Old Tin Toys Did Amazing Things

By Anne Gilbert  

Whenever an auction catalog containing old tin toys comes to my mailbox, I can hardly wait to check out what tricks they could perform. The James Julia November 20 catalog didn’t disappoint me. Those offered were late 19th to early 20th century. Among them was a Lehman Masuyama wind-up with a coolie pushing a rickshaw with an Oriental woman. When wound, the coolie’s feet shuffle, the umbrella twirls and the woman fans herself. Another has a warrior holding a club in each hand. When wound, he does summersaults.

These days with prices of sometimes $6,000, these are toys for adults.

Tin toys are made from sheet iron plated with a protective later of tin to keep them from rusting. In the 19th century with the development of powered machinery and the invention of chromolithography, it was possible to turn out thousands of toys inexpensively. Nuremberg Germany became the chief maker and exporter. However, that changed after World War I.

By the 1920s and 30s, with Germany recovering from defeat, the tin-plated toy market had shifted to other countries, as well as Japan and the United States. However, their products weren’t as well made as Germanys’ earlier toys. Just before World War II, Germany was once again making quality toys. After World War II, once again Germany began producing tin-plated toys. Up to the 1950s they were marked “Made in the US Zone.” Those made in post-war Japan were marked “Occupied Japan.” These toys are considered serious collectibles since they were made with those marks for such a brief time.

CLUES: Japanese toys made in the post-war 1950s, marked “Made in Japan” keep going up in price. What makes them so special are the innovations that included robot toys with flashing lights, loud noises and battery-operated or clock-work cartoon characters.

There are several categories that are collected, including transportation, which would include horse and carriage, buses, locomotives, cabs and early airplanes. There are also hot air balloons and nautical toys. Other categories are jack-in-the-box, farm animals, circus clowns, dolls and robots.

Reproductions can be a problem with the early German toys. If the paint is too bright, the piece is either a repro or has been touched up. Moveable toys should move, and if key wind, have the key. Some ‘50s toys have been re-issued. Among the makers are Paya of Spain, and Schuco toys made under the German firm trademarked GAMA.

Beware of “married” toys. This means new parts have been added that didn’t originally belong. Original boxes with toys usually double their value.

 

Lehmann Masuyama wind-up tin toy. (Photos, James Julia Auctions, Fairfield, Me.)

 Lehmann Tut-Tut wind-up tin toy with original box.

 

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