The Character of Corn Planter Lids

Cast Iron planter lids kept moisture and insects out from getting into the seed corn, and also served as a convenient place for companies to advertise their names.

| May 2001


This ad shows clearly the seed boxes where the planter lids would have been placed. They are directly above the blades. Note also that this is a two-person model. One person would sit in the back and handle the horses, the other would sit on the front seat and drop the seeds by lever. The front, round seats are rare, partly because few two-person plows were manufactured after check-row planters became the fashion. This advertisement was provided by Martin Wilkerson, who co-authored the guide book Value Guide of Collectible Planter Lids and Markers.

There's something kind of sad about modern technology. Sure, most every aspect of farming seems to have been improved upon by computerization, mechanization and new fertilizers and pesticides, but there's something lacking in the somewhat coldly mechanically-enhanced agricultural new world order.

In a word, it's character that's lacking. Not the character of the life or of farmers who choose to live it, but the special character which made vintage farm equipment both useful and, often, quite charming.

There is, perhaps, no way to better exemplify this loss than to take a look at cast iron corn planter lids. Collectors seem to be rediscovering the charm and style inherent to these items daily. They have become a way for collectors to  maintain their connection to the rural life past without needing to maintain space for less wieldy collectibles, such as implements and tractors.

One of the more appealing aspects of the lids is that charm was never a requirement for the task they performed. The lids were used just as that, lids for the boxes on planters in which corn was stored. As a corn planter was pulled through a field by a team of horses, one person would sit on a forward planter seat and pull levers to drop seeds into the trough being sliced by the planter's blades. Later, check-row planters, operated by wires with regularly spaced tines —which triggered the seeds' dropping — made the lever-operator position unnecessary.

The lids on the planters remained quite necessary, however, keeping insects and moisture from mingling with the seed. There was never a need, however, for anything even approaching charisma in order for planter lids to do their job.

Yet, when implement manufacturers quit using wooden planter lids and switched to cast iron in the 1860s, they realized that the manufacturing technique of using molds to make their iron lids would allow them to use lids not only for their basic purpose, but, also to use them as advertising. Another benefit was that the somewhat utilitarian corn planter could be spruced up, made a more attractive device by making the planter lids something special.