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    

Rare! 1960s S.h Japan Tin B.o. Space Capsule W/ Floating Astronaut Boxed Ex./nm Large Tin Friction 1961 Buick Lesabre Hardtop Car W Original Box Nomura JapanTada Tin Scouting Spaceship X-8 Battery Operated Japan 60s ( Working )20" Tin Friction 1962 Cadillac Police Car Highway Patrol Ichiko Japan W/ BoxVintage Marx Amos 'n' Andy Fresh Air Taxi Wind-up Toy & Tin Sign (dakotapaul)1960 Cragstan 11658 Auto Cycle Friction Tin Toy Venus Motorcycle In Box ~ JapanAntique Cragstan-daiya Tin Astronaut Robot Battery Operated Toy Japan 1960's.Vintage 1930s Marx Crazy Car Lithographed Tin Windup Toy "rookie Pilot" Airplane1950's Japan Nomura Zoomer Tin Toy Robot Windup Works 100% Rare Vintage SpaceTin Clockwork Dreadnaught, Battleship By Bing, German, Circa 1913 16" In BoxIchiko Tin Police Car Buick Convertible Battery Operated Japan 60s Top ConditionOriginal 1940s Japan Tin Wind Up Atomic Robot Man Cast ArmsVintage Linemar Japan Tin Wind Up Easel Back Robot & Original Box Excellent Nr!!Vintage 1950s Marusan Japan Tin Friction No. 27 V8 Special Toy Indy Race Car1950s Vintage Harley Davidson Motorcycle Tin Toy - Nomura, JapanGunthermann  stevens & Brown 1870s Tin Toy ClockworkMarusan Cadillac Tin Toy Vintage Antique Toy 1930's Charlie Mccarthy Drummer Boy Tin Litho Wind Up W/ Box / MarxVintage Marx Coast Defense Tin Windup Toy For Parts Or RestorationTin Friction 1956 Pontiac Convertible Car W Lady Driver Passengers Irco JapanClockwork Wind Up Tin Toy Charlie Mccarthy Benzine Buggy By Marx Cir. 1930,s1950's Vintage Masudaya - Modern Toys Vw Oval Window Tin Toy Car As Is ConditionVintage Tin Key Wind-up Hand-stand Animated Clown Rider On Motorcycle Japan.nr. Clockwork Wind Up Tin Toy Popeye On Roller-skates Made By Marx Cir. 1950,sAntique Arnold German Tin Litho Wind Up Motorcycle Toy Moto Bike Works Ex L@@kOld 1950's Battery Operated Telephone Bear W/winky Eyes Tin Litho Toy T-n Japan Antique Toy 1930's Charlie Mccarthy Drummer Boy Tin Litho Wind Up W/ Box / MarxVintage Space Conqueror Robot.tin Litho.battery Operated.daiya.japan.1960s.Red China Tin Sedan Ms711 Vw Karmann Ghia With Opening Door Wind Up 60s ** Rare*Old Tin Wyandotte Car W/star Hubcaps *vintage Pressed Steel Transport ToyOriginal Buck Rogers 25th Century Space Rocket Police Patrol Tin Windup Marx ToyVintage 1950s Mt Modern Toys Japan Tin Windup Toy H-2 U.s. Airforce HelicopterJapanese Tin 1958 Bandai Station WagonBeautiful Original Prewar 1929 Lionel Black Tin-plate 318 Coal Train Locomotive Vintage Black Americana Jigger Dancers-tin Wind-up Antique Toy-8"-all Org-works-Vintage Fred Flintstones Tin Battery Operated "rocky" Character ToyOld Tin Wyandotte Car *vintage Pressed Steel ToyVtg Cragstan Tin Battery Operated Satellite In Orbit Globe Earth Space Age ToyMarx Allstate Sears Tractor Trailer Truck Tin Litho Toy All OriginalVintage Japan Battery Op. Remote Control Radicon Bus Tin Toy W/box & Inserts1954 Japan Tin Cragstan Friction Open Door Convertible Car In BoxOld Tin Wyandotte Limo *vintage Pressed Steel Toy CarMarx Ft. Apache Rin Tin Tin 7th Cavalry Figures 60 Mm 12 Powder BlueHorikawa Tin Fighting Spaceman 1960s Excellent Condition, Works, 12 Inches TallC1960’s Disney Haunted House Battery Operated Tin Bank Nr $2501960 Marx Army Battleground Play Set Tin Litho British FlagVintage Marx Tin Litho Airport Hanger With Airplane In Original BoxVintage 1950's Yonezawa Japan Battery Operated 11" Directional Tin Robot Works?Howdy Doody & Buffalo Bob Smith Tin Wind Up Piano Toy Unique Art Mfg. As Is Vintage Technofix German Vespa Scooter Motorcycle Tin Toy Friction Red G3Nice 1950s Battery Operated Cragstan Crapshooter Tin Bar Bartender Casino ToyVintage 1961 Hubley Tin Battery Operated Magoo Old Jalopy Car U.p.a. Pictures Rare Vintage Prewar Ives O Gauge 114 Tin Lithographed Ticket Office (dakotapaul)Vintage 1960s Made In Japan Tin Litho Wind Up Robot Space Sparky Sparking ChestIves Prewar O Canadian Pacific Rr Boxcar Cp #64387 8 Wheel Tin LithoHuge Rare Tin Yonezawa Us Air Force Military Air Transport Service Airplane WorkVintage Tin "sunny Lane Seashore Pops" Petite Toy Sand Pail By F.w. WoolworthBandai Japan Tin Litho & Celluloid Pull String Funny Rocker Clown Monkey & Box Vintage Ultraman Japanese Tin Toy Friction Robot Airplane Toy Bullmark? JapanVintage Tin Wind-up Ko-ko Sandwich Man Toy, Nomura Toys (t.n), Japan. Exib