Getting to the Bottom of Cast Iron Seat Collecting

Collectors enjoy cast iron seats for many reasons, including their size, their rarity, and the company histories attached to them.

| May 2001

If there is a lesson to be taken from the collecting of vintage farm equipment, it would probably be that nothing should be taken for granted. The lowly implement seat serves as excellent example. Unless we are particularly uncomfortable, do we often consider the seats beneath our seats? But, for 19th century manufacturers of corn planters, hay rakes, harrows, plows, mowing machines and other implements, the attention shown to the hind quarters of America's fanners was considerable.

Once companies began to realize that farmers might appreciate not having to walk behind the implements, but, rather, to ride along, the technological war of tushy cushioning escalated sharply. Companies began with plain boards in the early 1850s, put cast iron backs on them in the mid-to-late '50s and then began making them wholly from cast iron in the early 1860s. Those first molded cast iron seats, however, had their problems. Almost all of those first seats were solid, with no holes for drainage or ventilation, forcing farmers to sit on a seat that was either hot, wet or cold.

It wasn't long, then, before farm implement companies began putting in holes for the comfort of farmers. It worked, although the overall seat designs still needed some work. Anyone who's ever slipped off of a boy's bicycle seat should be able to see why the Buckeye seat in the Image Gallery might not have been all that comfortable in a bumpy field and can guess at the several colorful nicknames farmers gave it.

But, as they started opening up seats for ventilation, they also realized that the seat was another area where they could place the company's name, so many began making seats with company names 'cut out' of the seat face. The practice began with simple stencil-cut type as on the Buckeye, and most collectors agree reached its artistic peak with the Peerless Reaper or Peerless Russell.

The variety and beauty of these seats drew Ohioan Olan Bentley to the hobby. In 1980, Olan met a man at an auction of an Amish farm in southern Ohio. 'He had a book on cast iron seats, but wouldn't let me see it until after the auction,' Olan remembers. Once he had glimpsed the diverse types of seats, however, Olan was hooked. He says he traveled far and wide, hunting seats at auctions and antique stores. Most importantly, perhaps, he joined the Cast Iron Seat Collectors Association.

The CISCA was founded in 1971 by four men, including Don Sites, a collector from Kansas who wrote the first books on the hobby, one of them being the very book to which Olan had been denied a peek before the auction. Getting to know other collectors, Olan says, helped him understand the collecting of cast iron seats better, a necessity for anyone interested in the hobby. 'You've just got to be educated to know what you're looking for,' Olan says. 'Almost everybody pays too much for their first few seats.'