Treasures: The Plow and Other Vintage Auction Stars

There are two approaches to collecting antique farm machinery. One is to treat the machines like museum objects, keeping all their original parts and layers of paint intact. Once the parts wear out, the machine won’t work, but that’s not the point. For this type of collector, the objective is to preserve as authentically as possible a small piece of agricultural history.

The other approach is to restore the machinery using salvaged parts, repaint it in the original colors and keep it on the road. Both are valid, but collectors tend to fall into one category or the other. John Smith, known as Sean, was the second type of collector. Based in Crossdoney, Co Cavan, he has dedicated 50 years of his life to collecting and restoring farm machinery to full working order and was a familiar figure at the Cavan Plowing Championships, competing with tractors and plows which he himself had restored.

After his sudden death in 2021, Smith’s farm memorabilia collection goes under the hammer. The sale is being led by Niall Mullen, in collaboration with Aidan Foley of the Galway Auction Rooms. It takes place at MacSeains Pub, Cornafean, Co Cavan, at midday on Tuesday 30 August.

“Sean’s genius was what he could do with his hands,” Mullen says. “Tractors were his passion. He bought them as carcasses, collected parts from other tractors and assembled them, like a Meccano, into working farm machinery. He talks about Smith’s home on Ballinagh Road, Crossdoney, Co Cavan, where the sale is currently underway. “His shed is half broken, half treasure. Since we cataloged the sale, we’ve discovered the makings of three more tractors!

Smith was a hobbyist rather than a dealer, but restoration to this level requires a bit of concessions. “He wouldn’t have been the easiest man in the world to buy, but he was sometimes open to an offer or a trade.”

There are six complete vintage tractors for sale, including two Fords and three Massey Fergusons. Each of them is estimated between €3,000 and €5,000, with the exception of one of the Fords (lot 274: estimate €4,000 to €6,000). The sixth is a McCormick Farmall Cub (Lot 512: est. €3,000-5,000), a small petrol-powered tractor designed to work on small farms. The tractors were manufactured by International Harvester (IH) in Louisville, Kentucky from 1947 to 1981, and in France from 1955.

IH was first founded as the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company by Cyrus McCormick, an Irish-born inventor who pioneered the horse-drawn harvester in late 19th century America. In 2012, a 1948 McCormick Farmall Cub tractor sold at Sotheby’s in Florida for $11,000. Farmall Cubs were never common in Ireland and were eventually replaced by the hugely popular Ferguson 35.

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A Pierce of Wexford PSPR plough, part of the collection owned by John Smith

A Pierce of Wexford PSPR plough, part of the collection owned by John Smith

Smith also restored several plows made by the Pierce Foundry in Wexford, which was Ireland’s largest manufacturer of agricultural machinery for many decades. Items in this sale include, among others, a Pierce of Wexford PSPR plow (lot 433: est. €400-€600). Other pieces of agricultural machinery range from a Victor Junior ‘scraper’ from Pierce of Wexford (lot 530: est. €400-€600) and an antique iron thistle cutter once used on Farnham Estate, Co Cavan (lot 513: est. €400 to €600).

Smith was not limited to agricultural machinery and his collection includes the petrol pumps that were once an integral part of Ireland’s rural townscape. Some still have their original plastic lids bearing the distinctive Texaco brand identities (lot 197); Lobitos (lot 190); and Shell (lot 191). Each of them is estimated between 200 and 400 €.

In other cases, the original pump has been lost but the plastic caps are for sale separately (each est. €80 to €120). The sale also includes many brand name gasoline and oil cans. As Mullen was arranging the items for viewing, he noticed one of Smith’s sons pulling a can of oil from the display. Mullen pointed out that the article had already been cataloged. The son shrugged. “I need a can of oil. The one I have, the top is already gone on it. If I buy another one, it will only last a few months. This one is already 75 years old. It will last forever.

See auctioneer Aidan Foley on easyliveauction.com, niallmullenantiques.com and irishcountryhome.com

In sales rooms

Heritage auctions
Smile – you’re an NFT! It’s been almost a year since someone paid $237,500 (€236,510) for a non-fungible tokenized version of the smiley and frowny emoticons first typed in 1982 by computer science professor Scott Fahlman. The sale was conducted by Heritage Auctions in Dallas, Texas. This summer, on July 5, the same auction house celebrated World Emoji Day with an NFT auction. The auction consisted of a single lot – a set of 42 3D smileys conceptualized in the late 1990s by Nicolas Loufrani, CEO of The Smiley Company. The smileys, the auctioneers wrote, represented “not only the roots of modern emojis, but also a turning point in cultural and linguistic history: the birth of a universal language that embodies the spirit of the internet.” The smiley set sold for $15,625 (€15,559). See fineart.ha.com

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French Louis XV domed chest of drawers


French Louis XV domed chest of drawers

French Louis XV domed chest of drawers

Adam
The fall auction season kicks off September 4 with the Adam’s At Home sale, which begins at 11 a.m. The auction is a mix of jewelry, household items, furniture, and paintings. The cover painting is an atmospheric woodland scene by Leonard Carr Cox (1879-1950), which shows a man and boy filling a barrel cart with buckets of water from a stream (lot 239: est. 3,000 to €5,000). The furniture in the sale includes a French Louis XV chest of drawers “in the shape of a bomb” – the name refers to its bulbous shape – made of tulip wood and kingwood with a dark mottled marble top and fancy gilt bronze handles (Lot 243: est. €2,000 to €4,000) and a red lacquered chinoiserie arched front corner cabinet (height 170 cm) with two astragal doors above cabinet doors painted in gold with landscapes Chinese (lot 391: est. €800 to €1,200). See adams.fr

Hibernian Antique Fairs
The National Antiques, Art and Vintage Fair will take place at Limerick Racecourse, Patrickswell on 10 and 11 September. The fair runs from 11am to 6pm both days and adult entry is €5. Expect more than 60 stalls from boutiques, art galleries and vintage dealers, including John Weldon from Dublin; Donegal Antiquities; Antique Martin Maguire Furniture of Francis Street and Co Mayo; Irish Art Treasures Athlone; Moycullen Antiquities of Co Galway; and Greene’s Antiquities of Drogheda. For more details, contact [email protected].

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