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Antique, Vintage Flexible Flyer Sleds Are Sought After by Collectors

There hasn’t been much snow this winter and I’ve missed it, but not nearly as much as children who love to sled and build snowmen. I’ve got a Flexible Flyer in my garage (for the grandkids) just waiting for a good snowfall but I’m not sure it’s coming.

Old wooden sleds and winter sports equipment remain popular to collectors however. These antique enthusiasts find the nostalgia of winter toys charming and often display them in a den, or family room.

Wooden sleds are attractive in the right setting. I’ve seen them displayed on porches or near a big fireplace to great advantage. Often painted with flowers and stenciled with images of horses, numbers and other flourishes, they represent a type of folk art.

Though other colors are used, red most often trims both old and new sleds and adds to the warm tones of stained wood used in to make all kinds of traditional snow sleds.

Most baby boomers remember the famous Flexible Flyer and may be amazed to learn that even these sleds from their childhood are sought after and can bring good prices at auctions. When they are in good shape, the sleds may go for $100 or so in the right market.

Antique “Flexible Flyers” can be as old as the late 1800s, since Samuel Leeds Allen patented the unique sled with flexible steering in 1889. This well-named sled is so popular that miniature copies are even made today for toy and sled enthusiasts.

Older sleds that date to the late 1800s or early 1900s sell for hundreds of dollars, depending on condition. Some have dressy seats, steering wheels, even cast iron swan heads and are detailed in construction. Like most antiques, these toys were well-made.

Push sleds were common 100 years ago or so and were often upholstered and detailed with fancy paint and trim.

An adult would push a child along in this type of sled, much like a baby buggy.

Sometimes, collectors come across a very primitive sled that might be homemade. These too are valued by toy and folk art enthusiasts since primitives are one of the most respected categories in the antique field.

Ice skates too are collectible. Antique skates look much different than today’s version though. No boot is found on the early models, simply a basic metal runner system that attached to the wearer’s shoe or boot with straps or screws. The blades can be mounted on beautiful wooden bases or be shaped to look like a swan or some other fancy design.

Skate collectors often look for skating medals, costumes, books and artwork too.

These avid fans of ice skating enjoy the history of the winter sport that began thousand of years ago with bone skates used by hunters and travelers in Nordic lands and on freezing waters.

Skates and sleds are often grouped with antique toys in pricelists and antique shops. Toys are a big attraction in the collecting world and enthusiasts travel to shows, shops and conventions, following this nostalgic hobby.

Like most antiques, the value of a sled is based on its condition, rarity and desirability by collectors. Older is usually better but also things like trim details, size and construction factors into the value.

A good book on sleds for new collectors would be the Schiffer Collectors Book by Joan Palicia, “Flexible Flyer and other Great Sleds for Collectors.” This picture book of sleds will thrill anyone who ever slid down a snowy slope and liked it.

The author-collector helps with identification, dating and pricing sleds and provides over 150 color photos.

Even though it was published in 1997, it is still considered the bible of sled collecting as a hobby.

Her follow-up book, “Great Sleds & Wagons” was released in January of 2009 and offers even more on both sleds and children’s wagons.

For comments or suggestions on local treasures to be featured in Antique of the Week, Maureen Zambito can be reached via email at zambitomaureen@hotmail.com or by writing in care of the Sunday News-Register, 1500 Main St., Wheeling, WV 26003.

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