Thursday, January 9, 2014

Antique cast-iron toys

Toys and banks (novelty money boxes) made of cast iron are almost exclusively American, and the collecting of these toys is largely an American activity.

Cast-iron banks appeared after the American Civil War when America was swept by a craze for hoarding coins in response to paper money of very low denomination printed by both sides during the war. By the 1880s the banks had become quite sophisticated and increasingly popular.

Cast-iron toys appeared at the same time and many were produced as a sideline by companies such as The Kenton Hardware Co.

From a collector's point of view the problem with cast-iron toys is the nature of the material itself. Although cast-iron is hard and very durable, it is extremely brittle and will break easily if dropped. Therefore, cast-iron toys are often found with damage (which is almost impossible to repair effectively), and the price of complete pieces with good original paint will usually reflect their scarcity.

Repair and repainting

A repair to a cast-iron toy or bank is acceptable to most collectors, provided that it is honestly and competently done. Repainting is not so acceptable, although when it has been well done it can be difficult to spot without the aid of ultraviolet light.

Both repair and repainting will greatly effect the value. Generally speaking, good restoration will devalue a rare piece less than it will devalue a common piece. Seek advice before attempting to restore or repaint an old toy or bank.


Many reproductions have come on to the market, and although these vary in quality some have been good enough to deceive even specialist dealers and collectors. Several checks can be made:
  • Some pieces are labelled as reproductions or have "Made in Taiwan" or something similar cast into them. be suspicious of any piece that looks as though it may have had lettering removed. 
  • The casting of originals is generally smooth and finely detailed, whereas the reproductions are rough and lack detail.
  • Genuine examples are boldly painted with a depth of colour  and patination that is hard to fake. Old paint usually shows evidence of fine crazing, or cracks.  A piece should be regarded with suspicion if no such signs are visible under a magnifying glass. Some reproductions are artificially rusted and have hardly any paint. Originals are rarely found in this condition.
  • Most reproductions of banks were made using an original bank as a pattern. These recasts are smaller than the originals. Collectors should familiarize themselves with the base sizes. A book of the base tracings of original banks is available so that collectors can make sure that a bank is as large as it should be. However, this method is not infallible as the base of the English version of some banks is not the same as the American version of the same bank. 
  • Many old banks have patent dates cast into their bases, but this does not alone guarantee that the bank is old. Be suspicious, as there are more reproduction cast-iron toys and banks  than there are surviving originals. 

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