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”)



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]

Most watched eBay auctions    

Antique German Carette Wind Up Tin Toy Car - All 4 Orig Passengers & HeadlightsC1910 Antique German Tin-litho Wind-up Penny Toy, Billiards Pool Player NrVintage Sears Marx Farm Set # 3951 Tin Litho Barn & Silos Etc. Original BoxAntique C1910 German Tin-litho Penny Toy Billy Goat Pull Toy NrHorikawa Apollo 2000 Robot 1969 Tin Japanese Vintage Rare Wow!!!1930’s Marx Wind Up Tin Litho Toy Car Blondie’s Jalopy Dagwood 17" Key Wind 60s Unique Taiyo Giant 15" Tin Bat/op Blink-a-gear Space Robot Japan Working 1939 Tin Litho Pinocchio Wind Up Toy W/moving Eyes-original Box-marxVintage Hot Wheels Diecast Car Redline Lot L .maserati Mistral Gold W Tin TagVintage Battery Operated Karmann Ghia Volkswagen Tin Toy Japan - Working!Old Tin Marx Bear Cat Racer *vintage Wind-up Race CarOld Tin German Lehmann Gnom Service Station/garage *vintage Germany ToyPiston Action Robot, A.k.a, "pug Robby", Nomura 1957 Japan, Vintage Tin RobotTin Friction 55 Plymouth Station Wagon Car Original Box Suitcases Ahi Japan1939 Marx Pinocchio Wind-up Walt Disney Vintage Toy-8.5" Tin Litho FigureRare Antique Lehmann Drgm Pre-war German Tin-litho Wind-up Seal Toy NrAntique Vintage Wind Up Tin Toy Boat Bing Carette Ives Fleschmann,rosenbauerOld Tin Marx Blue Bird Service Station/garage *vintage Tin ToyBing Werke Lithograph Tin Toy Model T Touring Car W/driverToy Stamp & 1950s Marx Toy Town Van Truck Tin Litho / Plastic Near Mint In BoxVintage Sunbeam Silver Bullet Windup Tin Toy Racer Race Car Rsa Flecha De Plata1960 Buick Invicta 17.5” 4-door Hardtop Japanese Tin Car By Ichiko NrOld Tin Marx 1920's-30's Army Truck *vintage Military ToyOld Tin German Felix The Cat *vintage Wind-up Germany Toy *dated 1922 1924Vintage Unique Arts Mfg Lil Abner Dogpatch Band Mechanical Wind Up Tin Litho ToyGama German Tin Friction 1954 Cadillac Series 62 Sedan 12" Excellent With Box1950's Tin Battery Op Climbing Fireman W Ladder Platform Remote Works! Skk JapanVintage Marx Mr Mercury Tin Robot Battery Operated Space Toy 1950s Remote Works!Tin Litho Volkswagen Bus W/ Coca Cola Decoration Good Shape Made In JapanVintage Marx 1930's Butter & Egg Man Tin Litho Wind Up Toy Salesman CountryEarly Bandai Japan Tin Litho Friction Ford Ranchero Car Nice V Rare 50s Original1930’s Marx Litho Tin Wind-up “joy Rider” Crazy Car - Nice1961 Plymouth Belvedere 2 Door Hardtop Japanese Tin Car By Ichiko NrAntique Gebruder Bing Gbn Train Town Street Lamp Light & Tin Litho MailboxVintage 1950's Original Strenco Robot St1 Tin Wind Up Toy W/ Box GermanyVery Rare Super Kun Astro Boy Super Hero 1950s Space Robot Tin Toy Made In JapanExcellent '50's Japanese Tin Friction 9" 1958 Edsel Pacer Hardtop White/blueMettoy Large Mechanical Racing Car Vintage Clockwork Tin Toy Racer 1950Antique Gebruder Bing Gbn Tin Litho Hand-crank Wood Cutters Lumberjacks Wind ToyVintage 1950s Nomura Radar Robot Tin Toy Battery Operated Remote Space Works!Rare Marklin German Old Tin Pre War Hand Painted Toy Train Station Accessory!!Large Iy Metals, Yonezawa? Sanyo? Tin Friction Motorcycle Condor1930's England Tippco Mettoy Tin Wind Up Limousine Car, Works, No Reserve1954 Space Control Tin Ray Gun Japan NomuraRare 1920's Strauss Rollo Chair Atlantic City Wind Up Tin Toy Germany AmericanaVintage Marx Dagwood The Driver Wind Up Tin Toy Carzy Car Litho Works!2 Vintage J. Chein Roller Coaster Cars, Tin Toys, Toy Cars, Very Hard To Find!1939 Ohio Art Donald Duck Sandbox Tin Sand Pail Walt Disney Prod Very Nice!!!!Antique German Tin Litho Windup CarouselVintage Tin Litho Train Building Bing Station Prewar (?) Germany Nice Graphics1920-40’s Litho Tin Mechanical Horse Drawn Circus Carousel CartVintage Marx Toytown Dairy Tin Litho Wind Up Toy Milk Wagon & Horse W/ Rare Box!Ichiko / Asahi Japan Cadillac Police Polizei & Box Vintage Tin Toy Car 1961 Vintage Hot Wheels Diecast Car Redline Lot B ..heavy Chevy Burgandy W Tin Tag Vintage Saalheimer Strauss Pre War Motorcycle Armored Car Tin Wind Up Toy SideOld Tin Marx Oil Pump For Platform Station *vintage ToyRarest Marx Japan Tin Battery Operated B-58 Hustler Jet Plane Rockets Boxed MintLarge Vintage Japan Tin Bandai Kingsize Volkswagen Sedan W/boxVintage Lehmann Rooster Pulling Rabbit Duo Wind Up Tin Toy 722 Egg Cart GermanTipp & Co Tippco Klm Constellation Propellor Tin Friction Toy Airplane/airliner