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]

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    

Antique 1930s Unique Art Mfg Co Kiddy Cyclist Tin-litho Wind-up Bell Toy, Works!Vtg 1960 Cragstan's Mr. Robot Space Japan Battery Operated Tin Toy In Box Nr CcmAntique 1930s Unique Art Mfg Rodeo Joe Western Windup Tin Toy Crazy Car, NrAntique 1945 Lil Abner Dogpatch-4 Wind-up Tin Toy Piano Band & Box, Unique ArtEarly Antique German Germany Wind Up Clown In Wheel Tin Toy 4 1/2" Rare Original 1960s Tin Japan Target Robot Exc Orig Gun & Repro Box!1930's Marx Blondie's Jalopy Tin Litho Wind Up Toy Car Fwd/reverse 16 1/4" Large1920's Large 11" Pre-war Japan Tin Windup Clockwork Limousine Toy Town Car1957 Lincoln Premier 17” Japanese Tin Car With Original Box By Ichiko Nr 30's Unique Art Sky Rangers Sr-8 Tin Lithographed Wind Up Plane-blimp Toy Tower1966 Dodge Charger 15.5" (39.4 Cm) Japanese Tin Car With Original Box By Tn Nr Vintage Tin Wind Up Donald Duck Linemar Toys Drummer Disney - As Is1930s Unique Art Sky Rangers Sr-8 Tin Litho Wind Up Flying Airplane Toy Complete1960’s Toyopet Crown 1900 Deluxe Japanese Tin Car With Original Box By Atc NrVintage Marx Rookie Police Siren Motorcycle Wind Up Tin Litho Toy 1930's Works1950`s Masudaya Battery-op Tin Expert Motor Cyclist Atom Motorcycle Japan 11.75"Vintage Shasta Trailer - Tin Toy Made In Japan - 11 Inches LongRare Atc Asahi Toy Co. Japan Tin Friction 1962 Ford Fordor Ranch Wagon W/ Or BoxGerman Distler Tin Motion Monkey Driving Automobile Car Waving Hat Clean! Works!1940's Distler Wanderer Germany U.s. Zone Tin Litho Wind Up Toy Car 9 3/4" 1957 Lincoln Premier 13” Japanese Tin Car By Ichiko Nr 1938 Ck Japan Graham Paige #3 Tin Litho Wind Up Car 6 1/4" Large W/box-all OrigGescha German Tin Wind Up Toy Mercedes Compressor Racer Us Zone Germany 1945'sVintage 1950 Tin Litho Linemar Capital Airline Airplane Wks Japan Boys & GirlsVintage 1950's Masudaya Toys Japan Tin Bo Moon Explorer Space Ship Works Clean1950 Miyazawa Tin Litho Friction Motor Sparking Rocket Space Car 76 Japan 9 1/2"T.p.s. Circus Clown On High Wheel-bell Tin Lithographed Wind Up Toy 6.5" HighVintage Marx Tin Litho Whistling Mercury Train Set Lionel 1021 Crossover Antique Gunthermann Tin Toy Clown Bell German Windup Painted Clockwork Germany1951 Marx City Sanitation Dept Tin Lithographed Pressed Steel Toy Truck 13 1/4"1956 Vintage Opel Olympia Rekord Tin Lithograph Toy Car Friction Japan RareVintage Mettoy Windup Clown Rider Motorcycle Tin Toy'51 Courtland Walts Garage Towing Service Tin Litho Wind Up Orig Truck/box N-o-sVintage Toymaster Belond Special Star #1 Race Car Friction Japan Tin Toy Nr CcmVintage Antique Tin Wind Up Lloyd1953 Chevrolet Line Mar Marsan Tin Friction Car1930's Marx Tin Wind Up Toy-pinches-traffic Cop On Motorcycle For Repair1930s Marx Tin Litho Wind-up Toy Police Motorcycle All OriginalVintage Ray Gun Weapon Sparking Space Pistol Tin Litho Earth Friction Toy Japan Antique Jockey Horse German Dog Cart Tin Windup Clockwork Painted Toy GermanyVintage Popeye Roll Over Tank Tin Wind Up.line Mar Toys Made In Japan WorksMade In Occupied Japan "teddy's Cycle" Tin/celluloid Wind Up Tricycle Toy 4" BoxLarge 1930's Marx Toys Tin Windup Toy Cadillac With Driver, Luggage Rack & TrunkMasudaya Modern Toys Japan Tin Litho B/o Tom & Jerry Hand Car Action Toy 60s MibVintage Marx Tin Litho Wind Up G-man Toy Gun Wind Up Noise & Sparks Works Sj 77fVintage Jensen Mfg Steam Engine #100 Tool Box Work Shop Metal Tin Toy AccessoryVintage 1960's Gakken Tin Battery Op Rc Moon Patrol Space Vehicle Works W/ BoxSpace Surveillant Tin Battery Toy Masudaya JapanVintage Sparkling Space Gun Pistol Tin Litho Rocket Ship Toy Marusan San Japan! Vintage 1968 Marx Fighting Knights Play Set In Tin Carry Case1960's Toyopet Coronaline Japanese Tin Station Wagon With Original Box By Atc Nr1920's Buffalo Toys Tin Windup Toy Chair Swing Carnival Toy In Original Box1964 Ford Thunderbird 2 Door Hardtop Japanese Tin Car By Atc NrVintage Cragstan Police Motorcycle Patrol Friction Toy Tin Litho Original Box Vintage Wind Up Bear Golfer Tin Toy Golf Player Mechanical In Box Tps Japan 1950Vintage 1962 Tin Litho Toy Lincoln Continental 11" Toy Car Japan Nomura RoskoVintage 1950 Usaf Bomber Airplane Tin Litho Friction Made In Japan Toy Works!Vintage **american Flyer** Tin Railroad Car #2Vintage Rare Japan Tin Toy Super Sonic Jetliner Tin Airplane Stairway Stair Case1963 Marx Hopping Astro Jetsons Wind Up Tin Litho Rare Made In Japan Works