Tin Toys have delighted people of all ages since the early 1830s, whey they were first produced by toymakers in New England. In keeping with the folk-art style of early wooden toys, the American tin toys were handpainted with bright colors in simple, whimsical designs.
As the century progressed, tin toys became more complex, often featuring clock-work mechanisms that made horses trot, carriage wheels roll and bells ring. The development of lithography in the late nineteenth century meant that tin toys could be printed rather than handpainted, and their numbers multiplied.
By the late 1800s, German toymakers dominated the market with intricate toys whose ingenious antics echoed the cultural and transportation achievements of the era.
During the 1940s and 1950s, Japan emerged as a leading manufacturer of cars, robots and space ships.
By the 1970s, tin had given way to plastic and die-cast metal toys. And today only a small number of tin toys are still made.
Old tin toys can cost anywhere from one hundred dollars to several thousand dollars. Condition, rarity, manufacturer and popularity all play a part in determining price and are more important factors, in fact, than age.
Early toys by such makers as Chein, Marx, Tipp, Lehmann, Marklin, and Gunthermann are highly prized. A toy still in its original box is a true treasure. Also sought after are cartoon characters from the 1920s and ’30s; a Tipp made Mickey and Minnie on a motorcycle, complete with a box, sold for a record $88,000 at a Christie’s auction back in 1997.
Good quality tin toys made before World War II are hard to find, though they can certainly be unearthed in attics, estate sales and flea markets. Many old tin toys, with their clockwork mechanisms, thin tin walls and easily-scratched surfaces, took a beating from the original kids who owned them.
Given their fragility, sharp edges and possible lead solderings, tin toys are not suitable for very young children, but they still make memorable gifts for the older set.