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THE PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER MAGAZINE, December 14, 1958

Grandpa’s Toys
Painted iron “pull” vehicles now in demand by collectors
BY ANN KILBORN COLE

          BACK in the 1880s, 1890s and even after the turn of the century in every house where there was a little boy there was almost sure to be a brightly painted iron toy under the Christmas tree. It was most likely horse-drawn, though later as locomotion progressed to gas there were motorcycles, touring cars and trolley cars.
          The only way to make such toys move was to drag them around the playroom floor with a string. In the parlance of antique toy connoisseurs today, these are called pull toys, and of all the toys of this period they are perhaps the most sought after.
          To those not in the ranks of the advanced collectors it seems almost impossible that anyone could be interested in a shabby old toy, with the paint partly worn off, wheels wobbly, one of the iron passengers or the driver missing from his seat where a hole indicated the place for the iron peg on his body. But interest is great and the price for good examples of such toys has risen astronomically in the last few years. By “good examples” is meant toys in good condition with the old paint still on and more or less rare.
          Collectors know, of course, the rare pieces. Perhaps the commonest and most available, but not to be despised, are the various types of fire equipment, from hook-and-ladders drawn by pairs of horses to the horse carts and chemical wagons, etc. Every little boy of that day was a buff in his own nursery. In the H. V. Smith Museum of the Home Insurance Company of New York there is an extensive showing of fire-fighting toys well worth visiting.
          But pull toys do not stop with fire engines. One has only to look at the collection assembled by William Roup, of 610 Chestnut St., Pottstown, Pa., to see the variety of such iron toys made up to 75 years ago. On shelves in a room devoted entirely to toys and iron banks of the same period are any number of small iron carriages indicating the way one rode in style in the late Victorian era. There are broughams, phaetons or victorias, the hansom cabs of the gay ‘90s, breaks with four, three or two seats (forerunner of the station wagon?), the country doctor’s buggy, pony carts and so on.
          Then there are the circus pieces, relics of the day when the coming of Barnum & Bailey was the biggest spectacular in a child’s life. Here among the Roup toys you will find calliopes gay with red and blue and gold paint, band wagons, chariots. Another toy of which he has several examples is the iron Santa Claus with his sleigh and reindeer.
          It is not possible always to find the manufacturer of these toys, though occasionally they can be traced through old catalogs, as with the tallyho coach pictured, made by Carpenter in 1880, when it cost the princely sum of $5!
          As has been said, these iron toys were not animated as a rule. But there were animated toys, mostly of tin and sometimes of tin and iron. One photographed from the Roup collection is of tin. It antedates the iron toys, going back to about 1850. It is most amusing and very realistic, with an old farm woman who moves as she drives the horse, which gallops, and a little Negro boy who runs after the wagon but never gets his ride. This, however, is not a pull toy as it can be wound up for action.
          Another classification of pull toys is the bell-ringing toy, to which some collectors limit themselves. There are several kinds of bell toys, one having a figure that moves with the ringing of the bell. Most of the cast-iron bell toys, like the horse-drawn pull toys, do not move; only the bell rings. In the Roup collection are also several bell toys, the one of a monkey on a high three-wheeled bike being outstanding.
          In the iron pull toy group are also some cannon with which small boys contributed to the general din of Fourth of Julys before 1900. These could often be loaded with bang-bang things like firecrackers, paper caps, blank cartridges or gunpowder. One of the most desirable is the Flying Artillery made by Ives of Bridgeport, Conn., in 1892. This used real gunpowder. It, too, is in the Roup collection, a piece about two feet long with one white horse and one black, very businesslike and very gay with its red wheels and uniformed riders.
          In a room all its own in the Shelburne Museum in Vermont is a collection of toys of transportation which includes many iron pull toys. A visit there is most rewarding.


(Web Note: Many thanks to Mrs. Edward Early, daughter of William and Lena Roup, for providing a copy of the above article.)

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