The earliest antique toy motorcycles sprang out of the same German tin toy factories making model cars in the early 1900s. Like their toy automobile counterparts, toy motorcycles made by companies such as Lehmann, Bing, and Günthermann were either push toys or wind-up clockwork pieces. Each company tended to offer at least two or three motorcycle options.
One of the first problems toy motorcycle manufacturers had to tackle, particularly when it came to wind-up toys, was how to keep the motorcycle from falling on its side. American manufacturer Louis Marx introduced its wind-up Motor Cycle Cop, in 1933, boasting its "entirely new and different motor action in a modern looking motorcycle!" The toy's large side key was designed so that the motorcycle would automatically right itself when it tipped in either direction.
Up until the late 1930s, Lehmann in Germany made a group of four tinplate wind-up motorcycles that maintained stability, using a gyroscopes hidden inside their casings. Companies such as Saalheimer & Strauss, Tippco, Arnold, and Mettoy also made early toy motorcycles.
When it came to making toy motorcycles in the post-Depression era, an American company named Hubley flourished. Known for its cars with working parts and doors that opened, Hubley's attention to detail won it the rights to produce miniature versions of Harley and Indian motorcycles. These were very accurate replicas of solo motorbikes with side cars or tricycle-style bikes, with the real-life logos on their gas tanks. They were all fitted with riders—some were detachable, others were built into the toy—depicting cops, postal workers, and civilians.
After the war, German wind-up toy manufacturers and other toy makers began to reintroduce their prewar toy motorbikes, but this time with additional features like telescopic forks. Tippco's updates included a motorcycle featuring a passenger who moved from side to side when the bike took a corner. Neidermier's best innovation was a rider that could do headstands on the handlebars. Schuco's Curvo 1000 featured multiple steering patterns—in the 1960s, it was updated with a modern helmet for the rider.
One of the most popular toy motorcycles of the 1950s was the Mac 700, which was Arnold's new spin on it's 8-inch flat-twin Zündapp. Following the war, Arnold was under American control, and their toys were stamped with "Made in US Zone Germany." The 1950s version of the motorbike featured a civilian rider, sans helmet, with an expression that suggests he's bracing himself against the wind. When the rider is dismounted, the bike stops, and when he is remounted, it starts.
Antique and vintage toy motorcycles are hard to come by and therefore constitute a more specialized field of collecting. To help date a toy, it's best if you familiarize yourself with the history of innovations in full-size motorcycle technology and style.