Pedal Cars and other Desirable Objects
A thing of beauty is a joy forever~ John Keats
When I was very young, I fancied owning a pedal car. Although it's now only a distant memory from a dusty folder at the back of my mental filing cabinet....I do recall thinking about it and concluding that my parents would never buy me one because it was too big and important an object and I was probably too tall for one anyway, so I never asked. Even back then, I had an instinctive insight into just how far my parents indulgence would stretch. Perhaps that early unfulfilled longing has something to do with my attraction to toy-like real cars, like the blue convertible Mini-cooper, black Citroen Pluriel and the red and white Fiat 500 I covet . Not to mention the fat fendered pseudo-retro third hand PT Cruiser I ended up with.
Mini-automobiles for children have been around almost as long as the real thing, ie; shortly after full-sized cars were modeled in the 1890's and were handcrafted from metal- steel and sometimes from wood. When the Model T was introduced, pedal car versions were brought out almost immediately and according to classicpedal cars.com, they featured "a steel body molded to look like the real thing, and a wood chassis and wheels with rubber tires"
Vintage & Modern Pedal Cars, Trains, Planes, Go-Karts, Retro Tricycles & Bicycles, and Scooter Ride-On Toys make classic gifts, collectibles, heirlooms & promote fun child exercise
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However, for the first few decades of their manufacture, they
were quite expensive, so only the affluent could afford them and
although they had proven to be very popular, particularly during the
20's and 30's, production slowed significantly in the 1940s, due to the
need to redirect metal toward the war effort. Between 1942 an 1946 there were no pedal cars made at all.
The cars resurfaced again in the 1950s and 60's and as there was more money to splash around during these decades, they could now be found in major department stores and large toy shops. With wider sales, came more elaborate features and many of the chain-driven pedal cars from this era had workiable parts, such as lights and wipers, white-wall tyres, custom paint jobs hood ornaments, movable windshields and fancy chrome detailing. They were flash little numbers...still fairly pricey but not unattainable.
The British Junior Forty (J40), brought out by the Austin Motor Company in the 1950s, featured "pressed steel fabrication, a dummy engine beneath the bonnet, electric lighting and horn, realistic dashboard details, pneumatic tyres, opening boot and chrome-plated brightwork". Nice.
In America there was the Kidillac, a neato mini version of the Cadillac - as well as mini Chevy's, Thunderbirds, Corvettes and more. In Australia Cyclops Toys also manufactured pedal car versions of American cars .
The Return of Craftsmanship
In the 1970s quality took a dip and the vast majority of cars were made from plastic rather than metal. Not surprisingly, the plastic version failed to conjure the same authentic feel - the little cars no longer resembled real ones, thus they faded from view for a while.
As an object of desire, pedal cars have always had their enthusiasts and in recent years companies have emerged offering terrific quality, schmick cars that make an old pedal car fan salivate all over again...if you can afford it. Stevenson Bros who also make rocking horses, produce period pedal cars to die for, with leather seats and detailed dashboards. Their range includes Bentleigh's, Rolls Royces and Alpha Romeo's and the prices are commesurate. The vintage Rolls Royce Silver Shadow at right probably costs more than my real car. Well maybe.
PedalCarPlanet.com. has a snazzy range of not too expensive vintage reproduction cars and other nostalgia-inducing wheel based vintage toy object, including some lovely styles from the 50's, such as the little aqua number shown top right.
Another absorbing place to shop for pedal cars is Retro Antiques, which is one of my favourite places to browse (though alas, not to buy) and offers a delectable selection of vintage reproduction pedal cars and planes, such as the funky little chrome Ferrari pictured above right.
Kids today of course can now get electric motorised versions but there's something about the mechanical simplicity of a pedal car that appeals. Besides, the pedals are better for developing motor skills and for exercise.
Needless to say, I'm not the only pedal car fan on the planet and early models are very collectable, although according to one collector I read, in the last fifteen yesars the market has been "up and down". The larger, pre-war pedal cars are apparently the most collectable and some of these can fetch up to $15, 000 at auction.
Next in line are cars from the 1950's- anything past the 60's is not particularly desirable as a collectable..the reason being, the 'realism' went out of the cars. Whereas once they were realistic copies of their parents cars, at some point they became mere plastic shells.
I couldn't resist including all those pictures and had to restrain myself from putting in even more because I still think pedal cars are beautiful objects. However, when I was a little older...around eight, my materialistic desire was focused on a toy koala; a girl at school had one and I used to watch her comb its fur with a silent envy. I thought it was magnificent and unlike the pedal car, I knew that if I begged long and hard enough I'd have a good chance of getting one - so I did beg long and hard and sure enough, at christmas it was in my pillow slip as expected. I feigned delighted surprise but knew darn well my calculated campaign of consistent but measured nagging had worked and that it would be there, waiting for me. I had so wanted that bear.
I really loved my koala, although I was slighlty disturbed by the fact that it was made from a kangaroo's pelt. It seemed a terrible irony that one native animal was destroyed to create a faux version of another. It didn't smell like a toy either..that rubbery, plasticky, little bit toxicky, toyish smell. No, it had a strange perfume..impossible to describe. Perhaps it was formaldehyde or some other mysterious substance used in the fur business.
My koala was a very realistic toy; the fur was super-soft, slightly speckled and it had black claws and brown marbled eyes with depth. Alas, it no longer exists and I couldn't find a picture of one. They ceased making them in the 80's and I can see why. Nowadays they look more cartoonish than real and they're generally made off-shore from *poly-fluff* or some such synthetic fibre.
Like many little girls, I had at one stage, a serious penchant for anything to do with horses - horse toys, horse books, horse charms, horse swap cards and most of all...rocking horses. An elderly couple lived across the road in a large, ramshackled two-storey house and in their entrance hall, stood a fabulously carved dappled grey rocking horse with a long white mane. The couple's own children were grown up but they kept the rocking horse for the benefit of visiting guests and grandchildren and possibly, because it was a beautiful object in itself. Of course I wanted one, but this desirable object was even more out of reach than the pedal car. Then, as I grew into double numbers, my longing was transferred to real horses..but that's another story.
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Although toy horses had been around in some form or another since ancient civilization, the rocking horse really reached it's peak in Georgian and Victorian England, where they began to appear in larger numbers. The first incarnation of the classic rocking horse appeared somewhere in the 17th century but it wasn't until the 1800's that the elaborately carved, fancy harnessed rocking horse appeared.
Most of the horses from this period were fixed upon the classic 'bow rocker' and the whole thing tended to slide across the floor as the children moved back and forth. However in 1880, Cincinatti company patented the 'swinger rocker' which had a base that was stable on the ground as well as taking up far less room.
The popularity of rocking horses declined significntly in the 20th century but there are still a few specialist companies who continue to create magnificent hand-carved pieces for those who have the desire and the funds to purchase them. Despite their decline, classic rocking horses remain an iconic children's toy and certainly a desirable object for many.