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Antique Collectible

Rose Mary
By Rosemary McKittrick
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Santa Toy Sleigh; Kyser and Rex; circa 1885; 13 inches long sold for $15,600. Photo courtesy of Sotheby's
Santa sits in his red sleigh bundled up in a dark blue blanket dusted with snow. Presents in every conceivable shape and size surround him. Two reindeer in full gallop steer his sled toward Christmas. It’s a festive theme we’ve all seen.

But this particular Santa theme has been immortalized as a cast iron toy and survived more than 100-years. From the toy box to the collector’s shelf, vintage cast iron toys are sweet things. They make wonderful decorative objects just like folk art or oriental rugs.

The mold makers in the foundries for these toys often had a background as master wood carvers. So they brought an artist’s eye and sense of scale to mold making.

Vintage cast iron toys come in every variety from trolleys, boats, sleighs, and horse drawn carriages, to fire engines and trains. Many even came with drivers’ decked out in customary uniforms and even passengers.

In the 1870s, horses ruled the road and cast iron horse-drawn toys were big with kids. That these toys show up today speaks to their quality and toughness.

Many were faithful reproductions of the full-size thing. They stand as graphic reminders of history. It’s a way of life sometimes forgotten, yet surprisingly intact right in front of you.

The industry in America really got into high gear after the Civil War, fueled in part by the discovery of large iron ore reserves. The toys were cast in molds and thousands could be made. That appealed to American businessmen and consumers alike.

Cast iron collecting falls into different categories like banks, cap pistols and cannons, vehicles and dollhouse furniture and miniature tools. The most desirable are the banks and vehicles.

What’s to know?

Nowadays, horse-drawn vehicles are especially desirable. Toys with at least 75-80 percent original paint are what you hope to find. Breaks in the toys and missing parts are problematic.

Some of the rare cast iron toys are the boats. Even though condition is important, a serious collector will take any boat he can find, if it’s complete.

Santas made of cast iron are among the more expensive pieces. As you probably guessed, vehicles pulled by dogs, goats and elephants are not as common as horse drawn vehicles. That makes them desirable.

Big names in the field include Hubley, Pratt & Letchworth, Ives; Kyser and Rex and J & E Stevens.

In terms of investment, a collector is faced with buying inexpensive toys or a few rare and costly ones. A few rare examples will appreciate faster than a large number of more common cast iron toys.

On Oct. 12, 2001, Sotheby’s, New York, featured the Covert Hegarty collection of antique toys on the block. Hegarty was a pioneer in toy collecting.

When collectors over the last 30 to 40 years talked about rare finds and someone asked, “Have you ever seen one?” A common response was “I think there is one in the Hegarty collection.” That’s how important it was. Here are some current values for cast iron toys.

Cast iron toys

Trolley; modeled after electric trolley, dark blue with figures on front; circa1900; 7˝ inches long; $1,080.

Battleship; Dent Co.; cream and yellow with blue accents; circa 1905; 20 inches long; $1,800.

Swan chariot; J & E Stevens; girl reclines in shell form carriage; circa 1891; 9 inches long; $5,700.

Santa Sleigh (discussed); Kyser and Rex; circa 1885; 13 inches long; $15,600.

Penn Yan speedboat; Hubley; deep blue; three passengers; circa 1938; 14 inches long; $55,375.

Flying artillery with caisson; Pratt & Letchworth; 4 soldiers in full dress uniforms, 2 horses and cannon; circa 1895; 33 inches long; $65,150.

Horse drawn sleigh; Ives; elegant dark japanned finish; with passenger; remarkable condition; circa 1893; 19˝ inches long; $159,750.

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