There is a vast market and great fondness for antique cast iron toys, particularly those manufactured around the turn of the century when intricate molds could be re-used to distribute models worldwide. The range of vehicles, figurines and amazing cast iron sets have a great historical significance and often represent key advancements in the transportation industry.
Today, antique cast iron toys are highly sought after on the antique toy market for their historical and cultural value. They are particularly desirable for their diversity and high durability which has stood the test of time.
It is important to note that antique items are considered to be those which were made more than 100 years ago, while vintage items were made between 40 and 100 years ago. Here, we will be focusing on antique cast iron toys and providing you with a guide to the main types, manufacturers, and values of these objects. We’ve also included a brief buying and selling guide with top tips and recommendations.
History of Antique Cast Iron Toys
Cast iron toys first emerged in the late 1800s and became particularly widespread between the 1870s and early 1900s, during the Industrial Revolution. The introduction of mass production techniques and molds made it possible to produce cast iron toys in large quantities, making them more affordable and accessible to a wider range of consumers.
Iron ore would be processed, and eventually molten steel was poured into sand castings within a range of differently shaped molds. At first, these toys were rather brittle but the quality of the steel and manufacturing technique improved with time and later models were able to withstand rough play.
Cast iron toys were produced primarily as playthings for children, as well as decorations for peoples’ homes. These objects became popular as promotional items for businesses, such as banks, which would give out cast iron toys as advertisements or even incentives for depositing money!
As well as playthings, decorations, and promotional items, cast iron toys were widely used as educational tools, particularly for teaching children about different types of transportation and machinery. This was particularly important during a time when steam engines and automobiles started to replace horse-drawn carriages.
The production of cast iron toys declined rapidly during the Great Depression when the majority of people were not able to afford them. The need for metal increased urgently with the start of World War II, and most of the prominent cast iron toy makers either went out of business or changed tactics and began to concentrate on the war effort.
Types of Antique Cast Iron Toys
Antique cast iron toys can be divided into several categories based on their intended use and design. The most common categories include:
This category includes cast iron toys that represent various modes of transportation including cars, buses, trains, and planes. These toys were (and still are) incredibly popular because they gave children an exciting opportunity to play with miniature replicas of real-life vehicles and often sparked a life-long interest in such vehicles, informing career paths.
European-made tinplate cars were particularly popular in the US during the early 19th century. These often comprised multiple cast iron parts and were assembled and usually painted by hand. Over time, these models became more and more sophisticated with moving parts and even rubber tyres.
Building and construction vehicles including cranes, diggers, and bulldozers also became popular in the years between World War I and II.
This category includes cast iron toys of farming equipment including tractors, plows, and harvesters. At first, agricultural cast iron models were intended for farmers and anyone working within agriculture as educational objects to teach about new advancements in agricultural technology.
Tractors were particularly widely produced and were often exact replicas of real-life tractors made by prominent companies such as John Deere. Early models were exclusively made from cast iron, but manufacturers swapped to lithographed tin in the 1930s.
Over time, these toys became popular both with children from rural areas and those in cities who may never have seen such equipment and helped them to understand the important role that agriculture played in their lives.
Antique military cast iron toys are a popular collectible, particularly among those interested in military history. These toys come in a variety of forms, including tanks, planes, soldiers, and horses, and often depict military equipment and technology from different periods in history.
Some popular sets showcased equipment and soldiers from World War I, or the progression of military technology from the early 20th century through to World War II. Individual soldiers or pieces of equipment are mostly vintage items rather than antiques.
Animals and People
Cast iron figurines of animals and people were made in a wide range of sizes, from miniatures to larger and more elaborate pieces. The most popular types of antique cast iron figurines were those that depict common animals such as dogs, cats, and horses. These toys often featured intricate details like fur textures and realistic depictions of movement, and they can be highly collectible due to their charming and whimsical nature.
Other popular types of people figurines included policemen and firefighters, as well as figurine, sets depicting scenes from everyday life like families and street scenes. Some popular animal figurines include those made by the Hubley Manufacturing Company, such as their highly detailed horse and carriage sets.
Most Common Antique Cast Iron Toy Manufacturers
There were many manufacturers of antique cast iron toys, especially at the beginning of the 20th century. To identify the brand of an antique cast iron toy, look for any markings or labels which are usually located on the underside or hidden away somewhere. Many manufacturers stamped their logo or name on the toy, and some companies also included the year of manufacture.
If the toy does not have any markings, it is still possible to determine the manufacturer by researching the design and aesthetics. Many manufacturers had distinct styles that can be used to identify their toys.
Some of the most well-known brands you are likely to come across include:
- J. & E. Stevens Company (Cromwell, Connecticut): this company was one of the largest manufacturers of cast iron toys in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The company was known for producing high-quality toys that were both functional and attractive. J. & E. Stevens toys are often stamped with the company’s logo, which features a stylized “The J and E S Co.”
- Hubley Manufacturing Company (Lancaster, Pennsylvania): at first, Hubley was known for its manufacture of parts for electric trains, but switched to cast iron models of items such as circus sets and mechanical banks, and eventually diversifying to attract a wide range of children and hobbyists.
