Cast-iron seats, a unique collection
by TV Hagenah
Experts say the most common things collected by collectors are stamps, coins, matchbooks and post cards - things that are relatively light and can be placed in albums or small boxes and displayed easily.
That would be far too easy for Hugoton resident Erwin Hancock, for Hancock collects cast-iron seats from horse-drawn, pre-20th century farm equipment which can weigh as much as 60 pounds.
"These aren't toys," Hancock said. "These are solid cast-iron, no tin or aluminum."
The former Hugoton area farmer and electrician has over 800 of the antique seats mounted on the walls of what used to be his electronics shop.
"I don't know. I just needed a place to put them, and it seemed to make sense to put them there," Hancock said.
Like most collectors and their collections, the Hugoton resident is not satisfied with just any old farm implement seat. He specializes in seats with names cast into them.
"There are 1,250 named seats out there. I've got around 650 of those – not a double in the bunch – no two alike," Hancock said. "You try to get as many different ones as you can."
The collector said before the turn of the last century, farm machinery making was a universal industry with machinery being made in every state and country. And since it was the 1800s, they were all horse-drawn pieces of machinery which had to be sat upon to be controlled. Hancock has seats from throughout the U.S. and around the world including such countries as Sweden, Canada, France, Australia, New Zealand and throughout the British Isles.
"There were all kinds of equipment (that required seats)," Hancock said. "There were discs, wheat binders, plows, hay rakes, go devils (hay-bucking devices), and that's just a few of them."
The thousands of companies making the farm implements took to making the seats uniquely as a sort of signature. Thus it was that collectors in the late 20th century began rounding up the metal seats for the fun of it and periodically getting together to compare their collections.
Hancock's wife Verleen points out there are even collectors' manuals and newsletters put out nationally and internationally for the different groups involved with the cast-iron seats. She says the manuals give the collectors examples of the seats available, their prices and the condition they are in.
Erwin has taken advantage of these international contacts a number of times to purchase seats. He has bought some from Ireland, Wales and Scotland.
"I bought quite a few from a guy in Australia," Hancock said. "He only charged me $75 a piece and he paid for the shipping which was around $50 at the time. Of course that was 10 years ago. I imagine it would be quite a bit more now."
According to the Hancocks, the price of seats can vary from as little as $50 to as much as $7,500, although when Erwin buys, he stays away from purchasing the top-end seats. Erwin said the higher prices usually come when the collectors get together and start bidding on different seats.
"You get two of them together who want the same one and the price goes up and up," said Erwin.
The Hugoton implement seat aficionado said he and his wife like to go to the meetings of collectors which for the most part take place in the upper Midwest states like Michigan, Iowa, and Illinois. He said he likes to make at least one a year, take some seats to trade or sell and see what's available.
"They're a good bunch of people," Erwin said.
Hancock got into collecting the bottom rests which now cover the walls of his shop as many people get into collecting stamps or coins. Someone gave him some. In this case it was his father who left him 20 and little by little he has expanded the collection to the number he now possesses.
His wife said she doesn't mind and actually finds it rather entertaining.
"It could be so much worse," Verleen said, "and it keeps him out of trouble. And to tell the truth, I'm kind of proud of him."
She is also proud of the museum-like feeling that the former electronics shop now possesses with the hundreds of cast-iron seats covering the walls, collections of barbed wire and tools and even plows, buggies, and vehicles adding to the atmosphere.
Both say they get a kick out of groups and individuals who drop by to look at the collection.
"We enjoy it when people come to see it," Verleen said of the collection in the converted shop which sits just one house north of Kansas Highway 51 on the east side of Hugoton.
For more information about the collection or to schedule a tour, contact Erwin Hancock at 620-544-6728.