Replicating the details of a Harley’s engine was a Hubley specialty.
Realistic, colorful and pretty much unbreakable, cast-iron toys were popular and affordable in the not-so-distant past. The premier manufacturer of such toys was The Hubley Manufacturing Company, founded in 1894 in Lancaster, Pennsylvania by John Hubley. Exclusive rights to produce toy versions of Harley-Davidson motorcycles was awarded to the factory in the late 1920s. By the 1930s, Hubley was the leading manufacturer of such toys in the United States. Even Popeye rode a Hubley-made Harley during the 1930s. Reproductions are often passed off as genuine, but there are methods of checking for an authentic cast-iron Hubley motorcycle.
1. Examine the engine for detail; by the 1930s they were clearly identifiable as a V-twin of that era because the factory had access to Harley-Davidson model specifications and photos. Casting marks, if any, were filed off by hand, so there should be no evidence of mechanical grinding.
2. Check the rider or movable pieces for fit and alignment. Although they were removable, the figures included with each motorcycle were specifically designed to fit the piece. There will also be an absence of noticeable gaps between seams if the piece is original.
3. Locate the Hubley manufacturer’s mark on the toy. Some were stamped on the toy’s body or the tires, which were made of white rubber or smooth metal, as Hubley MFG co or HUBLEY MFG co. Tires were not painted black and treads were not stamped into metal tires until after 1942.
4. Feel the metal surfaces for smoothness; vintage Hubley toys were cast in molds using fine sand and should have a satiny finish. Pitting and surface blemishes indicate modern casting techniques and grinding marks indicate the use of power tools, an obvious reproduction technique.
5. Check the locations of worn areas on the paint. Reproductions are purposely distressed to appear vintage, but many “wear” marks are on areas of the toy a child would not have repeatedly touched during regular handling. Sandpaper marks are also evidence the toy is not authentic.