Crafts & Hobbies Information

The Nuts and Bolts of Vintage Tin Toys


Before Game Boy and Play Station, there were tin toys. During their heyday, these whimsical toys amused children for hours. Today, these toys have great nostalgic appeal. Here's your guide to tin toys.

The Players.

In England, Wells, Hornby and Chad Valley were dominant players in the tin toy market. During the post-1930 period, these companies were at their peak and any of their work from this period is very desirable. In Germany, Märklin and Bing were the big guns. In France, it was Fernand Martin. Toys by any of these makers are desirable.

How It Started.

Before there were tin toys, children played with wood and paper toys. Tinplating was developed during the Industrial Revolution. Its discovery made the tinplated toy industry possible. Tinplate was fashioned into boats, submarines, cars, planes, horse drawn carriages and more.

Germany dominated the pre-WWI export market. The outbreak of WWI forced the rest of Europe, Japan and the US into the market due to wartime shortages and to counteract the German dominance.

After WWI, Germany refocused their economy and regained market dominance in tin toys.

But once again, war affected commerce when WWII resulted in shortages in raw materials and a battle-focused economy.

Post WWII, when Germany and Japan received financial aid to revitalize their economies, the tin toy industry in these countries was revived.

Just as tin toys were once the hot new toy replacing wood and paper toys, tin toys were usurped by plastic toys by the 1970s. These new plastic toys captured the imaginations of children since they were cheaper to produce, didn't rust and were sturdy.

How They're Made.

Tin toys were made from sheet iron that was plated with a protective layer of tin to prevent rusting. Before the Industrial Revolution, tin toys were stamped out, molded and hand painted. The Industrial Revolution led to mass production.

Around 1875, lithography - a transfer printing process whereby a series of dots make up colors - was invented. This eliminated the time-consuming hand painting and increased production.

Part of the charm of tin toys is that you wind them up and away they go. The clockwork mechanism (the mechanical part of a watch that makes it tick) is responsible for this action. In 1945, clockwork mechanisms were replaced by battery-operated mechanisms.

Condition.

If a tin toy looks brand new, works perfectly and is in a pristine box, it is considered to be in mint condition. Very good condition refers to a toy without spots or dents. Some fading is acceptable. Good condition means reasonable condition. Play-worn implies just that - a used toy which may have chips in the paint and missing parts. Keep any original boxes regardless of the shape because they help to authenticate the manufacturer and date.

Paint Repairs.

The lithography process makes paint repairs almost impossible to do. And a poor restoration job will lessen the value of a toy.

How to Date Tin Toys - Part I.

A little knowledge of lithography can help to figure out the age of tin toys. In older lithography - (1875 - 1960) each color was printed on a separate plate. Under a magnified glass, you'll see dots appearing in an irregular pattern. Newer lithography - (1960 to present) only four colors - black, red, yellow and blue are combined to make up all the colors in the rainbow. Under a magnified glass, dots will appear in a regular pattern.

How To Date Tin Toys - Part II.

From the end of WWII until 1950s, German toys were labeled "Made in US Zone" and items made in Japan were marked "Occupied Japan". After 1950s, Japan used "Made in Japan" and Germany used "Made in West Germany". Keep these two tips in mind when you're trying to figure out how old a tin toy is.

Hot Toys.

Japanese robots and exotic limousines from the 1950 - 1960s are desirable to serious collectors. Plus, any Batman and Disney tin toys continue to be popular.

Spotting Fakes.

Spotting fakes with tin toys is tricky. The marks on many new toys are the exact same as the marks used on old items because some manufacturers such as Paya, a Spanish company, continue to use the original moulds and dies. One thing for you to watch for is that newer models tend to be marked with "Limited Edition".

Martin Swinton owns Take-A-Boo Emporium located in Toronto, Canada. He has appeared on a variety of television programs; does furniture restoration; caning and rushing repairs; appraisals and has taught courses on antiques at the Learning Annex. Martin can be reached at http://www.takeaboo.com


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