Cast-iron implement seats that first came into use in the 1850s are enjoying a new popularity, not as functional tools but as objets decoratifs. The functional features that made these seats comfortable for long days in the fields are now prized for their strong visual design.
Moderate entry-level prices make these items accessible for wide and diverse collector audience that has members hailing from around the globe. Thus, cast-iron seats can be found accessorizing wooden fences in the English countryside, accenting a farm home wall in Nebraska or adorning a mantelpiece in a Sutton Place penthouse apartment in New York City.
The seats come from horse-drawn farm implements from 1850-1900, according to the Cast Iron Seat Collectors Association. Many of these cast-iron implements were manufactured in munitions factories after the Civil War. “Before the mid-1900s, farmers used to walk behind the farm implements,” explains Joe Sullivan of Sullivan Auctioneers in Hamilton, Ill. “Then all of a sudden, somebody got the great idea that they could ride the implement.”
As farm implement design evolved and advanced so did the functional features on the seat. The piercing on the seat served not only to increase air circulation around the hot metal, it also allowed rain to fall through so that water didn’t puddle up in the seat. The Cast Iron Seat Collectors Association says the original patterns were most often made of wood, allowing designers to add holes, frills, curves and lace effects.
Sometimes the seat would be painted, not just out of pride for the equipment but for the protection the paint offered the metal. Many, but not all, feature the name of the manufacturer and they could be marked with the city of manufacture and patent date. There are more than 2,200 different seats known but new types occasionally appear.
As equipment became worn out or outdated, the seats would be repurposed. Farmers would turn them into stools while others used them for outdoor decor. During World War II, many iron seats were reclaimed during scrap metal drives. This contributes to the rarity of seats today.
But don’t call it a tractor seat.
Dismissing a cast-iron implement seat as merely a tractor seat is a faux pas, according to avid collectors. “Serious collectors call them cast-iron implement seats, because the seats were used on a wide range of farm equipment, not just tractors,” points out Sullivan. Today, vintage cast-iron seats are rated on a value scale of 1-10 with 10 being the top rating. Occasionally, an example up for auction is rated 10 1/2 because it is the only known example to exist. Good examples of seats can be had in the $50-$60 price range. Bargains can be found on eBay for as little as $20-$40.
While the traditional collector of cast-iron implement seats is most likely someone with an agricultural lifestyle connection, new collectors appreciate the beauty in the design. Bud Porter, seat collector and newsletter editor for the Cast Iron Seat Association, says a veteran collector once told him that, “It always seems to happen that a new collector finds a valuable seat very early in the collecting period. There’s no rhyme or reason, it just seems to be the case. After that they become hooked on collecting.”
Cast-iron seats pop up all over the country but more frequently in agricultural communities where they have been prized for decoration as well as functionality. Most often they are found at auction or traded among collectors. An auction of the Loyd Fick Collection at Sullivan Auctioneers featured more than 550 examples of cast-iron seats. Joe Sullivan reports he had bidders from 12 states, Canada and Australia.
The auction drew many collectors seeking to fill in collections. Prices were all over the map, ensuring that no serious collector had to go home empty-handed. Sullivan reports that the majority of the seats were in the $75-$85 price range. He continues, “A lot brought $200-$400 and quite a number sold for $800-$1,200.” The top seat of the day was Lot 460, a James H. Hall seat made in Maysville, Ky., which sold for $3,700. The seat was not one of a kind, yet two bidders battled to add that particular seat to their collections.
How do you get the facts?
Auction houses specializing in farm auctions are a great source for cast iron seats. Sullivan Auctioneers and Nixon Auctioneers in Wakefield, Neb., occasionally bring cast iron seats to auction. Dealers specializing in agricultural antiques or farm equipment often have cast iron seats in their inventory.
The Internet is an excellent source for seats. A Web search on “cast iron seats” will turn up online retail sites and auctions such as www.antiquemystique.com and eBay.
People interested in learning more about cast-iron implement seats should check out the Cast Iron Seat Association, a club for collectors with an interest in the field. The 550+ members of the society come from the United States, Canada, Ireland, England, Wales, New Zealand and Australia. The organization offers a newsletter and is a good source for books that help collectors identify seats and value them for insurance purposes.
The graphic appeal and accessible pricing of cast-iron implement seats has gained the collectible a loyal and demographically diverse audience. “The seats to me epitomize Americana and people can relate them to a much simpler and harder time,” says Jeff Olson of Antique Mystique. “Since many were made with lettering and decorative cutout designs, it’s easy to see why people are drawn to them.” Clearly, whether the collector chooses to hang a collection of seats on a wall or to paint a seat and turn it into a functional piece of furniture, these antiques are revered for their handsome durability.
308-532-3404 or www.antiquemystique.com
Cast Iron Seat Collectors Association:
815-338-6464 or www.castironseatclub.org
Sullivan Auctioneers: 217-847-2160 or
Nixon Auctioneers: 800-535-5996 or
Join the Club!
The Cast Iron Seat Association is an international organization of seat collectors. The group produces a newsletter two or three times a year that includes seats for sale as well as articles of interest on the topic. At the annual convention in Minneapolis, group members reconnect with friends from around the world and set up tables to buy sell and trade seats. Each year members participate in a friendly competition where they vie for the best painted cast iron seat.
The group also offers publications that are considered the bibles of cast iron seat collecting. The Cast Iron Implement Seats (Fifth Edition) by John D. Friedly includes names and photos of seats known to exist. It offers best guess estimates on value and serious collectors often use reference numbers from the book when offering seats for sale. Auctions of Cast Iron Seats — A Ten Year History by Bud Porter is a compendium of auction prices for named seats over the last 10 years. Information on the Cast Iron Seat Association and these two books can be found at the www.castironseatclub.org.
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