Kate Kelly's Toy Irons & Laundry Toys

A large collection of tiny antique toy irons and laundry toys was displayed by Kate Kelly at the James Valley Threshing Show. Care of clothing and other washable items, including laundry and ironing, was the featured theme of the Quilting display in the Heritage Crafts Building.

Kate has many antiques of various kinds. However, she is mostly interested in antique toys for girls, such as dishes, dollhouses, toy stoves and cookware and housekeeping toys.

Her collecting started about 30 years ago when she made her first purchase of a Blue Willow toy tea set. “After that purchase, I was hooked.” Kate said. “The desirability of these toys depends on their age, condition, and rarity. But often it’s simply their special charm that determines whether they are added to a collection.”

Though her collection began with antique dishes and toy glass, it grew to include a wide variety of ‘girl’s toys’, including toy irons. She showed about 35 different toy irons dating from 1850-1960 in her toy laundry display at the 2013 Thresher’s Show, along with a display of toy laundry items.

Kate’s toy iron collection reflects the changes made through the years in the real irons that mothers used, including irons with solid metal handles, metal handles with holes, and wooden handles. The oldest irons had solid metal handles that would get too hot to handle, making ironing a very dangerous task. Many changes were made in the design of the handles to make ironing safer and easier, but not until 1870 was a detachable handle patented in the United States, invented by Mary Florence Potts of Ottumwa, Iowa. This detachable handle stayed cool while the metal bases were being heated.

Kate further explains, “Mrs. Potts’ iron turned into a ‘game changer’ for women.” The Enterprise Company of Philadelphia bought Mrs. Potts’ patent, recognizing that her invention would be a big hit with women. They gave away a tiny toy working model of the iron at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. Mrs. Potts’ iron soon became one of the best selling inventions of the time.

The little giveaway toy iron token, barely an inch long, is now known among collectors as the “Enterprise Baby Centennial,” and is part of Kate’s toy iron collection. It is the tiniest one in the middle of the next to bottom shelf in the photo, in front of another toy iron.

Among her toy collection, Kate also has toys for boys as well as for girls. One such toy is a large farm set on display in her home. It includes several wood buildings and lithographed wood farm animals, people, and machines. Another favorite is her large “tramp art” dollhouse, complete with stained glass windows.

Though a relative newcomer to this area, Kate considers South Dakota her home. Her mother, Myrle Breck, was Superintendent of Schools in Andover in the early 1960’s, and her family settled in the Ferney area when South Dakota was still Dakota Territory.
(Exerpt from story by Dorene Nelson)