interest, and I will reply with photos and description. We also will cheerfully answer questions via phone. Please include phone # in your email.

  7. I have an iron lung that I would sell. It was manufactured by the Iron Lung Co. of America. It is a Fabrikators Respirator & has March of Dimes on the side of it. Not sure of the value… it worked last time it was plugged in.

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