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Old And Sold Antiques Digest Article

Automotive Cast Iron Toys

Author: Ann S. Bland

( Article orginally published April 1979 )

IF YOU had the urge, as Dick Maize has, to take an old cast iron toy away from a baby in its playpen or from your kids when they're beating one against the sidewalk, indulge yourself, by all means! Those old toys which once rolled off assembly lines at the rate of 50 million annually and sold for ten cents to $2.50, are worth something today.

Cast iron toys were not commonly made until about 1870. From 1880 to 1890, because of their superior durability over tin and wood, these toys had become quite popular, and were larger and much more elaborate.

The mass-production automobile companies made horses and lessthan-wealthy grown-ups happy; the mass-production toy companies fulfilled the youngsters' dreams when they started making little cars like the big ones.

Very early toys were not marked because manufacturers depended upon jobbers to sell their goods to merchants who then sold to the public. In some instances retailers sent their orders directly to the factory to be filled, eliminating the need for the jobber. Thus jobbers tried to protect themselves by insisting that toys not be marked with the manufacturer's name. If the manufacturer refused to cooperate, the jobber switched companies. Some 19th century toys were marked with only cryptic initials or patent dates.

Sometimes a certain jobber controlled a factory, and might feature a brand name, but every effort was made to keep the maker's name a secret. Often companies acted as their own jobbers and represented other companies as well, yet toys remained unmarked for the benefit of jobbers who might also be handling those same products. No toys were advertised in consumer publications, except for a few that were given away as premiums.

Branding and marking toys became more common after 1900. The introduction of sets of toys influenced this change, since people returned to buy different pieces of the same set and had to ask for them by brand name.

As a few brand names became well-known and more popular, it beLame necessary for less well-known manufacturers to display their names also. A certain number of the cheaper sorts remained unmarked.

Every manufacturer had a certain characteristic style. Beginners may not recognize each style, but as the new collector becomes acquainted with the designs, these individual styles become more familiar. Company markings do not necessarily increase value.

"Authenticity would be one of the main criteria of value but age and rarity are just as important," said Dick Maize. "Model A Fords are very authentic but very easy to find because so many of them were produced. Brinks armored trucks made by Arcade are much rarer and harder to find and thus more valuable.

"Those toys that are not marked are like very good antiques. They just seem to have a style or a shape that tells you what they are. For instance, Hubley has a unique way of attaching the axle to the car which is a help in identifying it," Maize continued. "At the top of the list for copying authentic designs would be Arcade, Kenton, Kilgore and Hubley with Champion coming in last."

A 1953 Hubley Company publication stated, "Cars roll off production lines in quantities that would make Detroit envious."

The Hubley Manufacturing Company of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, one of the oldest and largest makers of toys in the United States, was founded in 1894 by John E. Hubley to manufacture equipment and accessories for electric trains. Financial difficulties forced Mr. Hubley to sell the entire stock in 1909. At this time the electric train business was discontinued and the cast iron toy business started. Among the first toys produced were a coal range, circus wagons and mechanical banks, all collector's items today.

Included in the 68,000 square feet of floor space in the Hubley plant were a die-cast room, warehouse, tool room, paint room and all the special assembly machinery. Besides making their cast iron toys, the company made castings for other companies in Lancaster which were without foundry equipment.

By 1940 increased freight costs and foreign competition forced the company to look for other materials. During World War II scarcity of metal forced the company out of the toy business and into war-related items. After the Korean conflict ended and regulations on metal were suspended, cast iron toy production resumed.

Following common manufacturing methods of the time, Hubley toys of the 1890s, and for a time thereafter, were cast in sand molds in two parts which were then riveted together to form the toy. All toys were designed by John Hubley, who had remained deeply interested in children's playthings since the time he first made his own children's wooden toys.

In 1936 Hubley started casting in multiple cavity steel dies. Die castings were broken off, trimmed, and tumbled in revolving cylindrical machines. They were then taken to the paint department where they were given baked enamel or lacquer, air-dried paint finishes in various colors. At one time, a dozen girls were employed in the paint department. Portions of the earlier toys were handpainted and some were dipped.

Each different toy was started on its own moving assembly line where parts were added, details sprayed on, oiling and inspection took place and the assembly completed. For example, a fire engine took shape on one line. It started as a red chassis. The rubber-tired wheels were added, followed by the spraying on of the radiator, bumpers and headlights. The driver was added, and the ladder, fire axes and other accessories followed. Near the end of the line, the toy was individually boxed and packed in a corrugated container. In 1949, due to union disputes, the foundry was closed. This was a difficult decision for the firm, since Hubley was one of the first companies to devote their entire factory to die casting.

