Antiques & Collectibles: Vintage sleds are cool collectibles
The Flexible Flyer sled, famously part of the classic film "A Christmas Story," was first manufactured by Pennsylvania Quakers in the late 1800s.
The inventor, Samuel Leeds Allen, a farm implement manufacturer, designed the sled from his own sledding experiences, had his children test new models, and continued production to provide off-season full-time work for his employees.
Each sled design had a name, including three models from the mid-1880s — the Phantom, Fleetwing and Aeriel — that held up to eight adults but never made it to full production. But their designs were the basis for the Flexible Flyer and Fairy Coaster sleds. But at $50, the deluxe Fairy Coaster was a little too pricey for 1888.
The well-known Flexible Flyer was patented Feb. 14, 1889. It featured a pair of steel runners with a flexible spot halfway down the slide.But it didn't do too well against the Swift Glider, Storm King, Safety and the Lightning Glider competition sleds, since they all advertised the same way and sold the sleds to the same farm implement retail stores.
Allen stopped manufacturing and changed his marketing strategy to target the toy departments of Wanamaker's and R.H. Macy Company department stores. By 1915, his company sold nearly 2,000 Flyer sleds a day, reaching 120,000 sleds over the winter season.
By the late 1960s sled popularity declined, and Allen sold his company to Leisure Group of Los Angeles, which continued to manufacture the sleds from Medina, Ohio. As years went by in 1973, investors — including some employees — bought the manufacturing operations and continue today with sleds under the name Blazon Flexible Flyer.
Where to find them
If you are into collecting vintage snow sleds, check your local garage sales, since these may be an excellent place to find vintage Flexible Flyers. Some sleds have been known to be found with sports equipment at thrift stores, where you may find vintage sleds at very low prices. Classified ads along with sites such as Craigslist can be another helpful way to locate vintage snow sleds.
Also check antique shops and malls."Most of the sleds we have are from the 1950s and 60s, priced in the $20-35 price range," said Ann Collins, owner at Churn Dash Antiques, Rochester. "Two of our sleds are older, dating back to the early 1900s, are hand-painted and more expensive."
At the Old River Valley Antique Mall and The Cottage, Rochester, owner Chris Rand Kujath said, "At the present time we have eight sleds — that include the Flexible Flyer, Pacer and Speedway with some of our sleds from the early 1900s and up."
In St. Charles, Sarah's Uniques and Jim's "Man"tiques also have sleds, with some on display outside of their building. "We have about eight sleds, with a few that have the brand name Flexible Flyer and Snowler, and as old as the '40s to the '60s ranging from $22 on up to $60," Sarah Kieffer said.
Through the woods to Lanesboro, owner Marlin Miner at the Coffee Street Peddler Antiques and Collectibles said, "I have sleds, snow shoes, toboggans, snow skis, primitive ice skates that are all priced from $40 on up to $125. The wooden skis and ice skates are over 100 years old with family history attached. You see I am ready for snow fun!"
What to look for
Look on the snow sled for the name of the manufacturer. You can search the Internet, go to the library and find a snow sled reference guide or purchase "Flexible Flyer: And Other Great Sleds for Collectors" in a paperback Schiffer book by Joan Palicia.
Remember that over the years, there have been only a handful of changes in the overall design. Snow sleds are not an extremely difficult piece of machinery and are durable and still usable. The Flexible Flyer was the first steerable sled manufactured in the United States, so they don't have a lot of value as they are not that rare.
The value of a sled is determined by its year, condition and demand for a particular sled like any other collectible. Example: a 1915 Flexible Flyer Tuxedo racer sled in excellent condition can fetch up to $1,000.
Decorating with sleds
"Most customers purchase them to decorate outside by adding some greenery, a bow, and perhaps drape an old pair of ice skates over them," Collins said.
The older are "indoor decorating" sleds to display above a cupboard, under a Christmas tree, beside a fireplace or on top of a coffee table, Kujath said. "Some like to display with lights, lanterns and hanging in kitchen to hang pots and pans from."
"Sleds are nostalgic to people and many have kept an old sled from someone in their family," Kieffer said. "Yes, sleds are great to decorate with, but I have found people of all ages, men and women are into buying these sleds for outdoor sledding since I think everyone remembers sledding. Sledding and the memories are so much fun this time of the year!"
Sandy Erdman is a Winona freelance writer, antique dealer, speaker on antiques and collectibles and workshop appraiser. If you have an antique shop, make a hobby of collecting, make or restore antiques or collectibles and you want to share in this column, contact Sandy at email@example.com.