Sleds have been around for centuries, starting out as a simple way to get around in the snow. They evolved into a popular winter pastime and are now considered collectible items. If you’re interested in collecting antique sleds or have stumbled upon one and are curious about its value, this guide will help you with antique sled identification and answer your questions about these winter treasures.
Sledding Over The History
The first sleds were probably nothing more than a few boards lashed together. But as time went on, they became more and more sophisticated. The first recorded mention of a sled was from around 2000 years ago when Ancient German Cimbrics used them while fighting Romans over the snow-covered Alps.
As you may have guessed, these early sleds were not designed for leisurely rides down a hill. Sleds underwent various changes to be used for different purposes. However, we’re going to focus on those made for recreational use. These are the types you’re likely to find as antiques.
Russians were probably the first to really use sleds for recreation. They enjoyed zipping around on them so much that by the 16th century, sledding had become a national pastime. This is also around the time when sleds started to become more durable. Before this point, Russians had been carving their sleds out of the ice, but obviously, this was dangerous and not very practical.
French people were the next to develop a love for sledding, and they made some significant changes to the design. The Americans picked up on the sledding trend in the mid-1800s. And it wasn’t long before they started making their own changes to the design.
Henry Morton is a popular name in sledding history. He was the first to use steel runners on a sled, which made for a smoother ride. His design kickstarted the era of recreational sledding in America.
Lots of big-scale manufacturers popped up in the late 1800s and early 1900s, leading to even more sled design changes. One hugely popular sled manufacturer at that time was the Flexible Flyer. It created a steering mechanism using hinges that allowed the user to lean to turn, making sledding much more fun and safe.
Sleds became more mass-produced and, therefore, more uniform. But this also meant that they were less likely to be handmade, which makes high-quality antique sleds from this era quite valuable.
The 1920s and 1930s were the peak years for sled production. Competitive events like Bobsledding started to become popular, and sleds were designed specifically for racing. Interestingly, the Great Depression period was smooth sailing for the sled industry because people were looking for affordable ways to have fun, and sledding fit the bill.
But soon after, the sled industry started to decline. World War II stopped steel production, and people found various other winter recreation options. So sled production decreased sharply.
Nowadays, you’re more likely to find a sled at a flea market or garage sale than on the slopes. But that doesn’t make them any less popular. In fact, there’s a whole community of antique sled enthusiasts out there.
Antique Sled Identification
Identifying an antique sled can be tricky. First, because wood deteriorates over time, it’s often hard to tell how old a sled really is. And second, they’re not always branded with a manufacturer’s name or date. People loved to create and personalize their own sleds, and you’ll find all sorts of different designs and materials. So the strategy for old sled identification is to separate them into categories and look for key features.
1. Material & Construction
As we discussed in the history section, until the mid-19th century, sleds were completely made of wood. These are the oldest sleds and often most valuable, if in good condition. However difficult to find because wood deteriorates; if you find one be very careful in determining if it really is an antique.
The runners were the most crucial part and were usually made of hickory, ash, or maple because these woods are strong but flexible. The sled’s body was generally made from pine because it’s lightweight. But you’ll find all sorts of different woods used in construction, depending on what the sled was used for and where it was made.
Wood and Metal:
The earliest sleds had wooden runners but they became more durable with the introduction of wrought iron runners. Most designs had full metal frames with wood slats inside for seating. The wood was generally decorative and not structural. These sleds are often more mass-produced, but you’ll still find some handmade versions, especially from the early 20th century. Since metal keeps the sled in better condition, these types of sleds can fetch a high price, especially if they’ve original paint job.
2. Identifying Brands
In the heydays of sledding, a handful of manufacturers were producing sleds to fulfill the great demand in the market. These are the brands you’ll most likely find in the antique market today.
Created by Samuel Leeds Allen, Flexible Flyer was the most popular sled brand throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Flexible Flyer sled identification is comparatively easy because it is the most common brand, and many pictures and model information are widely available. The patent red painted runners, and the eagle with arrow brand logo are distinctive features.
You can find Flexible Flyer sleds in good condition for around a hundred dollars. But if it’s a particularly rare model or in perfect condition, an antique Flexible Flyer sled value could be higher. eBay has this one in listings for $400:
Hiawatha only stayed in business for a few years early, but their lasting designs are huge collector’s items. One popular line is Hiawatha Meteor Snow Sled with distinctive curved runners. You can identify Hiawatha sleds by their red and blue paint job and the company’s name written in large letters on the side.
