Long before children played with pink plastic Barbie accessories and Disney themed kids' meal trinkets, they played with tin toys. During the 1930s, both American and British manufacturers churned out thousands of tin cars, trains, circus toys and doll furniture. Children from the era saw tin toys with bright colours and movable parts as a step up from simple wooden playthings. It was not until after World War II that the first small plastic toys became available.
American Tin Toys
American toy manufacturers began making simple tin toys as early as 1850. Mechanical tin toys and vehicles were popular items produced by the Unique Art Company prior to World War I. Mass production of tin toys did not begin until the late 1950s. American toy companies, such as the Ohio Art Company and Wolverine U.S.A., made some of the most sought after toys for children of the time; many are still actively pursued by collectors today. Tin toys were not expensive, thus making them available to the masses. During the 1930s, the Spanish Paya Company experienced massive expansions and introduced a series of Bugatti race cars. The company suffered during the war years, producing only small lines of toys, but remained in business until the beginning of the 21st century.
Tin toy popularity experienced a boom after the Internet became readily available around the world. While fans of the antique toys were able to connect with each other and find items to purchase, it also offered a venue for reproductions to be passed off as authentic. Tin toys produced in the modern era typically pay homage to the past by recreating period specific toys, which were once very popular with youngsters.
Tin Toy Production
Prior to World War II, Germany was the leading manufacturer of tin or lithograph toys. Both the lack of availability of the toys during the war years and the unwillingness to purchase items with a German name opened the door for other countries to take the lead in toy production. Japan "flooded the market" with inexpensive toys and novelties, some of which were considered very advanced for the mid 1900s. Battery powered tin toys caught the eye of children who had only played with friction driven and wind up tin toy models. New toy safety regulations in America and the emergence of plastic toys eventually caused toy companies to reduce or phase out production of tin playthings.
Collecting tin toys has become both a passion and a lucrative business venture for "pickers" and auction hunters across the globe. When searching for authentic and antique tin toys, you should look for the company stamp somewhere on the item. German manufacturers' stamps dating back to at least 1930 include Fleishman, Gunthermann, Marklin, Lehmann and Tipp & Company. European factories that produced tin toys include Rossignol, Brothers Limited, Triang and Chad Valley. American companies include Louis Marx, Philadelphia Tin Toy Manufactory, George W. Brown Company and Unique Art Company. Some of the most collectable tin toys were made during the mid-1950s and not the 1930s. The reason for the later toys registering the highest value is likely because they can still be found in reasonably good condition. If you are hunting for tin toys to add to a collection, be on the lookout for the clockwork fish, flying superman, jumping kangaroo, Mickey Mouse, the fairy queen and a walking pig.
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