February 2005

  This month Mike McLeod takes a look at Flexible Flyers, Wallace Nutting, and Army Men. Mike, who lives with his family near Atlanta, has written about a broad range of antiques and collectibles – from Sumida pottery to Gutenburg Bible pages. Compiled by Mike McLeod... Readers who would like to share interesting websites with Mike may contact him via email at mikemcl@mindspring.com.

The longest sled made by Flexible Flyer at 8 1/2 feet with four pairs of stirrups for riders, ca. 1915.

Antique Sleds

       Old wooden sleds bring back happy childhood memories of days spent with friends on a snow-covered hill. Jon Holcomb created this website because of his love of those bygone days.

            Jon mostly collects and displays Flexible Flyers, but he welcomes other collectors to his site and features theirs also, including sleds made by Standard Novelty Works, Buffalo Sled Co. (later known as Auto Wheel Coaster Co.), Paris Sled Company, American Acme Co. (formerly American Toy and Novelty Works) and more.  Some of his fellow collectors have large fleets of sleds, at least one has 300. And there is a group photo to prove this claim.

            Jon’s favorite, Flexible Flyers, were manufactured by the S L Allen Company of Philadelphia. It’s first patent for a sled was secured in 1889, and the original company continued to make sleds until it was sold in 1960. In the early 1900s, their sleds were only identified with numbers, the longer sleds having larger numbers. Letters were added to the models later as the company created series of sleds. Each series usually incorporated a change, such as grooved runners, various types of bumpers, etc. The sleds were later given names (before they reverted back to just the model numbers): Fire Fly, Airline Ace (it sold for $3.45 in 1939), Airline Pilot, Airline Pursuit, Airline Chiefs, Airline Junior, Airline Eagle—could you tell this airline series was created during the early days of aviation when youngsters were in a fever for flying?

            There are ten separate pages of sled collections with photos and descriptions. In addition, there is information on care and maintenance of old sleds and info on dating Flexible Flyers.

            Jon’s website has plenty of photos to make you nostalgic for the good old days, including photos of logos and graphics from old sleds. And if you have a question, he is also really good to respond to e-mail. Take a trip to Sledhill.com for some fun.


A Wallace Nutting hand-painted photo of a woman boarding a stagecoach.

Wallace Nutting

            Wallace Nutting (1861-1941) was a minister, photographer, author, entrepreneur and furniture maker. In a tongue-in-cheek resume that he once wrote, he explained: “Wallace Nutting is said to have been born, though he has no recollection of the event, in the second half of the nineteenth century, in Massachusetts, in six places, or a place that has successively had six names, the best of which was Rockbottom.”

            Obviously, he was also a humorist.

            After the death of his father in the Civil War, he was taken to Maine, but he lived in many northeastern states. In fact, he became a great traveler, visiting Canada, Asia, Africa and Europe. His love for the beauty of America awoke his talent for photography, and he once wrote that he “…accumulated twenty thousand photos, mostly [of] America….” He also reports that he was “…the first to render the apple blossom in color, on platinotypes….”, and he is famous for his hand-colored photos. In fact, he noted on his own notoriety: “There are now in American homes more of these pictures than there are flivvers in the garages.”

            He often wandered the highways and streams of America, capturing natural and man-made beauty along the way. He recorded homes and buildings as old as 1750, and landscapes much older, which were used on calendars and a couple of dozen of the books he authored.

            Wallace Nutting also applied his photography skills to another of his talents—furniture making. He took photos of more than 5,000 pieces of furniture, which also ended up in his books. From these photos and his experience with furniture, Nutting created (or reproduced, depending on how you look at it) classic furniture. As Wallace Nutting expert, Michael Ivankovich reports on his website, www.michaelivankovich.com, “Beginning first with Windsor Chairs in 1917, Nutting went on to copy more than 1000 different pieces from the Pilgrim, Chippendale, Hepplewhite, Queen Anne, Sheraton, and other early styles, stopping with the Empire period. He spent a great amount of time, energy, and money trying to make his reproductions resemble the original as closely as possible, using the finest of woods, hiring talented craftsmen, and utilizing the earliest construction techniques wherever possible.”

