Antique Tractors: The Rules of the Road

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Antique Tractors: The Rules of the Road

Representing the keystone of modern farming practices in which a small percentage of large farms are able to provide enough food for a nation of people, the use of both new and antique tractors on farms is common today. However, for many people, tractors are more than just tools. Instead these giants of agriculture represent a nostalgic reminder of the roots of human beings and the development of civilisation. They are powerful symbols that can be displayed outside of a business or collected and shown for pleasure.

However, people interested in buying, selling, collecting, or even simply learning about antique tractors find the 'rules of the road' are not always clear. As a market niche with ever-changing prices and fluid definitions, those interested in antique tractors need to be armed with information. This includes an understanding of the history of the tool itself along with the definition of what makes an 'antique'. It is also prudent to understand the complex way in which antique tractors are valued, which can be impacted by a number of factors. Those interested in purchasing antique tractors may also want to consider important tips, such as how to do so through eBay.

History of Tractors

Tractors as they are known today are a relatively new phenomenon, even though humankind's agricultural roots can be traced back thousands of years. Until the early 19th century, the common way in which farmers moved the soil and hauled big loads was through animal power, primarily horses, oxen, donkeys, and mules. The first tractors came on the scene in the early and middle part of the 1800s. They were powered by steam and typically used for ploughing. The first petrol-powered tractor engine was developed in Clayton County, Iowa, by a man named John Froelich.

However, throughout the first decade of the 20th century, the use of tractors on farms was still not commonplace. This had as much to do with the cost of producing the machines as the imprecise engineering that surrounded early petrol power. It was not until American automotive manufacturer Henry Ford began to mass produce his Fordson tractors in 1917 that the use of these iconic tools became the norm on farms all over the world. Today, the image of a farm and a tractor are synonymous, which just goes to show what a huge impact these machines have made on the agricultural profession in a relatively short time.

What Makes an Antique Tractor

The tractor itself has only been a regular part of farming for just over a century. However, the development of both agricultural technology as well as engineering has rapidly redefined the type of tractors that can be found on modern day farms as opposed to those of the early and middle 20th century. For that reason, it is important to know what is considered an 'antique' tractor as opposed to a used tractor. The best way to do this is to split tractors into two categories: those produced before the1960s and those produced after the 1960s.

Tractors Produced Through the 1960s

Though a lot of developments were made between the advent of the tractor in the early 1800s and the modernisation of the tractor throughout the early 20th century industrial period, most tractor collectors consider any model that was produced before the 1960s to be an antique. Unlike many collectors' guilds, such as automobiles, tractors are not officially designated by terms such as 'vintage', 'classic', and 'antique'. Therefore, it is up to individual buyers, sellers, and owners to classify the tractors. Using the 1960s cut-off is often accepted since most models produced in the 1960s came from specifications developed in the 1950s, before the 'Space Race' redefined modern engineering and electronics.

Tractors Produced After the 1960s

Any tractors that were produced after the 1960s are no longer considered 'antique', though some people may choose to call older models 'classic'. These modern tractors began to use technology unavailable to early 20th century farmers. They took advantage of cutting-edge electronics and engineering knowledge as well as new materials, such as modern metals and plastics, which changed the tractors' physical looks.

However, using the same logic outlined above regarding manufacturing era does present a few problems. This is because certain tractor models produced in the 1960s, such as the John Deere New Generation tractor, employed ahead-of-the-curve technology. Ultimately, the designation of a tractor as 'antique' is a personal one, but still a point that buyers should carefully consider when evaluating prices.

Understanding Antique Tractor Value

The undefined nature of the term 'antique' tractor can lead to a rough go at trying to define its value. There are several factors that contribute to the overall price that an antique tractor can expect to command and very little guidance on establishing the price. As an example, consider the value placed on used, vintage, classic, and antique automobiles through the Kelley Blue Book. No such system exists for tractors. Instead, there are basic features of both the antique tractor itself as well as the sales situation which dictates the value of an individual unit.

Historical Sales Data

Similar to real estate, it is common to determine the value of antique tractors based on similar models sold in similar conditions. In a case when there is no real parody available, then the next step is to widen the search. The rarer a particular antique tractor is, the harder it is to compare it. However, this also lends itself to a higher price due to scarcity. Basically, older, less available, tractors are worth more.


Another important factor that determines the value of an antique tractor is its condition. There are several reasons that an individual may purchase an antique tractor which range from small acreage work to restoration and display. Therefore, whether or not the tractor actually runs and can do the job it was designed for helps to set its value. Consumers who want working tractors pay more for them, but the reverse is also true.


This is another case where comparison to automobiles is helpful. Like buying and selling cars, larger tractors with larger engines and more scrap metal can command a higher value through the sum of their parts alone.


The antique tractor market is considered one which lacks liquidity. This means, that while there is little supply, there is equally little demand. As a result, the value of a tractor changes according to where it is and who wants it. The resources of those involved with the tractor can dictate value as can post and freight costs.

The Buyer and the Seller

The final factor that determines the value of an antique tractor is one which is common to all antique purchases. The enthusiasm and emotional connection that an individual has with an antique piece is the biggest determiner of its value. Someone who cherishes an antique tractor requires a higher purchase price over someone who inherited it from a relative. Likewise, buyers looking for ideal or specific, rare models are willing to pay a higher price for them.

Buying Antique Tractors on eBay

Once you understand the history, fluidity, and complex valuation process of antique tractors, the thought of buying one may be the logical next step. However, how to go about doing so is as confusing as the concept of antique tractors themselves. Many people may consider the prospect of looking through advertisements or antique dealers, both of which are viable ways to find antique tractors for sale. However, in the modern, wired marketplace, eBay is a great alternative for purchasing antique tractors, as it makes the searching and buying process easy.

Searching eBay for Antique Tractors

Unlike many items on eBay, searching for antique tractors is less an act of knowing details and more an act of being on the site at the right time. Unlike modern tractors or other items, antique tractors are not in constant supply and there is no guarantee that a specific model or year will be available at the exact moment you want it.

Instead, it is advisable to use eBay as a tool for finding a tractor over time. Searching for general terms such as "antique tractor" or "antique John Deere tractor" is the best bet. The perfect vehicle may be available straight away, but the beauty of eBay as a 24/7 online marketplace means that even if it is not, buyers can continue to use the site to search.


Since the early 19th century when steam-powered farm machinery first entered into agriculture, tractors have been a cornerstone of farm life. However, learning the rules of the road when it comes to the history, definition, and value of antique tractors is not simple. As powerful tools with the ability to evoke strong images of the evolution of humankind and the importance of agricultural roots, the importance of antique tractors is anything but hard to understand. Whether someone is a buyer, a seller, a collector, or merely an enthusiast, understanding the rich history and potential value of antique tractors is important and fulfilling.

In addition, understanding how to buy antique tractors on eBay is a great way to take that understanding and enthusiasm to a new level through the use of a thoroughly modern tool. The powerful history and important role that tractors have played in the lives of humankind is undeniable, which is why the rules of the road, though fuzzy, are important to try to follow.

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