Toy models of the original John Deere hay loader, manufactured in 1930 by National Sewing Machine Co., of Belvidere, Ill., are worth $4,000 each, if the toy remains in excellent condition. Hypothetically, let's say that just before closing time at a toy show, you spot what looks like this toy on a vendor's table - with a price tag of $200 on it. What should you do?
If you're smart, you run in the other direction. Farm toy collectors don't like to talk about shysters, but they do exist within the hobby. Some toys have been made only to make money by defrauding unsuspecting collectors.
The 1/12- or 1/10-scale John Deere GP on steel wheels clearly is one such toy. The counterfeit is made in Taiwan and is a poor imitation of the real one, which is Bob Gray's cast-aluminum and Korloy tractor.
Occasionally a shipment of the fakes surfaces in the United States; each one sells for about $10, only a quarter of what a genuine Gray GP brings. Some of the Taiwan-made counterparts have even been rusted to make them look more real.
Dave Nolt of Gap, Pa., a long-time farm toy collector, says, 'These 'boat anchors', as we call them, are not licensed, and I know from working closely with the Deere & Company licensing department that they seized a shipment of those tractors a little while ago. Importers of those products are taking a serious risk on losing a shipment and ending up in court.'
Some reproductions are legal, though. Old, scarce toys are occasionally reissued; the 'king' of the legal reissues is the 1/16-scale Vindex John Deere D tractor, which has been reproduced four times. The original cast-iron D with the nickel-plated driver and the pulley on the tractor sells for $l,800 in excellent condition; the legal reproductions sell for from $35 to about $100. Sometimes the price difference is incentive enough for an occasion- al seller to 'forget' to tell a naive buyer that he or she is looking at a reproduction instead of the real thing.
Claiming that a reproduction is the real thing constitutes fraud, although sellers may escape punishment in court by protesting that the buyer must 'beware,' which also is true. And sometimes, people make genuine mistakes. At a recent toy show, a person offered to sell a rare toy, new-in-box, to a dealer only to find out that the toy inside had been switched and was worth only a fraction of what the seller thought.
Farm toy boxes also have been reproduced and sold as the real thing. One collector recalls running into some new-looking 1/16-scale Oliver implement boxes a few years ago at a well-known toy show: 'A guy tried to sell them to me by making me believe they had come out of some little, old lady's attic, but if you studied the box, you could see that it was a reproduction.' A while later, that same collector ran into a friend, also a knowledgeable collector, who was excited about having just purchased the same boxes.
So the question is: How does a person know whether that expensive toy is a fake, a legal reproduction or the genuine article? Unfortunately, one can't always tell. The following guidelines, however, may be of help:
- Counterfeits are more prevalent among older toys, which are worth more money and are fewer in number, so many buyers are less familiar with them. Usually, old toys are much less detailed than modern ones, which enhances the chance someone will make counterfeit versions or pull 'switcheroos' with similar toys that aren't as valuable.
- Counterfeits often contain misspellings or other errors, which provide the seller with a way to hedge ('Oh gosh, really? I didn't see that.'). As an example, some counterfeit 1/16-scale, cast- iron McCormick-Deering 10-20 tractors, originally made by Arcade Manufacturing Co., of Freeport, Ill., have 'McCormick' spelled incorrectly, without the 'k'.
The Arcade cast-iron Farmall M contains 'M' in a circle on the side of the hood. On the counterfeit, the 'M' is filed out or filled in. In other toys, the company name - 'John Deere,' for example - is entirely filed off or, more likely, filled in inside the mold used to make the counterfeits. Close scrutiny may reveal remnants of the company name.
- Counterfeit toys are smaller. The molds used to make the original farm toys aren't available, so making counterfeit toys requires making a 'counterfeit mold' out of an existing, original toy. When any metal toy is made, it shrinks as it cools after first coming out of the mold. A fake toy also will shrink, losing from 1/8 to 3/16 of an inch per foot, depending on the kind of metal used. So, if a real toy is a foot long, the counterfeit will be 1/8 to 3/16 of an inch shorter, and proportionately smaller in height and width.
