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Antique Plows: Identification, Valuation, and Where to Buy (Ultimate Guide 2023) – History Tools

Antique Plows: The Complete Guide to Identifying, Valuing and Collecting These Agricultural Artifacts
Plows are one of the most important inventions in the history of agriculture, allowing farmers to prepare soil for planting crops more efficiently than ever before. Today, collectors seek out antique plows as fascinating pieces of farming heritage. This comprehensive guide will walk you through everything you need to know about identifying, valuing, and acquiring these unique agricultural artifacts.

The Evolution of the Plow
Humans have used plows to till soil for thousands of years, with evidence of early wooden plows dating back to ancient civilizations in the Near East, China, and Europe. These primitive plows were often simply digging sticks or wooden boards that were dragged through fields.

Over time, plows evolved to become more effective and sophisticated tools. In the 1700s, European farmers began using iron plows, which were stronger and more durable than wooden ones. The invention of the moldboard plow in the late 18th century was a major milestone – its curved blade helped cut and turn over soil more easily.

During the 1800s, the introduction of steel led to sturdier plows. American blacksmith John Deere famously pioneered self-scouring steel plows in 1837 to handle the thick, heavy prairie soil in the Midwest. By the late 19th and early 20th centuries, many farmers had adopted factory-made steel plows before the rise of tractors and mechanized farming equipment.

How to Identify Antique Plows
When examining an old plow to determine its age and origin, pay attention to these key characteristics:


  • Wooden plows date back the furthest, primarily to the 18th-19th centuries
  • Iron plows emerged in the late 18th-early 19th centuries
  • Cast iron plows came into use by the mid-1800s
  • Steel plows arose in the late 19th-early 20th centuries

Design Features:

  • Early hand plows have basic designs compared to later models
  • Plows from the mid-1800s and later often have moldboard curved blades
  • Note any levers, wheels, or adjustable parts that provide hints to the plow‘s age

Maker‘s Marks:

  • Examine the plow for any stamped or engraved names, dates, patent numbers or locations
  • Well-known American plow brands include John Deere, Oliver, McCormick, and International Harvester
  • Research any names or company marks you find to help identify the manufacturer and production period

Visual Examples:

  1. Primitive wooden plow with a basic digging stick – likely 18th century or earlier
  2. Iron plow with straight blade – early 19th century
  3. Cast iron plow with early moldboard – mid 19th century
  4. John Deere steel moldboard plow – late 19th century
  5. Foot-powered Oliver chilled plow – turn of the 20th century

Valuing Antique Plows
The value of an antique plow depends on several key factors:

Age: In general, the older a plow is, the rarer and more valuable it will be. An 18th century wooden plow will command a higher price than a more common early 20th century steel model, for instance.

Rarity: Plows made by well-known manufacturers like John Deere tend to be more sought-after and valuable than those mass-produced by smaller companies. One-of-a-kind or limited production plows are also highly desirable to collectors.

Condition: As with any antique, a plow in excellent original condition with minimal rust, damage or missing parts will be worth far more than one that is heavily corroded or broken. Some signs of wear are expected on used farm equipment.

Most antique plows fall in the $100-$300 price range, depending on their age and condition. Rare models in great shape, especially from big name brands, can sell for $700 or more. Plows over 200 years old have occasionally fetched over $1,000. However, the majority of antique plows are not huge investment pieces.

The most reliable way to determine a plow‘s value is to have it assessed by a qualified appraiser who specializes in agricultural antiques and can provide an expert opinion on its worth. They will take into account all the relevant factors like age, rarity, and condition compared to similar plows on the market.

Where to Find Antique Plows
There are several avenues to explore when looking to acquire an antique plow for your collection:

Local Auctions & Farm Sales: Check listings for estate auctions, farm equipment sales, and antique markets in your area. You may come across old plows no longer needed by farmers. The benefit is being able to inspect the item in person before buying.

Antique Stores: Shops that specialize in vintage agricultural and primitives/rustic antiques sometimes have antique plows for sale. Prices may be higher than auctions to ensure the dealer makes a profit. But reputable shops usually only sell authentic, good quality pieces.

Online Marketplaces: Websites like eBay, Craigslist, and Facebook Marketplace make it easy to search for antique plows from the comfort of home. You can find a wide variety for sale, but carefully read all details since you can‘t see the plow in-person before purchasing. Review seller feedback and ask questions.

Antique Plow Dealers: Some businesses focus solely on selling antique plows and related collectibles. While you will likely pay top dollar, these specialists have the most knowledge to ensure you get an authentic, correctly identified plow. They can also keep an eye out for specific models you‘re seeking.

Specialty Collectible Shows: Agricultural antique collectors often gather at annual shows, expos and swap meets nationwide to buy, sell and trade. Organizations like the Historical Construction Equipment Association and Prairie Plowmen host such events. It‘s a great way to meet fellow enthusiasts.

Caring For Your Antique Plow
To keep your antique plow in the best possible condition for years to come, follow these basic maintenance tips:

  • Gently clean off any dirt, debris or rust using a soft brush or cloth. Avoid harsh chemicals or abrasives that may damage the finish.

  • Apply a light coating of oil to the plow‘s surfaces, especially any moving parts, to prevent further rust and keep mechanisms working smoothly. Gun oil works well.

  • Store the plow indoors out of the elements if possible, or at least covered in a dry area shielded from rain and moisture. Humidity speeds up rust.

  • If displaying the plow, choose a spot out of direct sunlight which may cause fading and deterioration over time. A climate-controlled room is ideal.

Some people do still use antique plows for small-scale farming. If you plan to actually plow with an old model, have it checked out to ensure it‘s structurally sound. Very old or rare plows are better reserved for display only, while later steel plows are more likely to be functional.

Frequently Asked Questions

What‘s considered an "antique" plow?

There‘s no precise definition, but generally plows over 100 years old (pre-1920s) are considered antiques. Vintage usually refers to old plows less than a century old. Anything made in the past 30 years or so is just used rather than antique.

Are there different types of antique plows?

Yes, collectors categorize antique plows by factors like material (wood, iron, steel), time period, manufacturer, and specific use (walking plows, sulky plows, prairie breakers, etc.) Early plows were pulled by animals before being adapted for tractors.

How much can I expect to pay for an antique plow?

Most antique plows sell for around $150-$250 depending on age, condition and rarity. Very early 1700s-1800s models can reach $500-$1000+. Prices have remained stable in recent years according to auction sites.

Could I actually use an antique plow for farming?

While later steel plows may still be functional, very old antique plows are more suitable as decorative or collectible pieces. Plowing is rough work and you wouldn‘t want to risk damaging a delicate antique that‘s best preserved and enjoyed visually.

What draws people to collect old plows?

Collectors are fascinated by the history and ingenuity behind these old tools that transformed agriculture. They appreciate the craftsmanship, and enjoy researching the stories of who made and used each plow. For some, antique plows are beautiful rustic art to display. Others actually use them!

Hopefully this guide has piqued your interest in the world of antique plow collecting! While it takes some time and research to learn how to properly identify and value these pieces, the reward is owning a piece of agricultural history. Happy hunting for the perfect antique plow.