Here’s a brief history of the most active tin toys companies, explaining how they were made in each country and how China has become the leader producer all over the world.


Germany: Tin toy collecting has continued to be an exciting tradition thoughout history. Beginning as early as the 1800’s, many tinplate toys came from German companies. Some of those notable companies included Bing (1863), Fleischman (1887), Lehmann (1881), Gunthermann (1880) and Marklin (1859). These companies developed and set the high standards for the German tinplate industry. Later, as the interest in tin toys continued, other German manufacturers such as Arnold (1906), Tipp & Company (1912), Schuco (1912) and Levy (1920) continued to carry on the tradition. With the growing interest in tinplate toys, Other European companies began to surface: Rossignol factory in France, and the British Chad Valley, a Company first established in 1823 trading under the name of “Chad”. The British companies continued to flourish after World War I when the British public shunned most all German products. Some of the other reputable British manufacturers were Lines Brothers Limited (1919-1983), later known as Triang, producing a wide range of tin and wooden toys. Louis Marx, an American Company with a British subsidiary (1932-1961) produced a huge variety of unusual novelty items, including some tinplate toys. The Mettoy (Metal Toys) Company Limited (1933) flourished as it supplied toy lorries and aircraft to Mark Spencer Stores. After WWII the Company diversified into the first small plastic toys, leading on to Corgi’s, which went into production in 1956. Brimtoy (1914 1932) merged with Wells in 1932 to become Wells-Brimtoy Limited. Known for producing a vast selection of high-quality tinplate items, some of which are very unusual and highly collectable today, such as their clockwork fish (1954), flying Superman (1957), dancing Fairy Queen (1954), Mickey Mouse drawing tutor (1955) and walking pig and jumping kangaroo (1945).

Japan: Japanese tin plate toys first appeared in the Meiji and Taisho era. Japan also had been a major producer of tin toys for as long as the Europeans, but it was not until the late 1940’s, 50’s and 60’s that production reached its height. Around 1874-1875, imported tin plate was mostly used for oilcans. However, increasing numbers of imported tin plate toys from Germany brought about Japan’s entry into the tin plate toy business. At that time, while Germany provided state of the art tin plate toys that included trains and boats, Japan crafted conventional tin plate toys such as rattles, Jinrikisha (rick shaw), and kamenoko. Initially, the tin toy business in Japan did not fair well until the Sino-Japanese war of 1894, when the business started picking up. With the introduction of printing machines for the tin plate, and the technology of clockwork from Germany, Japan’s tin plate industry accelerated. Eventually, Japan became the reputable tinplate tin toy producing center, leaving behind Germany in the aftermath of World War I. Japan’s extensive list of tin toy companies is enormous:

  • One of the many toy companies whose products have endured over time is the Marusan Co. LTD., with roots dating back to 1924. Another founded in 1923, Masudaya was a leading builder of mechanical and battery operated toys in the post war period, and unlike most of their competitors, has managed to survive to this day. Masudaya normally identifies their toys using the M-T, or Modern Toys logo.
  • Nomura, also known at TN, was one of the biggest and most prolific of all post-war Japanese toy makers.
  • Yoshiya (1950–1970) also known as Kobe Yoko Ltd. was a major Japanese toy maker from the post war period. Yoshiya known by their mark KO, specialised in mostly mechanical or wind-up toys featuring fanciful designs, but they are also known for their extensive line of Robby the Robot knockoff toys.
  • Bandai (1950) was and is still a powerhouse in Japanese toy making; Bandai thrives to this day as Japan’s largest and most successful toy maker. Masuo founded 1950’s, also identified as Masuya, was a small Japanese toy maker best known for their mechanical and friction toys marked with an SM or MS logo type.
  • NK (Sankei) 1950’s, SNK, also known as Sankei, was a small time Japanese toy maker. SNK is best known for their copy (in more than one variation) of Zoomer type robots, but they also manufactured toys of other varieties. Sanyo was a little known Japanese toy maker that thrived during the 1950’s and seemingly vanished thereafter. Primarily a builder of penny toys and other cheap playthings.
  • Yonezawa founded in 1950’s, was also known as Y, or Yone, Yonezawa was one of the biggest and certainly the most creative of all post war Japanese toy makers. Other Yonezawa toys are labelled under STS, possibly an importer. Yonezawa was a prodigious toy maker indeed, manufacturing thousands of different battery operated and mechanical toys in all categories from the early 1950’s through the early 1970’s.
  • Horikawa (1959) one of the most successful of all post war Japanese toy makers, yet was also one of the least respected by collectors. Horikawa specialized in robot/astronaut battery operated toys with great marketplace success. Naito Shoten toys are generally marked with the brands AN or AHI, and it is believed that they were a division of Nomura in the 1960’s. Noguchi founded 1960’s, was an obscure Japanese toy maker that is also thought to have been a division of Nomura. Noguchi was also known as N, and they were best known for their limited line of paddle walking wind up robots and astronauts.
  • Ohta (K) was a small, short lived Tokyo toy maker that created a small collection of playthings under their own brand, mainly during the late 1950’s and early 1960’s.