This model is listed for $169 on eBay:
Paris Hill Manufacturing:
Paris manufacturing was the first official brand that manufactured and patented its snow sled design. The famous Henry Moron started it in his backyard in Maine, in the early 19th century. His original designs are now very rare and very valuable. The company became extremely successful and eventually bought the Flexible Flyer. It now operates as Pericon Sleds.
A household name in the toys and sleds industry, Royal Racer made both decorative and functional sleds. You can identify Royal Racer sleds by the red crown logo on the wood slats.
3. Artisan Sleds
Half a century back, people liked to make things by hand. So you’ll find a lot of antique sleds that are one of a kind or custom-made by small, independent artisans. These sleds were usually made to order and sometimes personalized for kids in the family, so there is no specific design. These sleds can be very valuable because of their uniqueness, but it’s equally difficult to date and values them.
Usually, these types of sleds have some unevenness in the woodwork and hardware that’s not perfectly symmetrical. They might also be made with different types of wood put together, which was common in earlier times when there were no power tools to work with. You can often find special touches like hand-carved details, inlaid wood, or folk art, which adds to their charm.
This 19th-century sled is sold for $950 on 1st Dibs:
4. Push Sleds and Toboggans
While most sleds were made to be pulled with a rope (pull sled), some were designed to be pushed. These sleds usually have a higher back and a long bar at the back so they can be pushed along like a stroller. These were more common in Europe and not as popular in the US, so they’re less common to find. But if you come across one, it can be very valuable because of its rarity.
Since push sleds were made for small kids, many push sleds have special features like chair upholstery, intricate paintings, or other decorative details. These can help you date the sled and also add to its value.
This beautiful hand-painted push sled sold for $360 at 1st Dibs:
Toboggans are long, flat sleds that Native Americans originally used. Later, war soldiers used toboggans to move faster through the snow. They’re made without runners and can be very long – up to 16 feet! Vintage toboggans were made with high-quality oaks and other hardwoods because they had to be tough and durable. But still, toboggans are difficult to find and even rare to encounter one in good condition.
Factors Determining Antique Wooden Sled Value
Now that we have gone over the different antique sled types let’s discuss what determines their value. But before that, it’s important to understand that the average price for an antique sled is around $200-$400. Only the very rare and unique sleds go for thousands of dollars, and their number is very limited.
Here are some factors that affect the value of an antique sled:
The most important factor in determining the value of an antique sled is its condition. Sled collectors, usually look for something they can display in their homes or offices. So if the frame is intact with minimal damage, it can get good money. But if it has original decorations like paintings and carvings in good condition, it can be worth even more.
As you would expect, some limited-edition rare sleds are way more valuable than the others. For example, the Flexible Flyer Extra long sled is quite valuable because they’re very hard to find. If you come across one, it can be worth $1,000 at least. Other than that, some sleds are more valuable because of their provenance – meaning they have a story behind them. These are usually made by individual artists or have been owned by famous people.
3. Design & Decoration
Special features like carved wood details, hand-painting, or sculpted runners like swan or dragons make a sled more unique.
An example is this 19th-century sled which is sold for $650 on 1st Dibs because of its carved horns:
Some antique sleds are really intricately decorated. You can find ones purely made for display with beautiful wood paintings, grooved runners, and carvings. These are usually the most valuable sleds because they’re both rare and stunning to look at.
Check this one below. It’s a child’s sled with beautiful carvings and hand-painted details. It sold for $1850 on 1st Dibs.
At its peak, Flexible Flayer sold 10,000 sleds in a day, so there are many of them around, reducing the Flexible Flyer sled’s value. Well-kept handmade sleds by a known local carpenter or artist may get you better money because of the artist’s name.
Other than that, some companies like Hiawatha or Paris Manufacturing Company were very popular in their time and produced high-quality sleds. So if you have one of their sleds, it can be worth more.
Age is important in determining the value of sleds from long-running companies. Big manufacturers like Flexible Flayers made sleds for many years and are still in business today. So only the very old sleds from the early 1900s are valuable.
If you’re interested in finding out how to date a flexible flyer sled, here’s a quick guide:
The earliest Flexible Flyers had a number inscribed on them to identify the model. Then they started a combination of letters and numbers, like FF #12, 251J, and FF5C. This remained the same until the late 1920s when they started naming their models like the Classic Racer or Airliner.
After finding the model name or number inscribed on the sled, you can look up the date range it was produced in the company’s catalog and determine your Flexible Flayer sled value.