Such information is useless to a collector, though, if he or she doesn't know the original size. Additionally, size is complicated where farm toys are concerned: Arcade Manufacturing Co., for instance, made numerous toys that varied in size. The Arcade Fordson F tractor, as one example, was made in at least 24 variations of sizes and colors.
- Counterfeits often show color variations. If someone is trying to defraud others, he or she generally stints on costly details such as paint. Comparing an original toy to the fake toy may be the only way to see such a difference, but it would show up. It also is important to know, however, that a few authentic farm toys originally were painted the wrong color. One example is the 1/64-scale John Deere 8650 tractor, which was introduced in a pea-green color in 1984 and switched to real John Deere green in 1985. Another such toy is the John Deere 8850 in 1/64 scale, which originally came out in a light green (also called 'wrong green') and later was switched to John Deere green.
Additionally, some toy prototypes were purposely painted a different color than the real toy. One example is the single-most-valuable farm toy in existence today, the John Deere A with the 'coffin engine. It is worth from $10,000 to $25,000, and it is a prototype painted red. Other examples are the Big Bud 1/64-scale 400/30 and 525/50 prototypes, which are gray; their real-life counterparts are white. The prototypes sell for about $1,000 each, new-in-box; the common ones for about $30.
Ray Lacktorin of Stillwater, Minn., a long-time cast-iron farm toy collector, says that generally, if you turn cast-iron toys upside down, you can tell the difference between real ones and fakes. Real ones have some paint inside their hollow bodies because they were dipped in paint before being hung to dry. Counterfeits, in contrast, usually are just sprayed on the outside.
Fake farm toy boxes can be recognized because the colors, both inside and outside, are too crisp.
- Counterfeit tractors are rarely of the smaller scales - 1/16 scale or smaller -because such small toys are not worth enough to make counterfeiting profitable. In fact, very few 1/43- or 1/32-scale tractors of any kind are worth more than $40, and most fall into the $20 range. Relatively speaking, tractors of 1/64 scale often are worth more than the other small-sized models because more people are collecting them, but still most are worth only from $3 to $10 each, so faking them would be futile.
- Plastic wrap may offer clues to authenticity. When buying old bubble-wrapped or plastic-wrapped new-in-package toys, which bring a premium, they should remain in original packaging. When it gets brittle with age, plastic can crack, and sometimes is replaced, devaluing the item. New plastic is easy to identify; it is clear and soft.
In this writer's experience, the vast majority of people selling vintage farm toys are honest, and the best protection against being duped by the few disreputable sellers is learning as much as possible about the toys. FC
- Bill Vossler is a freelance writer and the author of several books on antique farm toys. Contact him at Box 372, 400 Caroline Lane, Rockville, MN 56369; (320) 253-5414; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Authorized reproductions and known counterfeits
This list of vintage farm toys that have been legally reproduced or illegally counterfeited is quite exhaustive, and occasionally additional toys come to light. The information is presented in this order: Brand of tractor, model, year of first manufacture, manufacturer, material or method, size, other available information.
Abbreviations are: DC = die cast; CI = cast iron; SCA = sand-cast aluminum; NF = narrow front; IH = International Harvester; ScaMo = Scale Models; 1/25, 1/16 etc. = the toy's scale.
Allis Chalmers D-14, 1957, Strombecker, plastic, 1/25; Allis Chalmers 7080, 1981, Ertl, DC, 1/16, Black engine, cab, duals;
Allis Chalmers HD-5, 1955, Product Miniature, plastic, 1/16, crawler, adjustable blade;
Allis Chalmers, 1949, Eska, SCA, 34', pedal tractor;
Allis Chalmers D-17, 1958, Eska, SCA, 39', pedal tractor.
Case L, 1930, Vindex, CI, 1/16, grey with red wheels, nickled driver;
Case 800, 1956, Johan, plastic, 1/16, Caseomatic, NF;
Case 1070, 1971, Ertl, DC, 1/16, Black Knight, cab, duals;
Case VAC, 1953, Eska, SCA, 135, pedal, NF;
Case 400 , 1955, Eska, SCA, 139, pedal, NF.