Japan continued to produce high quality tin toys until after the World War II. Producing a wide variety of tin cars, novelty toys, wind up toys, robots and celluloid animals. While the toys were mostly aimed for the American market, they where marked “Foreign” (rather than “Made in Japan”) to ease international attitudes. In reference, the Americans had a similar negative attitude toward Japanese products as the British had toward German goods. One of the influential factors that helped Japan began in 1947. While under the American occupation of Japan, the tin plate toy industry was granted a right to resume its operation and export. In 1948, friction toys, in the shapes of trains, fire engines, trucks and automobiles, emerged. Around 1955, electronic toys took them over. Eight years later, 60% of the exported toys in Japan were made out of tin plate. However, this trend remained only until the later half of 1960. The tin plate toys gradually disappeared, as plastic and super alloy toys emerged.

USA: The United States also has a long history of tin toy manufactures dating back to 1850, when there were at least fifty toy makers in the United States. The bulk of this group operated in and around Connecticut, but a notable exception was Francis, Field, and Framis of Philadelphia. Also known as the Philadelphia Tin Toy Manufactory, this organization is the first toy manufacturer of record in America, and was making toys as a business at least as early as 1838. Other notable American companies of the period 1850 -1885 included the George W. Brown Company of Connecticut, James Fallows and Company of Philadelphia, and Bergmann and Company of New York. They were followed by the Ives Corporation in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and the Leo Schlesinger Company of New York. Brooklyn’s Buckman Manufacturing Co. produced its first early version of a steam-powered tin toy around 1872. A pre and post WWII tin toy manufacture, Unique Art Mfg. Co. founded 1916, produced a wide range of entertaining mechanical tin toys and vehicles. The Strauss Company, founded in 1918 and located in East Rutherford, New Jersey, had a very interesting history in the tradition of tin toys. Ferdinand Strauss, from Alsace, France, was a toy importer in the early 1900’s. During the World War I embargo of German toys, Strauss began producing his own. Strauss also employed Louis Marx and continued to produce a variety of wind-up toys in the United States until 1942. The United States is where mass produced tin toys began, opening the floodgates for an industry, which thrived well into late 1950’s. Reputable American companies such as Marx Toys 1940s, J. Chein and Co. founded in 1903, Wolverine U.S.A. and the Ohio Art Company carried on the tradition and produced many of the highly sought after tin toys found on the market today. It is iinteresting that wind-up tin toys have a history of being inexpensive during certain periods of time. This was a fact for American toys made during the Great Depression of the 1930’s, a desperate time for many American people. Tin toys were a very inexpensive toy, which in return made them a popular gift of that period.

Spain: In addition to the American, German, European and Japanese toy makers Spain also had produced tin toys manufactured by the Paya Company. Founded 1902, Rafael Paya, the local tinsmith, made his first toy. Four years later Rafael’s sons Pascual, Emilio, and Vincente built the first toy factory in Spain. By the 1920’s Paya’s toys were considered the equal of then great and famous toy makers to the north. Not only was Paya quality the equal of Marklin of Germany, but Paya’s colors and imprints were graphically more interesting, precise, and bolder. The 1930’s, with Raimundo Paya at the helm, was the time of great expansion. This was when the famous Bugatti race car was made. After the war, in 1946, Paya once again started making toys. In 1985, Lino made the decision to remake all of the classic old litho tinplate toys on a very limited basis. The production of each was limited to 5,000 (or less) world-wide. Although with a long history in the tradition of tin toy making the Paya Company just recently shut down its operation.

India: The tradition of tin toy making also continues in India. Rattandeep Enterprises currently operates a plant were craftsmen, dedicated to the old custom of making tin products by hand, produce various styles of steam powered putt putt boats. Amazingly they have no electric or pneumatic powered presses or cutting machines. All of the lithograph work is done by hand as well; including assembly on hand operated arbour presses.

China: Since the Cultural Revolution period for China began in the 1970’s. China has assumed the role of the leading tin toy maker in the world. The history of Chinese toys (not folk toys) started as early as 1908. The first celluloid toy factory and tin toy factory started around 1910. After the demise of the Japanese tin toy industry in the 1960’s China has grabbed the market. Often in the past Chinese toys were noted for their cheap prices, which negatively reflected on their quality. Nowadays, with the continued demand for tin toys, China has elevated itself to a much higher quality standard, while retaining the edge of being very affordable. China produces a wide range of reproduction tin toys with new ones being continually introduced to the market each year. Some of the finest, most expensive and highly sought-after toys today are made from tin. The range is hugely diverse, covering pull-along, clockwork, wind up, battery-operated, friction cars, trains, planes, boats, animals – in fact the manufacturers have been enormously enterprising in the variety of toys they make. There has recently been a resurgence in tin toy popularity with the advent of the Internet and increased availability of both vintage and newly manufactured tin toys.

sources from http://www.tinmantintoys.coma

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