We recently experienced a renaissance for cast iron toys, and you may not recognize it. The early Pratt & Letchworth and Ives production ceased over 100 years ago. Hubley and Arcade cast iron production ended around 80 years ago. Afterwards, we had another all American and prestigious maker to be aware of — Sehloff Products, established in 1984.
Creations were original sculpts and in a substantial scale, hefty weight, and with luxury appointments. The toys, often auto related, had low, sleek, and wide proportions. They often had larger emblems to emphasize the maker. Shiny grills and luxury parts dripped in bright nickel; even more so than earlier makers.
Much of the toy lineup filled in “missing” items that cast iron collectors wanted; omissions. We got Packards, Chrysler Eights, Ford Coupes. There were even milk trucks, oil trucks, and safari vehicles that deserved heavy metal. Other artistic creations meshed fantasy with history, for instance a Moby Dick themed camper. Sehloff Products also had heavy hauler trucks, a boat or two that were prototyped, and a couple of recently unearthed productions.
Tom of Sehloff Products, had a hand in most all production. In fact his resume included, and was not limited to– designer, carver, match plate and mold maker, sand and metal foundry assistant (Help + Tom), expert parts fitter, sander/prepper, expert painter, and spectacular pinstriper. Tom wore the hat of salesperson too, but also advertised in Antique Toy World. His operation was one of love, a toy assembly line guided by a collector and artisan.
One might argue that Tom Sehloff Toys were the next step forward for American cast iron toy making. His toys are in larger scales, better sculpts, deeper details, smoother final surfaces, brighter nickel, and superior painted detailing. Tom would often use sign painter’s paint with extra pigment. Nickel plating was extra thick and lustrous. Tires used natural rubber, custom designs, and had an incredibly realistic look.
Collectors competitively seek Sehloff precise products and silky smooth art.
Tom Sehloff Products Manufacturing
Tom would take basswood plus inspiration and then hand carve his prototypes. Most of the production began as vehicles, and he took inspiration from advertising material. He often used preproduction ephemeral like ads, then adopted the sensuous proportions, and then added artistic expertise.
Basswood sculptures would then get cast as CerroMetal, or a Lead and Zinc metal that would allow fine tuning. CerroMetal allowed another revision and refinement for detailing. This fine tuned iteration would dictate final patterns.
CerroMetal models would then be taken and turned Plaster Masters. Plaster models would then be used for making match plates for metal pouring.
Match plates are two perfectly fitted plates with cavities (gates) for pouring in the metal. Match plates are something akin to a chocolate mold, where the two halves can be separated, leaving behind the near final product.
Match Plates would then travel to Silverton, Oregon for metal pouring. Tom would personally make the molds off hours, after closing until early dawn. Special fine grain facing sand was mixed upon his arrival by him and then used against the match plates to produce the ultra fine grain of the castings to produce the smooth product. Foundry sand and presses were used with jackets. Temperatures were refined to produce the very very fine detailing and a minimum of grain; maximum smoothness.
The hottest iron of the day (2700 degrees plus) where used to allow the iron to flow through the thin sections of the toys. White sparks would jump off the liquid iron in the pot.
Sehloff Products Inspiration
Tom mentioned learning from Larry Sieber and Don Lewis of California. Both gentleman were preeminent collectors and toy makers. Then Tom refined…..
He enjoyed both Hubley and Arcade toys. “Arcade did well to produce realism within the confines of toy making. Hubley had a ‘toyness’ to their castings that inspired.” He chose to keep a similar “toy edge” to his work along with nickel grills and accessories like trailers.
“Going to the toy shows, seeing the ‘degeneration’ of the toy lines [as we approaced the late 30’s.]….. they had been neutered due to cost and size. Imagine if the mindset of the REO Coupe went unabated into the 1930s’.” That was the inspiration. “It would be streamlined…and still have the toyness. What if that had never happened [cost cutting measures]. It would have had bumpers [later deleted by makers] and size [shrunk to save cost].”.
He wanted to “Add something to mass production” rather than reproduce. We find his toys exceptionally attractive and extremely refined.
Tom Sehloff Toys Production Milestones:
1984 Winter Beginning– A Single Green Chrysler Airstream 8
(cast in the Monarch Range foundry in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin. A famous stove maker from the early 1800’s. Tom had family connections to a foundry foreman. The company was in the midst in reorganization and foreclosure.)
- Extra thick mold.
- Unique pre-production hitch.
- Orange accents with sample tire variations.
1985 Production & Announcements
1935 Chrysler Airstream 8 Convertible, top up— 46
[10 3/4″ Long, 3 5/8″ Wide 3 3/8″ High. Opening Rumble Seat, made of 15 pieces. Side or Rear Mounted Spares]
1935 Chrysler Airstream 8, 2 Door Sedan (five window Brougham)— 25-
Dodge Airflow MILK Truck— 3
Dodge Airflow Ridgefield Truck— 50
Dodge Airflow Sunoco— Approx 18
1935 Chrysler Airstream 8 Convertible, top down— 10
1935 Chrysler Airflow Convertible — 10
1929 Packard Victoria Roadster— 10
1929 Packard 4 Door Sedan— 50 (25 rear mount tires/25 side mount tires)
1929 Roadster Convertible— Approx 10
1929 Packard Victoria Coupe Tow Truck
1935 Chrysler Airstream 8 Coupe (2 door)— 50 ($650 Retail)-20s
1935 Chrysler Airstream 8 Sedan Radio Cab Co taxi.
1920’s Packard Gilmore Red Lion Gas Truck
1932 International Model A8 5 Ton Heavy Duty Truck with Lowboy trailer Gooseneck in green (John Deere Dealership in CA of Hold Bros badges). (One green prototype).
1932 International Model A8 5 Ton Heavy Duty Truck with Lowboy trailer (30 planned)
1936 Ford Van (Unproduced pattern)
Tom Sehloff Toys Prototypes
Below is a prototype for a 1930’s ChrisCraft with removable “wave”
Below a 1936 Ford panel Van which was unproduced.
1937 Wood Pattern Packard Sedan (preproduction below)
Below is original box art for the toys. Laurie was a Beaver Dam, WI artist that helped in the early days.
Below is original box art by Tom.