Tin has been a favorite metal of toy makers since at least the middle of the 19th century. Tin is lightweight, easy to work with, and inexpensive, yet it’s sturdy enough to withstand the punishment meted out by children playing with wind-up animals, friction sports cars, and science-fiction-inspired toy ray guns.

German toy makers such as Hilpert had been known for their tin toys since the end of the 18th century. By the mid-1800s, companies such as Märklin and Bing of Nuremberg were also in the tin-toy game. Advances in photolithography techniques, including the ability to print directly onto the tinplate before it was folded and shaped into its final form, should have been a boon to these already prosperous companies, but by the end of the century, many German toy makers still decorated their products the old-fashioned way, thanks to the large numbers of skilled workers who were adept at hand enameling and spray painting with stencils.

In addition to Märklin and Bing, other pre-World War I German toy makers of note included Karl Bub and Georges Carette, as well as Ludwig Lutz, whose transport toys were often sold under the Märklin and Bing names. Between the wars, Schuco produced a menagerie of wind-up animals, which are among the most collected tin toys today, while Fleischmann launched armadas of tinplate floating ships, some of which were powered by steam engines produced by Doll & Cie, which Fleischmann acquired in the late 1930s.

The tin-toy industries of England and France largely evolved in the 1920s, although the U.K. firm of Lines Brothers was making toys in the 1850s (long before its Tri-ang brand of cars were released in the 1920s) and William Britain of toy soldier fame made clockwork tin toys in the 1880s. But perhaps the most influential British tin-toy maker was model-train impresario Frank Hornby, who made clockwork tin trains as well as tin toys, the latter sold under the name Meccano.

Across the English Channel, one of the deans of French toy makers was Fernand Martin, whose painted tin mechanical toy figures were often costumed in real cloth to give them dimension. Transport toys were a particular favorite of the French. Automaker Citroen produced accurate tin promo cars for its dealers, prompting JEP (also known as Jouets de Paris) to compete with the industrial giant. Charles Rossignol, founded in 1868, was also big on tin buses, race cars, and delivery trucks.

In the United States, one of the earliest makers was George W. Brown of Connecticut, who partnered in 1856 with Chauncery Goodrich so that he could use the clockmaker’s locally made mechanisms in his wind-up toys. Edward R. Ives also got its start in Connecticut, sourcing his clockworks from the New Haven Clock Company. Brooklyn-born Louis Marx arrived on the toy scene later, but became the biggest of them all—by 1950, the company that bore his name was the largest toy manufacturer in the world. Among Marx’s most successful products are the wind-up Disney characters, while his Merry Makers mouse band featured a quartet of tuxedoed rodents, none of them resembling Mickey.

While toy makers in the West had every right to be proud of their products, their work would be overshadowed somewhat in the 20th century by makers in Japan. Manufacturers had be...

Before World War II, Japanese companies such as Masudaya, Tomiyama, Saito, Kuramochi, and A.K. Toy were making tin streetcars, locomotives, and even the tracks they ran on. Tin toys in which balls were kicked or sent to the tops of towers so they could roll down again were all the rage. Water-landing aircraft were also popular in the 1920s and ’30s, as were trios of airplanes and biplanes that spun in circles from the tops of clockwork-powered merry-go-rounds.

But things got really interesting after the war, when Japanese toy makers produced armies of tin toy robots, fleets of tin spaceships, and stockpiles of futuristic tin weaponry, which produced everything from eerie ray-gun sounds to sparks. Toy cars were also a hallmark of the Japanese tin-toy industry, some of the most beautiful of which were built by Yonezawa, Marusan, Bandai, K.S. Toy, Ichiko, and Mitsuhashi.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Antique-Tintoys

Antique-Tintoys

Juergen Sinkels stunning collection of German tin-plate toys circa 1900 to 1930. Features high resolution, almost-l… [read review or visit site]

Museum of Childhood

Museum of Childhood

Embrace your inner child on this website from the Victoria and Albert Museum, filled with high-quality images and i… [read review or visit site]

The Wheelmen

The Wheelmen

This elegant tribute to turn-of-the-century bicycling includes memorabilia, photographs, and an index of 3140 bicyc… [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

