Peering into the flat matt of dust, smoke residue, and pet hair; I started to recognize the outline of a vintage Arcade toy. Looking closer, the store owner’s find began to take shape as a Number 2 size Yellow Cab from the early 1900’s.
My family decided to take a super-short side trip to Savannah, GA on our way to vacation. Savannah had always treated us well with great food and toy finds. This trip was no exception. We met polite store owners with found numerous treasures and historical items (as well as kid kitsch).
On our final stop I asked the store owner if he had more toys. Yes. He spoke of a newer find, and was kind enough to make a drive home (in rush hour) for the Arcade toy taxi in excellent condition. The Yellow Taxi was found in an estate of an elderly lady, and the story was it had been kept with her for countless years. The shop owner was fortunate enough to get it along with some other items. Earlier he planned to keep it himself, but thought I might give it a better home for a fair price.
So here I was painting a mental picture of polished beauty. My plan was to leave town within the hour and I wasn’t mentally prepared for any issues with the taxi. All appeared on track as the owner drove up in his Chevy, however it wasn’t a polished gem; it was a camouflaged find with an unknown center. Dust and smoke residue obscured the item that lied beneath. But as with all antiques, sometimes the layers of dust indicate a badge of honor for surviving. I really had to scrutinize all the details and guess at paint condition beneath. I also had to authenticate the toy, as I’ve seen reproduction taxis and modern parts. The deal became a challenge.
In the end I asked for a price concession, quite worried that there were hidden issues, and then made the deal. I thanked the store owner and hoped a proper cleaning would reveal a solid toy beneath the fluff.
Purchase finalized, proper cleaning complete, and perspective gathered, it is a beautiful find. The Arcade Yellow Taxi Number 2 size has a sculptural quality. Research confirmed it has some unique and special-order paint work. This taxi has white painted rims along with custom order printing on the doors, “Phone 6500”. For me the paintwork on top gives this toy special flair. Covering the top is a black “Yellow Cab Co Phone 6500” marking.
There is an almost fabric surface to the phone number printing and shows a more primitive paint style, one where everything doesn’t have to be perfect and glass smooth. It was a toy and a cheese cloth texture to the roof’s paintwork gave it character.
Early research indicates “Phone 6500” to be the number of the Seattle Washington Yellow Cab Company. In fact that extension is still used today, however modern phones require area codes and additional digits. Seattle is now famous for certain beer and coffee shops as well as Boeing Aircraft Company. To gain perspective on the toy’s age, Boeing was founded in 1916, just a few years before this toy was made.
The nickeled driver at first looked black. But after wiping off grime, I found an appropriately aged dark silver figure in very good condition. His hat still sports an orange stripe on the top. Below the driver’s seat is the vintage square nut with the proper aging and patina. Original! I’ve seen quite a few drivers missing and a few replacements, so it was great to find an untouched example. I left some dust just behind as a reminder of the years of life.
Wheels have light chipping and roll wear, but they have much more paint that most surviving examples. The toy was a shelf queen for quite a few years. Hubs are original and the orange and white paint pop after the wipe down. Note that Arcade produced rubber tires on some wheels, nickel plating on others, then a third variation got white paint to spruce things up. On this custom order batch, the toy got white hand painted tires.
The seams and joints are tight, and have a smoother surface than reproductions. Again, it is nice see an honest older toy that stood the test of time. The wear on tire bottoms has a black color to it from age. It contrasts with the artificial aging I’d seen recently on a recent reproduction toy, in that case corrosion was a bright orange-red. Wear patterns here are consistent with use. Paint aging is completely in line with an almost 100 year old toy. Cast Iron just shows some bumps and oxidation with time.
The radiator’s steel wire mesh is intact and benefited from a good dusting. It was a bonus to have the original, and I often seen them missing. Compared the entire car’s tank-like construction, the screen was a weak spot, as it is only held with a spring and clip.
It is a challenge to describe the satisfying heft of the Yellow Taxi and solid feel. There is nothing like smooth cast iron and enamel on a century old toy. The foundry and craftspeople did a stellar job in making this special order taxi. Workmanship is exacting, weight is menacing. It is also a survivor of the scrap metal drives of WW2 and five generations of families since; it will likely last countless generations more.
Here is a copy of the Arcade catalog text:
“Toy Yellow Cabs Nos. 1, 2, 3
This is the famous Toy Yellow Cab which has taken the country by storm. A beautiful and exact model of the Yellow Cab known everywhere in the United States as well as Canada and Mexico. New and, novel, its appeal to children is strong and direct; kiddies prefer it to all other toys. Yellow Cabs have proved themselves quick turnover insurance. Each cab is sturdily made from grey iron and is practically unbreakable; it has no clock work to get out of order. The different enamels are applied carefully insuring fine finish. Top, hood, and fenders bright black enamel; body and discs, the familiar Yellow Cab yellow. We make Yellow Cabs in three sizes to meet all requirements. No. 1 and No. 2 cabs are furnished with a removable driver fastened firmly in place with bolt and nut. Rubber tires furnished on No. 1 and No. 2 cabs if desired.
No. 1. Size: Length 9 inches, wheel base 6 inches, height 5 inches, width 3 1/2 inches.
No. 2. Size: Length 8 inches, wheel base 5 1/4 inches, height 4 1/4 inches, width 3 1/8 inches.
No. 3. Size: Length 5 1/4 inches, wheel base 3 1/2 inches, height 3 inches, width 2 1/4 inches.