            While Nutting’s photography was affordable to the middle class, his furniture was targeted toward a more upscale client. Also from Ivankovich: “In the 1930’s, during the height of the Great Depression, most Nutting Windsor Chairs were selling for more than $50 each…and his most expensive case piece was selling for $1800...a price more expensive than many houses at the time.”

            Jan Liberatore is a collector of Wallace Nutting, and like many collectors today, his collection outgrew one room of his house and then another before he finally “moved” it to the Internet. On his website, www.wallacenutting.com, he features pictures, furniture, books and letters, a chat room, classified ads and a complete chronological biography. Here you can see photos of Nuttings’ furniture (click on “Picture Gallery” and then “Furniture”).  Don’t miss the 10 Leg High Hoop Windsor Chair.

            You can also read Wallace Nutting’s journal, including accounts of lawsuits he filed. For instance, one entry records: “The cases center around the amount of money a seller has sold an object for, the amount of money a buyer has subsequently resold the object for, and the original seller then believing he is entitled to compensation if a profit was made.”

            At one time, Nutting marked his furniture with paper labels. He soon learned that some unscrupulous types—such as the one referred to in the above lawsuit—were removing the labels, aging the furniture, and selling them as originals. He quit using the labels and began branding the wood with his maker’s mark.

            Problems like these did not deter Nutting from his appreciation for life. He left us with many pearls of wisdom:

• “Words are monuments of thought.”

• “It is humiliating if a kitten can be happy and not a man.”

• ‘To have a friend is good. To be a friend is better.”

• “Beauty is wherever we find it. There is a thousand times as much as we see.”

• “Busy brains and busy fingers win. Don’t separate them.”

• “When we feel the tides touch our feet, we fancy ourselves linked with the infinite.”

 You can find many more quotes by Wallace Nutting on Jan’s website. We would all do well to read them and live by them.

The classic Army Men won many battles for young boys and still capture their hearts.

Army Men


          Army men were one of the toys I remember playing with as a child, but they seemed to fall out of favor over the years. That was until the movie Toy Story gave them new life and made them fun again.

            I can’t say that a website with few photos and short on information is a sign of a lack of the collector’s passion. But I do believe a website with pages of information and tons of photos is a definite sign of passion. That being the case, this website shows an uncommon love for the humble Army Man. (The website’s homepage also features trains, and the entire site has had 1.9 million visitors since mid-1999. Just a few other interested and passionate people stopping by.)

            Thor Sheil owns the site. Can you feel his exuberance? “They have been around since the 1950s. Known as Army Men, the two- to three-inch soldiers are a staple of many a boy’s toy chest. Most folks eventually THINK they outgrew them. We KNOW we will never, ever outgrow them!!!!!” (Emphasis was not added.)

            Now that’s passion.

            But there is depth here, too. Army Men were patterned after circa 1941 U.S. troops, and the website details all the accessories, weapons, equipment and vehicles. It also details and describes “other types of Army Men” produced by manufacturers (Cowboys and Indians, Civil War soldiers, Foreign Legion, Spacemen, Knights, Pirates and Romans); enemy troops (we called them “bad guys,”—German Infantry, Japanese and Russian); allies (British); and others (African explorers, divers, monsters like the Wolf Man & company, firemen, cops & robbers, and more.)

            Thor dispels the “unbreakable” myth that Army Men were marketed with, and he details how to be a myth-buster: freeze them and whack with a hammer, burn them, use firecrackers a la Sid in Toy Story, BB gun shots, and your little brother’s teeth.

            Not to give away everything so you will be enticed to the website, you can learn there how to play with Army Men (my own personal method was to line them up and bowl them down with a ball of clay—extra points is an Army Man gets stuck in the ball) and “Ten Good Reason Why Army Men Are Better Than Action Figures.” Here’s one: “Their arms don’t fall off unless you chop them off.”

            Hey, be a kid again for a few minutes and visit the Army Men website.

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