The Hubley Company maintained a designing department where ideas were conceived and developed for model forms. Design engineers kept up-to-date on the models and style changes by attending automobile shows and studying advertisements. Their designs changed when the larger counterparts changed. After items were conceived and models developed, the toys were analyzed for pricing. The more play features a model had, the more expensive it was.

Hubley is now a division of Gabriel Industries, Inc. of New York City and is still making die-cast metal vehicles.

The Rockford (Illinois) Morning Star of September 10, 1939, unwilling to allow another toy manufacturer appear better than the local one, announced: "Arcade plant, one of the largest toy manufacturing concerns in the country, has been operating at top speed during recent weeks to complete the vast quantity of trucks, autos, buses, plows, banks,lawnmowers, hatchets, vises, wrecking cars, ice wagons, windmills, bowling alleys, stoves, circus wagons, fire engines and numerous other articles that soon will be delivered to retail counters throughout the world."

In 1885 two brothers, E. H. and Charles Morgan founded the Arcade Manufacturing Company of Freeport, Illinois, to make cast iron agricultural implements such as feed grinders and plows. In 1884 box coffee mills were added; and in 1888 their first toy, a miniature box coffee mill was made.

The company had a problem in finding ways to utilize its odds and ends of scrap material, and found the answer in toys. The Yellow Cab, Arcade's first wheel toy, was made in 1921 and cost $1.50 retail. The 1920s were the great years for Arcade wheel toys. Arcade toys came to gross as much as $1,000,000 in one year, as much as all other Arcade products combined. Molding machinery was designed and marketed to keep up with the output. Doll house furniture sets were added during the 1920s and sold for $10. Most wheel toys were marked "Arcade", the label cast as part of the toy on the underside. Sometimes decals were used.

In 1946 Arcade was purchased by Rockwell Manufacturing Company of Buffalo, New York.

According to Robert Saylor, an authority on Kenton Hardware Company of Kenton, Ohio, the company was first known as the Kenton Lock Manufacturing Company, and incorporated in May, 1890. Mr. F. M. Perkins of Cleveland was interested in a factory to make his patented refrigerator locks and used temporary quarters at the J. Forbins Scroll Mill in Kenton as his first site.

Work was begun on the new building the same year, and by 1892 a foundry building was added with 20 molders employed. Because of patent disputes between Mr. Perkins and the lock factory, the company started making cast iron toys. In November of 1894 the name was changed to the Kenton Hardware Manufacturing Company and production of toys was begun... stoves, banks and fire company outfits.

Through several mergers the company started making household ware in addition to toys. In 1906 the plant was sold to the Hardware and Woodenware Manufacturing Company of New York City, the second toy trust. Five months later this company was in receivership.

Two years later Kenton reopened, still under receivership, and in 1912 was purchased by the Kenton Hardware Company, a separate entity. Little is known about the business after this date, according to Saylor.

Sand molds were used until 1937 when die casting was started. Very early Kenton toys were not marked; only about ten percent of everything they made was marked. Those toys that were marked are plainly imprinted with the company name on the underside of the toy.

In 1927 most of the company's toy production was horsedrawn toys, but this was phased out to be replaced by automotive toys. A few large automotive toys first appeared in 1923, but most were produced between 1933 and 1940. Small automotive toys in the 10 and 250 category, from 4 to 6 inches long, were made in the 1930s.

Little information can be found about the Champion Hardware Company of Geneva, Ohio. The Enterprise Manufacturing Company was started in Geneva in 1877 as a successor company to the Lyman Manufacturing Company of Cleveland. George F. Sadd was president, Philip Dole, vice-president, and A. W. Lyman, J. E. Goodrich and Charles Talcott were officers in the new company. Substantial buildings were erected in August, 1877 and total business for the first year was about $30,000. Garden and household equipment, carpenter tools, games, toys, and holiday goods were made.

Through a series of complicated failures and mergers, it became the Champion Safety Lock Company in 1902, retaining some of the same officers and specializing in building hardware. The Champion Hardware Company finally emerged and by 1910 had greatly increased output and expanded floor space with the purchase of an old General Motors building in Geneva. By 1913 an iron foundry was installed and the manufacture of castings for use in the factory begun. The line of building hardware was doubled, but little can be found about toys.

In June, 1957 Champion closed its doors to its 89 employees. Raw materials, dies and equipment were sold to Safe Padlock Hardware of Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

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