Treasures: The Plow and Other Vintage Auction Stars

There are two approaches to collecting old farm machinery. One is to treat the machines like museum pieces, keeping all the original parts and layers of paint intact. Once the parts wear out, the machine stops working, but that’s not the point. The aim of this type of collector is to preserve a piece of agricultural history as authentically as possible.

The other approach is to restore machines with salvaged parts, repaint them in the original colors and keep them 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 devoted 50 years of his life to collecting and restoring farm machinery to full working order and was a well-known figure in the Cavan Plowing Championships, where he competed with tractors and plows which he restored himself.

Following his sudden death in 2021, Smith’s collection of agricultural memorabilia will go under the hammer. The sale is being managed by Niall Mullen in association with Aidan Foley of the Galway Auction Rooms. It takes place on Tuesday 30th August at 12pm at the MacSeains Pub, Cornafean, Co Cavan.

“Sean’s genius was what he could do with his hands,” says Mullen. “Tractors were his passion. He bought them as carcasses, collecting parts from other tractors and, like Meccano, assembled them into working farm machinery.” He is speaking from Smith’s home in Ballinagh Road, Crossdoney, Co Cavan, where the sale can currently be seen. “His shed is half junkyard, half treasure trove. Since cataloging the sale we have discovered the makings of three more tractors!”

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

There are six complete vintage tractors on offer, including two Fords and three Massey Fergusons. Each is estimated at 3,000 to 5,000 euros, with the exception of one of the Fords (Lot 274: 4,000 to 6,000 euros). The sixth is a McCormick Farmall Cub (Lot 512: approx. €3,000-5,000), a small petrol-powered tractor designed for use 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 originally founded as the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company by Cyrus McCormick, an inventor of Irish origin who pioneered the horse-drawn harvester in America in the late 19th century. In 2012, a 1948 McCormick Farmall Cub tractor was sold at Sotheby’s, Florida for $11,000. Farmall Cubs were never common in Ireland and were eventually replaced by the hugely popular Ferguson 35.


A PSPR Pierce of Wexford plough, part of John Smith’s collection

Smith also restored several plows for the Pierce Foundry of Wexford, which for many decades was the largest manufacturer of agricultural machinery in Ireland. Items in this auction include a PSPR Pierce of Wexford plow (Lot 433: estimate €400-600). Other farming machinery ranges from a ‘Cultivator’ by Victor Junior of Pierce of Wexford (Lot 530: estimated €400-600).

Smith wasn’t limited to farm machinery and his collection includes the petrol pumps that were once a prominent part of rural Ireland’s cityscape. Some still have their original plastic lids bearing Texaco’s distinctive brand identities (Lot 197); Lobitos (Lot 190); and shell (lot 191). Each of them is estimated to sell between €200 and €400.

In other cases, the original pump has been lost, but the plastic attachments are available separately (approx. €80-120 each). The sale also includes many branded petrol and oil cans. While arranging the items for display, Mullen noticed one of Smith’s sons removing an oil can from the display. Mullen pointed out that the item had already been cataloged. The son shrugged. “I need an oil can. The one I have is already on top. If I buy a new one, it only lasts a few months. This one is already 75 years old. It will take forever.”

See Aidan Foley Auctioneer on, and

In the sales rooms

Heritage Auctions
Smile – you are an NFT! It’s been nearly a year since someone paid $237,500 for a non-fungible tokenized version of the smiley and frown emoticons first typed by computer science professor Scott Fahlman in 1982. The sale was conducted by Heritage Auctions of Dallas, Texas. This summer, the same auction house celebrated World Emoji Day with an NFT auction on July 5th. The auction consisted of a single lot – a set of 42 3D smileys conceived by Nicolas Loufrani, CEO of The Smiley Company, in the late 1990s. 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 embodied the spirit of the internet.” The smiley face set sold for $15,625 (€15,559). See


French Louis XV bomb-shaped commode

The fall auction season kicks off September 4th with Adam’s At Home Sale beginning at 11am. The auction is a mix of jewellery, housewares, furniture and paintings. The cover is an atmospheric woodland scene by Leonard Carr Cox (1879-1950) showing a man and boy filling a barrel cart with pails of water from a stream (Lot 239: estimate €3,000-5,000). Among the furniture on offer is a French Louis XV ‘bombshell’ commode – the name refers to its bulbous shape – in tulip and kingwood with a dark mottled marble top and fancy ormolu handles (Lot 243: estimate €2,000-4,000 ). and a red lacquered chinoiserie arched front corner cabinet (170 cm high) with two astragalus doors over cabinet doors gilded with Chinese landscapes (lot 391: estimate €800-1,200). See

Hibernian antique fairs
The National Antiques, Art and Vintage Fair takes place on September 10th and 11th at Limerick Racecourse, Patrickswell. The fair runs from 11am to 6pm both days and admission for adults is €5. Expect more than 60 stalls of shops, art galleries and vintage dealers including Dublin’s John Weldon; antiques from Donegal; Antique furniture by Martin Maguire from Francis Street and Co. Mayo; Guess Irish Art Athlone; Moycullen Antiques by Co. Galway; and Greene’s antiques from Drogheda. For details please contact Treasures: The Plow and Other Vintage Auction Stars

Fry Electronics Team

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