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- Inside Antiques,
by Robert Reed
- Inside Antiques:
- Remembering the historic toys of Hubley Manufacturing Co.
- By Robert Reed
- From coal dump trucks to cap pistols the toys of Hubley Manufacturing
Company were an historic part of the 20th century.
- Their colourful catalogues assured, Hubley toys are
made to sell. And sell they did. The Lancaster, Pennsylvania,
enterprise was at one point among the largest makers of cast
iron toys in the world.
- At Hubley the emphasis was on brightly coloured and detailed
toys with what they called play features. Moreover
their rugged and durable line was remarkably varied. Their 1933
catalog, for example, despite the Great Depression offered hundreds
of choices from the Avery tractor to the Lindy airplane.
- Bank teller John Hubley launched the company late
in the 19th century after first making toys for his own children.
Early pieces included everything from toy versions of various
horse-drawn carriages to the clock movement Elevated Railway.
- While some Hubley toys of that era were motionless, lots
of others were steam powered or electric power. Some were amazingly
motorized with simple key wind springs.
- Hubley died in the early 1900s, but the company continued
to produce a vast assortment of toy treasures which came to include
circus wagons, still banks, trains, Ferris wheels, and miniature
stoves for doll houses.
- By the
1920s, one of Hubleys most appealing toy offerings was
the horse-drawn wagons of the Roy Circus. Writing in The Story
of American Toys, author Richard OBrien notes of
the Roy Circus, They were beautifully done, with much decorative
detail and included such esoterica as bandwagons, calliopes,
monkey trapeze, mirror van, and more.
- A crowning achievement by Hubley followed the crowning achievement
by Charles Lindbergh in 1927. Lindbergh shocked the world
with his solo airplane flight from New York to Paris. Hubley
had a cast iron version of Lindberghs Spirit of St. Louis
the following year. The copyrighted and clearly marked Lindy
was a big hit for Hubley. Later, they included the Lindy Lockheed-Sirius
and the Lindy Glider in their winged line-up.
- The Hubley company continued to roll during the 1930s with
a grand array of toys. Mainstays continued to be automobiles,
trucks and motorcycles. Many of them were motorized
with key-wind springs and thus propelled the toy vehicles for
some distance. Among the windup sections were two sizes of dump
trucks, racers, road rollers, and a van.
- Hubley was also a pioneer in the relatively widespread incorporation
of name brands into solid toys. In many cases the company obtained
exclusive rights to reproduce the brands thus giving them an
added emphasis in the marketplace.
- Brands appearing on Hubley toys during that era include Bordens
Milk, Bell Telephone, Old Dutch Cleanser, Maytag washer, G.E.
refrigerator, Huber Road Roller, Ingersoll-Rand Compressor, Harley-Davidson
motorcycle, Eagle ranges, and U.S. Mail.
- The nimble firm also ventured into the comic strip world
of Popeye too. The Popeye Spinach Patrol featured the sailor
on a cast iron motorcycle. Additionally there was a full range
of so-called midget line Hubley vehicles. From boat to zeppelin
they were similar to the full-sized models but about four to
five inches in length.
- One way of staying in business during the Depression
was to make everything you could think of that might sell and
then hold your breath, observes OBrien.
- Automated banks
produced by Hubley in that decade included the trick elephant
bank, the trick dog, and the trick monkey. Still banks featured
appliances, bears, lions, dogs, Indians, elephants, and even
a copyrighted Fido dog bank.
- As 1940 rolled around, the Hubley firm had emerged from its
humble beginnings to become a world leader in toy manufacturing.
Success not withstanding, the company gradually began shifting
from cast iron to die-cast zinc. Heavy metals, more expensive
to shift, were also increasingly in short supply. Some toys,
like the Texan cap pistol, bore both cast iron and zinc parts.
Ultimately all zinc materials were used.
- Like most other American toy makers, Hubley switch to military
devices during World War II. Full toy production resumed in 1946.
Early in the 1950s Hubley underwent still another material transition
- this time from zinc metal to mostly plastic. Again, some toys
were made with parts of both materials.
- Their dandy Frontier Rifle had a metal barrel and magazine
but a plastic stock. In 1952, it retailed for $3.98. The early
1950s version of the Hubley hook and ladder truck had a metal
chassis but a plastic cab and trailer. The modern
Bell telephone truck was nearly all metal with aluminum trim,
but the Motor Express Truck was nearly all plastic except for
metal springs and axles.
- A big
seller for Hubley starting in the 1950s and continuing well into
the next decade was their aircraft with folding. Basically crafted
of die-cast metal with sliding plastic canopy and retractable
landing gear, they packaged in brightly colored boxes. Each was
clearly marked, A Hubley Metal Toy.
- The storied Hubley company was acquired by Gabriel Industries
in 1965. A mixture of die-cast and plastic toys were produced.
However, the new emphasis was on hobby kits. Boxed and Hubley
branded kits included the Model A Roadster and the Model A Station
- Late in the 1970s, Gabriel Industries, including the Hubley
brand, became a division of CBS. However the glory days of Hubleys
magnificent toys would remain in the past.
- 1 - Hubley's Lindy Lockheed-Sirus toy airplane circa 1930s
- 2 - Cast iron Avery toy tractor by Hubley, circa 1930s
- 3 - Hubley's Ingersol-Rand compressor 1930s catalogue
- 4 - Hubley's cast iron toy gas range circa 1930s
- Robert Reed has written on antiques and collectibles for
more than two decades. He has also authored 15 books, including
his recently released Antiques and Collectible Dictionary, available
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