1950s Nomura Mechanized Robby The Robot Tin Battery Operated Tn Japan Toy W/box1920s Karl Bub German Limousine Sedan Tin Windup Toy W/batt Op Lights Germany1930s Tipp German Limousine Sedan Tin Windup Toy W/batt Op Lights Tippco GermanyVintage 1950s Japan Tin B.o. Northwest Orient Douglas Dc-7c Yonezawa Airplane1920's Vintage 722 Antique Lehmann Duo Wind Up Tin Toy Rabbit Rooster Egg Cart1960 Cadillac Fleetwood 18” 4-door Hardtop Japanese Tin Car By Yonezawa NrTin Friction 1958 Oldsmobile Hardtop Car Olds Hard To Find Sankei Okuma JapanI.y.metal Toys Indian Tin Motorcycle 1950's Japan...rare Bike1960 Cadillac 11.5” Japanese Tin Car By Iy-marusan Nr 1961cadillac 17” 4 Door Sedan Japanese Tin Car By Bandai Nr Tin Friction 56 Fairlane 500 Convertible Car Sunliner Opening Trunk Bandai JapanVintage Tin Litho Wind-up Jazzbo Jim-black Song & Dance Man By Linemar Of Japan Scarce Antique 19th Century Painted Tin Clockwork Toy Ives Star Floor TrainVintage Tin Cadillac Eldorado, Brougham Toy Car With Original PackagingRare Vintage Original 1960 Tin Sparky Robot Windup Yoshiya Space Toy Japan Works1961 Cadillac 14” Sedan De Ville Japanese Tin Car By Yonezawa Nr 1954 Chevrolet Belair 11” Japanese Tin Car By Linemar NrLitho Pressed Steel Tin Wyandotte #505 American Airlines Airport Station 101 2051962 Oldsmobile Starfire Japanese Tin Car With Original Box By Ichiko NrRobot Tin Astronaut Robot ( Red Version ) Rare B/op, Nomura Japan.boxedTippco Tin Wind Up Tin Toy ,silver Racer Side Car Motorcycle #5 Germany 1950'sLinemar Tin Friction Indy 500 Watson Roadster Race Car 8" NmibPre War Germany Tin Litho Wind Up Clown Walking Dog Works Well, Good Color Vintage Antique Tin Wind Up Zulu Ostrich Mail CartScarce Bellhop On Tin Motorcycle, Japan 1950's Ex.1950s Tin Wind-up 8" Dancing Howdy Doody W Buffalo Bob Smith At The Piano1920s Vintage Rare Marx Tin Wind Up C Cab Mack Truck 3 Race Car Trailer CompleteVintage Rosko Nomura Tin Toy Astronaut Robot Untested As IsVintage Wind-up Tin-litho Cowboy On Horse With Lasso-made In Germany-look!1972 Bat Mobile Tin Battery Operated National Tin Toy Vintage Japan BatmanBatmobile Batman Asc Japan Tin Toy Car Battery Operated Rare Vintage !!!Vintage Louis Marx Buck Rogers Tin Wind Up Space Rocket Ship Tin ToyVintage Large Japaneze Tin Bandai Cadillac Remote Battery Powered W/ Belt PackVintage/antique Marx Tin Wind Up Buck Rogers Spaceship Rocket1922 Fontaine Fox Original Tin Wind-up Toonerville Trolley H7031920's Vintage Rare Marx Big Tin Wind Up Mack U. S. Air Mail Truck 3 Day AuctionVintage Japanese Yonezawa Toy Chevrolet Corvette Orange Tin Fricton CarVintage Greenline Motor Bus Tin Plate Clockwork Bus Toy C1950s1956 Red Ford Sunliner Convertible Bandai Japan Tin ToyTomy "combat G.i." Battery Op. Vtg Tin/plastic Japan,nomura,alps,yonezawa,bandai30s Marx Freight/train Staion Hand Truck Dolly W/trunk & Luggage Tin OriginalRobot Tin Space Patrol A-1 Car Rare B/op, Asakusa Japan.1960sWorking 1950s Battery Operated Burger Chef Tin Litho Toy Japan Piggy Cook BbqSuperb Black Americana Present From The Seaside Image Toy Tin Pail C1920sGely Tin Windup Figure Skater, 1940's Germany, Very RareOriginal 1960s B/o Tin Japan Space Robby Planet Robot Exc In Box Works!Yonezawa Twa Tin Friction Airplane, N6203c, Wing TanksRare Original 1956 Nomura Radar Robot Zoomer Red Face Tin Space Battery JapanRare Osaka Tin Toys Japan Battery Op 13" Mechanized Robby The Robot Tin ~ WorksIchida Ford Gyron Concept Car Battery Op. Vtg Tin Japan,yonezawa,masudaya,nomuraIves Tin Coal Tender Red And Black Great Paint O GaugeAmerican Flyer Tin Litho Train Cars Canadian Pacific, Northwestern, B & O Unusual Vintage French Wind Up Tin Toy Car1950s Marx Walt Disney Bobble Head Donald Duck Tin Litho Wind-up Toy Dipsy CarIves Tin Baggage Car Express Service Red And Black Vintage O GaugeJml Tin Motorcycle, Made In France 1950'sRare 50's German Schuco Elektro Hydro Car 5720 Mercedes 220s Tin Toy Car ModelRare Pre-war Kk Japan Tinplate Pacific Airplane C. 1930 Japanese Tin Plane Car !Paya Tin Friction Packard Coupe Show Car 13.5" Mint ConditionScarce Antique 19th Century Painted Tin Toy Fallows Floor Train Car Pat 1883