- Kenton Hardware Company (Kenton, Ohio): one of the largest cast iron toy making companies in the world at their height, the Kenton Harware Company was particularly known for manufacturing horse-drawn carriages and firefighting figurines and equipment.
- A.C. Williams Company (Chagrin Falls, Ohio): this productive company was the busiest and most successful cast iron toy-making company in the 1920s. Before this, the A.C. Williams Company was well-known for its range of automobiles, planes, and tractors.
- Dent Hardware Company (Fullerton, Pennsylvania): The Dent Hardware Company began to produce cast iron toys in 1898, and was one of the only companies to successfully navigate the end of the cast iron toy production era and continue to produce die-cast toys following World War II.
- Arcade Manufacturing Company (Freeport, Illinois): The Arcade Manufacturing Company first produced cast iron toys with the purpose of using up scrap metal which was lying around their coffee mill and hardware factories. It was only in the 1920s that the company began to expand their toy range which became one of their main products from this point onwards.
Antique Cast Iron Toys Value
As with all antique items, the value of antique cast iron toys is determined by several factors including rarity, condition, manufacturer, and historical significance. The most valuable cast iron toys are those that are in excellent condition, have a unique or interesting design, were a limited edition, and have a strong historical or cultural connection.
If you have an antique cast iron toy and you want to know its value, or you are interested in forming a collection of such toys, it is important to conduct thorough market research by searching for the exact model and condition of your item online. Please note that the values stated here are representative and correct at the time of writing. Values may change with supply and demand, and market fluctuations.
Antique cast iron vehicles tend to be the highest-value items. This is because they often mark significant steps in the transportation industry over time. Cars, trains, buses, and planes can all fetch high values. A rare or well-preserved antique cast iron vehicle can sell for several thousand dollars, while a more common or well-worn example might only fetch a few hundred dollars.
For example, this Kenton Empire State Train Set from 1900 sold for $2,247 in 2022! And this Hubley Harley Davidson Hillclimber Motorcycle sold for $4,200 in 2018!
Agricultural toys are also valuable, particularly those that depict early farming equipment. The toys showing the progression of agricultural technology over time usually have a higher value.
Models were often used as samples by traveling salesmen, and those with well-known brands tend to sell for a higher price. For example, this J.P. Lebzelter Salesman Sample Dump Rake sold for $2,500 in 2022! While this Vindex, John Deere, Van Brunt seed drill sold for $2,600 in 2017!
Antique cast iron military toys are also highly sought after, with some of the rarest and most well-preserved examples fetching high prices at auction. For example, a rare antique cast iron tank from World War I could sell for several thousand dollars, while a more common military figurine might only sell for a few hundred dollars.
For example, this “Oregon” Gunboat with Masts sold for $3,000 in 2019! While this peacetime model, the Hubley Cast Iron Friendship Tri-Motor Airplane sold for $2,500 in 2022!
4. Animals and People
Antique cast iron animal and people figurines are also highly collectible, with some of the most popular and rare examples fetching high prices at auction. For example, a highly detailed antique cast iron horse and carriage set can sell for several thousand dollars, while a smaller, less intricate figurine might only sell for a few hundred dollars.
Sets of figurines are particularly valuable, for example, this Cat Skittles Set sold for $13,500 in 2021! A Pratt & Letchworth horse-drawn 4-seat brake sold for $7,000 in 2022! And an Ives, Blakeslee & Williams Clockwork Tiller Car from 1895 sold for $2,000 in 2021!
Also Read: 10 Most Valuable Cast Iron Skillet (Super Rare Model Costs $8,000)
Buying and Selling Antique Cast Iron Toys
When buying antique cast iron toys, it is important to consider several factors, including condition, rarity, and historical significance. Toys that are in excellent condition are often more valuable than those that are damaged or have been repaired. The same factors should be considered when selling antique cast iron toys. It is also advisable to have the toy appraised by a professional to determine its value.
It is also important to research the manufacturer of the toy and its history. Toys made by well-known companies, such as J. & E. Stevens Company and Hubley Manufacturing Company, are often more valuable than those made by less well-known manufacturers.
Antique cast iron toys can be sold through a variety of channels, including online marketplaces, antique toy shows, and specialized antique toy dealers. When selling antique cast iron toys, it is important to be transparent about their condition and history and to accurately represent their value. Likewise, when buying antique cast iron toys, go for reputable sellers and listings with plenty of details and close-up photos.
Some sites you can try for buying or selling antique cast iron toys include:
- eBay – the Vintage & Antique Cast Iron Toys section of eBay is an excellent resource where results can be filtered by manufacturer, featured refinements, condition, and more.
- Etsy – a wide range of private sellers with a plethora of unique and intriguing antiques and collectibles are assembled on Etsy.
- Collector’s Weekly – this site assembles information and listings for antique cast iron toy cars, as well as a range of other vehicles. It also includes a section called “Show and Tell” where collectors can showcase their interesting items and share their enthusiasm.
- Live Auctioneers – the Collectible Toys & Hobbies section of Live Auctioneers is a great place to keep an eye on different models and their value.