Carpet Farming with Handmade Toys

Handmade toys were the norm for farm children before the industrial revolution


| December 2000



Detail from a page in the "Youth's Companion," circa-1881

Detail from a page in the "Youth's Companion," circa-1881. This annual premium list, which consumed much of the issue, featured all the toys and prizes a child could earn in exchange for selling magazine subscriptions.

Christmas means toys, and most of today's toys are just as complicated and technical as everything else in our fast-paced world. It didn't used to be that way though, as I'm sure many readers remember.

Before the industrial revolution, children's toys were handmade by parents, slaves, local artisans or the children themselves, and were as elaborate as the maker's skill permitted. Many of these early  handmade toys were of made of carved wood, ivory, tin or bone, but with the spread of the iron foundries during the mid-nineteenth century, cast and wrought iron toys became popular.

Children want to do the same things as grown-ups, so toys have always been patterned after objects used by adults. During my childhood, the toys of choice for boys were more or less accurate representations of trains, tractors, trucks and cars. Since World War II was in full swing, military toys, such as airplanes, tanks and guns were popular as well. For girls, there were stoves, ironing boards, baby buggies and of course, dolls. I realize that in today's world, that sounds sexist, but when I grew up, that is the way it was, and as someone once said: We are what we were then.

We farm children saw toys in the Sears and Roebuck and Montgomery Ward catalogues, as well as in ads in farm papers and magazines. Many farm publications offered toys as prizes to farm kids who sold a certain number of subscriptions to that paper or magazine. An ad in a 1925 Pennsylvania Farmer shows a picture of the Fire-Fly coaster sled. The ad says, "Boys and Girls, here is your chance to get a Fire-Fly coaster. Just a little pleasant work after school hours and the sled is yours. Call on a few of your neighbors and get them to subscribe to Pennsylvania Farmer for one year at $1.00 each.

Three subscriptions is all that is required. Send us the three subscriptions together with $3.00, the amount collected, and the sled will be forwarded by prepaid parcel post."

During the early 1930s, Farm Mechanics magazine offered a cast iron model of a tractor, plow, thresher, etc. as a reward for either taking or selling a three-year subscription to the magazine for $1. The Farm Mechanics magazine prizes were made by the Vindex Company and included the choice of a John Deere D or a Case L tractor in approximately 1/16 scale, a three-bottom plow, threshing machine, combine, box wagon, manure spreader and hay wagon, and a hay loader. The wagons were pulled by a team of horses. The implements were painted in John Deere or Case colors and are quite valuable today, as few have survived. In about 1927, Vindex also made a 1/25 scale Wallis 20-30 tractor with driver in cast iron that is extremely rare today.

bob dusterberg
9/14/2009 4:15:45 PM

I have a cast iron toy truck made by the Arcade Mfg. Co. It is 13" long X 5" hi X 5" wide. I am told it is a 1925 Mack tanker. The wheels rotate. The drive train is by chain (hard cast). The driver is bolted in. The headlights appear to be kerosene powered. The paint is original, although somewhat chipped on the wheels, otherwise the condition is excellent. The name on the truck is "Superior Oil". This toy was given to me as a boy, 65 years ago. I have tried for some time to determine its value. Thank you.