Business

500 vacuum cleaners, 10,000 stereopticon cards: Marlowe Roeser was a collector

They didn’t know about the vacuum cleaners.

People knew Marlowe Roeser for his restaurants at the Washington State Fair, or they knew him for his work with youth athletics and his service as president of the Tacoma Athletic Commission, or maybe they worked with him long ago at Gai’s Bakery.

But they didn’t know about the Hoovers and Bissells, the Lakesides and Fleetways, all the vacuums — at least 400, maybe as many as 500. This one is powered by kerosene and that one is operated with a hand pump. Those over there look like an assortment of steampunk bazookas, and that one in the corner must be 125 years old.

Marlowe Roeser was 74 when he passed this year, and come the cooler weather, perhaps in September, Alan Gorsuch of Tacoma’s Sanford & Son Antiques will begin a series of auctions to liquidate the estate.

A few weeks ago, Gorsuch began the process of removing, cataloging and researching the horde that until recently filled Roeser’s house, garage and a purpose-built storage outbuilding in the Puyallup area.

“This will be the biggest private collection I’ve done,” Gorsuch said.

THE COLLECTION

“He didn’t start this until he retired,” said Roeser’s son, Russ, as Gorsuch and his crew began organizing and packing the first truckload.

“He bought the Model T when I was 13,” said Roeser’s daughter, Judi Moore.

“That was his No. 1 buy. That’s his pride and joy,” Russ said.

Marlowe Roeser drove his 1925 Ford Model T in the annual Daffodil Parade, and the car will not be offered in the auction. It is one of the few items the family will keep.

Otherwise, there will be much from which to choose.

Along with hundreds of vacuum cleaners, Gorsuch began loading the first of an estimated 10,000 stereopticon cards — each one featuring a side-by-side pair of photographs that provide a 3-D image when seen through the hand-held set of lenses.

Alongside the Model T, there’s a 1930 Model A, a 1956 Ford Victoria and a rare 1926 Dodge Coupe.

Along with the vacuum cleaners, Roeser collected “mop tins,” circular metal containers that once contained mop heads. Figure what? A hundred or so? Maybe more: Dust Puff, O-Cedar, Japanna, Super-Kleen, Tidy Maid.

Add toasters, again, some a century old. And wash tubs, waffle irons, spice tins, carpet sweepers, rug beaters.

“There’s no junk,” Gorsuch said. “This is definitely one of the best and one of the biggest. This isn’t just an auction — it’s a project.”

“Anything in this building, he could tell you a story,” Judi said.

So many stories: a cash register and a miniature phonograph, music boxes, a hurdy-gurdy, baby carriages from the 1880s, Edison cylinder phonographs, a cylinder Dictaphone, phonographs with large tulip-shaped horns, heavy irons for pressing clothes and canvas water bags best suited for a long drive with Ma and Pa Joad escaping the Dust Bowl.

Box cameras, furniture wax, furniture polish from between the wars, toys including a “Tru-Vue Project-a-Pix Theatre” and a Seeburg juke box loaded with Ray Charles, Otis Redding, Connie Francis and Elvis Presley. Add a pinball machine, a butter churn and things with forgotten names including “Aurephone” and “Fidelitone.”

“Growing up, my dad didn’t have a lot,” Judi said. “When he got money, he could do all of this.”

“It kept him busy,” Russ said.

“It comforted him after our mom died,” Judi said.

THE MAN, THE VACUUMS

“As a person, I just thought he had tremendous integrity,” said Kent Hojem, CEO at the Washington State Fair, who spoke recently about Marlowe Roeser.

“It was all about the kids, and sports, and his love of doing something for youth athletics,” Hojem said. “He was something to behold.”

He raced at Spanaway Speedway and saw Elvis at Lincoln Bowl. He played tennis and football for the Abes, graduating in 1958, and he married “the prettiest girl he had ever seen,” Diane, who preceded him in death. His memorial service was held last January at the fairgrounds in Puyallup.

At the memorial, a former co-worker of Marlowe’s told Russ a story about a time when he was financially pressed, “in the hole,” and how Marlowe gave him a blank check.

The friend told Russ he recalled Marlowe’s words: “You fill out what you need and you cash it.”

“I never knew that story until I heard it at the funeral,” Russ said. “He said he tore up the check and he said that’s the kind of a man your dad was.”

Another story comes from a childhood Christmas when Santa missed the Roeser chimney.

“He thought he was going to get a bike,” Russ said. “Instead, he got Volume A of the encyclopedia and a pair of socks. That was probably the most disappointing Christmas he had.”

Russ continued, “Every time I walk through this house, I wonder, ‘What was he thinking?’ Especially with the vacuums. Why did he have to have so many of those?”

“I think that even he was overwhelmed,” Judi said.

Big as the collection is, it was never a big deal for Marlowe.

“He was proud of owning it, but just owning it, knowing that he had it.” Russ said.

Not many people have seen the collection, nor did many know it existed.

“He was nervous of strangers,” Russ said.

And all those vacuum cleaners?

“I don’t know why,” he said. “He never sat down and said why. We never had that conversation.”

The brother and sister take one last look as the auctioneer carries things away.

“It hurts,” Judi said.

“It’s kind of tough,” Russ said. “I knew it would come to this.”

  Comments