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    

Antique Tippco Tco59 Tin Litho Friction Toy Motorcycle Motorbike Germany 1950sBandai Tin Friction/battery Op 1961 Cadillac Convertible 17" Exclt Cond With BoxNmib Tin Friction 50's Autocycle Motorcycle Driver Original Box Alps Japan007 James Bond's Aston Martin Tin Lithographed Toy Car Battery Operated W/box Antique 1930s Marx Police Patrol Siren Wind Up Tin Litho Motorcycle Motorbike 1938 Marx Camouflage Sparkling Motorcycle Tin Litho W/u Toy Japan 8.5" Arnold 560 Tin Wind-up Vintage Motorcycle Litho Toy A560 ModelSuper Rare Asc Aoshin Japan Tin B/o Batmobile Superhero Batman Robot Space Car !S&e Tin Space Toy Flying Jeep Battery Japan Usaf Kks Robot-ufo N-mib Box Rare German Gunthermann Tin Windup Toy Circus Clown Performing On Horse 1900'sNomura Tin Volkswagen Space Patrol R10 First Version Plastic Windshield No ResveAntique 1930s Marx Rookie Cop Siren Wind Up Tin Litho Motorcycle Motorbike Yonezawa 1956 Opel Olympia Rekord Tin Friction Toy Car, 12” Extra Nice Nr!1930s Penny Toy Black Americana Dancing Jigger Tin Toy Jazzbo Jim Marx GermanVintage 1950 Cadillactin Litho Friction Crown Cadillac Tin Toy Car Japan 10.5"Pre-war Lionel No.115 Lionel City Passenger Illuminated Station Tin Building ToyHaji 1956 Ford Sunliner Convertible Japan Tin Toy, Rare & Original W/ No ReserveRare Space Man Robot Tn Nomura Toys Made In Japan 1950's Toy Tin See Others1950s Walt Disney Mickey Mouse Rare Talking Tin Telephone SetCarette Falk Marklin Win Up Tin Toy Ocean Liner Tin Boat Very Rare 20 InVintage 1940's Wyandotte Mechanical Humphrey Mobile Tin Litho Windup Toy NiceAntique Germany Tin Litho Lehmann Wind-up Oh My Alabama Coon JiggerVw Volkswagen Variant 1960's Tin Toy Car Cko Kellermann Friction Western GermanyOld Tin Mt Apollo Spaceship *vintage Japan Battery Space ToyAir Defence Corps Army Truck Me-625, China Vintage Military Tin Toy 1960s Nmib1970`s Popy Windup Tin Litho Great Mazinger Robot Shogun Warrior Toy Japan 9.5" Popeye Blowing Bubbles Tin Toy By Linemar% 1950's J. Chein Tin Wind Up Ride-a-rocket 18 Inches TallTin Old Girard Marx The Joy Line Railroad Train Set O Scale Wind Up Toy Cars Lionel No.438 Lighted Signal Tin Tower 11 1/2" Tall PrewarApollo Lunar Module Space Explorer, Japan (dsk) 1960s Vintage Tin Toy ExcellentAntique Vintage Matador & Bull Tin Litho Wind-up ToyVintage Mettoy Tin Litho Motorcycle Windup Toy Police Patrol TippcoTin Toy Robot Grendaizer PopyYonezawa Champion 98 Agagainion Tin Toy Race Car.. Large 19" Long All OriginalLunar Expedition – Vintage Tin Battery Operated Space Ship - Box – Modern Toy SSatellite X-107 With Astronaut In Orbit Space Ship Ufo Tin B/o Box Japan Works:) 1960's Marx Tin Litho Mar Lines Disney Windup TrainIchiko '59 Buick Electra Friction Vtg Tin Japan,nomura,yonezawa,masudaya,alpsNasa Robot Moon Explorer M-27 Yonezawa Tin Toy **with Box**Linemar Toys Japan Tin Litho Mr. Mercury Robot Toy4pc Pre-war 1928 American Flyer Tin-litho O-gauge Train Set+/tracks +transformerAntique/vintage Rare 1930's S.g.airplane Tin Wind Up Toy Made In Germany1950s Japan Tin Auto Race Set Super Nice Condition Complete1950s Marx Rare W Station Tin Litho Control Panel SetDistler Porsche Tin Toy Car Battery Op LithoSea Side Patriotic Flag Vintage Tin Litho Beach Sand Pail W/ Wood Handle ShovelFelix The Cat Rare Original Vintage Tin Scooter Windup Toy Circa 1930Marx Doughboy Wind Up Tank U.s.a. 1930's Vintage Tin Litho Toy Very Nice & WorksT.n Nomura Tin Friction 1953 Volkswagen Cabriolet 9.75"Schuco 3000 Prewar 1930's Tin Toy Wind Up Car Germany & Rare Original Box & KeyLehmann Tin Windup Toy 550: Aha Delivery Van, TruckWyandotte Hafner Lithographed Tin Wind-up Train Set Ln Mint (dakotapaul)Flash Gordon Arresting Ray Gun Marx Tin Toy Pistol:) 1960's Japan Tin Litho Wind Up Space Robot Dog Bubble Eyes 7 InchesVintage 1930s J Chein Co. Hercules Mechanical Ferris Wheel Wind Up Tin Litho ToyVintage Tin Bat Op Rosko Astronaut Robot By Nomura Tn Made In Japan Rare !Vintage Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse Meteor Tin Train W/track Marx Wind-up:) 1960's Japan Tin Litho Wind Up Space Robot Elephant Bubble Eyes SparklingUnique Art Kiddie Cyclist Vintage Tin Wind Up Toy Boy On Tricycle Tin Lithograph