To sum up, putting value into an antique sled is quite tricky. First, you need to identify the sled’s make and model. Then you have to determine if the particular model is valuable. After that, the condition and decoration of the sled will affect its value. So it’s always better to consult a professional before making a decision to buy or sell an antique sled. They’d be able to help you understand the antique market and get you the best price for your sled.
Restoring An Antique Sled
If you have an antique sled that needs some TLC, it’s best to take it to a professional restorer. You can ask around at your local antique stores for recommendations or look online.
Just be aware that the restoration process can be expensive and may not significantly increase your sled’s value. So if you’re planning to sell it, you may want to leave it as is. But if you have the passion and means to restore it, go for it! It’ll be a fun project, and you’ll enjoy your sled for years to come.
We’ve found this video on Youtube explaining the restoration process in detail. It may give you some ideas on what to do with your sled.
Here’s a short step-by-step guide based on the video:
1. Assess Your Sled’s Condition: Carefully inspect your sled for cracks, rot, and other damage. It’s important, to be honest with yourself about the condition of the sled. If there’s too much damage, it may not be worth restoring. Try to find a picture of the sled in its original condition to use as a reference.
2. Disassemble the Sled: Separate the wooden parts from the metal runners. Remove any nails or screws that are holding the pieces together. Wooden sleds can be fragile, so be more careful with them.
3. Make Any Necessary Repairs: This is where things can get tricky and expensive. If your sled is in bad shape, you may need to replace some of the wood or weld the runners just like in the video. If you’re not confident in your woodworking or welding skills, it’s best to leave this step to a professional.
4. Refinish the Wood: Clean the wood with a wire brush and sandpaper to remove any dirt, grime, or old paint. Once the wood is smooth, you can either repaint or stain the wood, depending on your preferences. Just make sure to use a sealant to protect the wood from weathering.
5. Repaint Metal Parts: Use a wire brush to clear any rust off the metal parts. You can also use a power washer if the metal is extra dirty. Once the metal is clean, apply a coat of primer and then paint with enamel designed for metals.
6. Reassemble the Sled: Put all the pieces back together using new nails or screws. Make sure everything is nice and tight so your sled will last for years to come.
7. Add Any Final touches: Now is the time to add any final touches like decals or a coat of varnish. If you’re unsure about something, it’s always best to consult a professional restorer.
Remember that original finishes are always worth more than new finishes, so try to preserve them as much as possible. If your sled has original paint, seat upholstery, or carving, it will be more valuable than a sled that’s been completely restored.
Tips For Collecting & Displaying Old Fashioned Sleds
If you’re a vintage enthusiast, you may want to start collecting antique sleds. Here are a few tips on how to get started:
- Before you start buying antique sleds, it’s important to do your research. Familiarize yourself with the different types of sleds and their value. This will help you avoid overpaying for a sled or buying a fake.
- When you’re ready to start collecting, focus on one type of sled or period. This will make it easier to find the right piece and build up a cohesive collection.
- As your collection grows, you may want to start displaying your sleds. But be careful not to damage them by hanging them outside or storing them in a dusty attic. The best way to display antique sleds is by setting them up on shelves or fireplaces.
- Smaller sleds can go on walls; in fact, some decorative sleds were made specifically for this purpose.
- You can also turn your antique sled into a coffee table. A bigger sled can be used as is, or you can add legs to it. This is a great way to show off your collection and have a functional piece of furniture at the same time.
- If you’ve Christmas coming up, you could even use your sled as a holiday decoration. Simply add some festive red and green leaves and bows, and you have yourself a beautiful Christmas centerpiece.
- Ensure your antique sled is always kept in a cool, dry place. The wooden part of sleds can warp or rot if they’re stored in humid environments.
- You should also regularly check your sled for any signs of damage. If you notice any cracks or breaks, make sure to repair them right away. With proper care, your sled can last for many years to come and can even be passed down as a family heirloom.
Antique sleds are beautiful pieces of history that can be enjoyed by people of all ages. Whether you use them for decoration or actually go sledding with them, they’re sure to bring back memories of simpler times.
As we discussed, there are many different types of antique sleds, from the common Flexible Flyer sleds to the more rare push sleds and toboggans. Some are made for function, and others for beauty. And like all antiques, their value can range from a few hundred dollars to thousands, depending on their condition, rarity, age, and the knowledge of the right market.
If you’re thinking of starting a collection or are simply looking for a unique piece to add to your home, an antique sled is a perfect choice. Just do your research and buy from a reputable source. If you’re lucky enough to inherit an antique sled, take good care of it so that it can be a high-value investment for years to come.