Ford 9-N, 41, Arcade, CI, 6', with or without mounted plow; fenders and driver;
Ford 961, 1962, Hubley, DC, 1/12, red and grey, 3-point hitch;
Ford 4000, 75, Hubley, DC, 1/12, red, grey, 3-point hitch, NF, no decal, plastic tires.
International Harvester C, 1950, LaKone, plastic, 1/16, 'Super C,' NF;
IH M, 1950, PM, plastic, 1/16, several variations, NF;
IH Farmall M, CI, unknown;
IH Regular, 1925, Arcade, CI, 1/16, grey with red spoke wheels, driver, NF;
IH 10-20, 1925, Arcade, CI, 1/16, spoke wheels, driver;
IH, 200, 1950, LaKone, plastic, 1/16, Original, NF.
IH 230, 1950, LaKone, plastic, 1/16, Original, NF;
IH 806, 1964, Ertl, DC, 1/16, round fenders, NF;
IH Plow, 1930, Arcade, CI, 1/16, plow, 2 bottom, pull type;
IH Horses, 1930, Arcade, CI, 1/16, wheel on foot, black;
IH Thresher, 1930, Arcade, CI, 1/16, grey, movable feeder;
IH Wagon 1930, Arcade, CI, 1/16, wagon, double box, green, two-color varieties.
John Deere B, 1950 Ertl, SCA, 1/16, High-post B, no driver, NF;
John Deere D, 1930, Vindex, CI, 1/16, nickel driver and pulley;
John Deere D, 1998, Scale M, CI, 1/16, reproduction of Vindex;.
John Deere Engine, 1930 Vindex, CI, 1/16, stationary, gas, on cart, green;
John Deere Hay loader, 1930, Vindex, CI, 1/16, red, 9 1/2' long, 7 1/2' high;
John Deere Plow, 98, ScaMo, CI, 1/16, 3-bottom reproduction of Vindex John Deere Plow, 1999, ScaMo, DC, 1/18, Plow;
John Deere Pedal A, 1949, Eska, SCA, 34', NF, open grille, 'coffin' engine, red;
John Deere Pedal A, 1949 Eska, SCA, 34', NF, open grille, open engine.
Massey Harris, 44, 1950, Slik, SCA, 1/16, NF, driver, open bottom, thick fenders;
Massey Harris, 44, 1947, Eska, SCA, 33', pedal, NF, open grille, spring seat.
Minneapolis-Moline 4 Star, 1959, Slik, SCA, prairie gold with brown belly;
Minneapolis-Moline R, 1950, Slik, SCA, 1/16,side steering rod, wheel variations, driver;
Minneapolis-Moline UB, 1956, Slik, SCA, 1/16, 2-wheel variations, colored or tan box, NF;
Minneapolis-Moline, 4 Star, Slik, SCA, 1/24, prairie gold, brown belly;
Minneapolis Moline Corn sheller, 1950, Slik, SCA, 1/32, pulleys and crank.
Oliver 55, 1955 Slik, 1/12, Super 55, utility, 3-point hitch;
Oliver 70, 1940 Arcade, CI, 7 1/2', red or green, NF, driver;
Oliver 880, 1958 Slik, SCA, 1/16, solid rubber wheels, NF;
Oliver OC-6, 1955, Slik, DC, 1/16, crawler, driver, helmet;
liver Corn picker, 1950, Slik, SCA, 1/16, 1 row, pull type;
Oliver 88,1947 Eska, SCA, 33', pedal, NF, open grille.
Sheppard Diesel, 1950, SCA 1/16, NF.
Steiger II Cougar, 1975, Valley Patterns, 1/12, no engine, green hood.
Pass up bargains that seem too good to be true. They probably are.
Get honest, straightforward advice from someone who really knows toys.
Buy from dealers or people you trust as a result of past experiences.
Buy from dealers or people who have a good reputation, even if you haven't previously dealt with him or her.
Arm yourself with information: Which toys have been reproduced? Which ones are known to have been counterfeited?
Ask pointed questions of the dealer about the toy you want to buy. For example, 'Is it a reproduction?'
Strike a deal only if you may return the toy for a full refund if you are not satisfied.