Tin Litho Toys

June 21, 2009 by  
Filed under Antique & Vintage Toys

Tin litho toys are made from tinplate which is thin sheets of steel plated with tin. Toys using tinplate began production in the mid 1800s. The material was used because it was an inexpensive yet durable substance for wooden toys. The earliest tin litho toys were made and painted by hand. In the 1850s spring activated tin toys were produced in Germany. Offset lithography, a technique used to print designs on tinplate using a rubber roller, was introduced in the 1880s.

Germany was the major producer of tin litho toys during the early 1900s. Ernst Paul Lehmann was a renowned German manufacturer of tin toys. It was said that he exported 90% of his production. Subsequently, England and France joined the tin litho toy industry.

The United States had also started to produce tinplate toy with some smaller manufacturing firms, but experience real growth after World World I. There was an ample supply when tin ore mines were opened in Illinois. After WWI, there was a high level of anti-German sentiment. This yielded an overwhelming demand for American produced products. By the 1920s American firms were the industry leaders.

By far, the largest and most successful firm to produce tin litho toys from the 1920s to the 1960s was Louis Marx and Company. Brothers Louis and David Marx had a formula for success: to produce a large volume of a large number of designs. This allowed them to keep their prices at a reasonable level. They purchased the tooling for two obsolete tin toys from toymaker Ferdinand Strauss, a former employee of Louis Marx. They made subtle changes to Alabama Minstrel Dance and Zippo the Climbing Monkey. These two tin litho toys became top sellers, selling 8 million of each within two years. By 1922, David and Louis Marx were millionaires. The original Marx tin litho toys are highly sought after by collectors.

It was during this time that another manufacturing innovation was discovered. The process was known as chromolithography. Used previously in the printing industry, it involved making a drawing on special stones using a grease pencil before the printing ink was applied. When wetted, the ink holds fast to the drawing and not the wet stone.
The production of tin toys was halted during World War II because the metal was needed in the war effort. Following the war, The Marshall Plan was a program enacted to help European countries rebound from the devastating effects of war. The U.S. helped the Japanese in these efforts to granting them the right to resume production of tin litho toys. It was thought that producing these toys were not extremely profitable because they were labor intensive. The Japanese perfected the process and became a leader in tin toy manufacturing until then end of the 1950s. The tin toys were changed in the 1960s. They became made of plastic due to safety regulations. Currently, China is considered the leader in tin litho toy productions.
A great example of a tin litho toys was a 1950 replication of TV puppet, Howdy Dowdy. It was recently sold at $1200. Tin litho toys in excellent conditions are considered collectibles.

History of Toy Robots

June 16, 2009 by  
Filed under Antique Toy History

The history of toy robots is very interesting. The Marshall Plan (named after Secretary of State George Marshall) was designed to help rebuild European and Japanese industries after WWII. The thought was to give assistance to Japan by building industries that would not be a threat to its American counterparts. It was suggestive that low profit, high labor, small item manufacturing industries would fit the requirements. U.S. companies had found that these products incurred high costs and lowered profit margins. They reasoned that by having the manufacturing done in countries with lower wages, they could import the product most cheaply and sell at a higher profit than if they had done the manufacturing in the U.S. American toy imports such as Marx, Rosco, Cragstan and Mego sold toys that had been made by Nomura, Madudaya, Daiya, Yoshiya, Yonezava and Horikawa.

The original toy offerings from Japan were clockwork or friction powered, stamped steel and similar to the popular German and American toys before WWII. The Japanese perfected many of their toy designs and added improved features such as unique actions, tin lithography and battery power.

The first toy robot is considered to be Robot Lilliput from Japan. It is a boxy, yellow clockwork. The exact year of its creation is unsure; the date ranges from the late 1930s to the mid 1940s. The next Japanese robot Atomic Robot Man and was made in the late 1940s. The box for Atomic Robot Man was certainly a reflection of current events when it was made. It depicted a robot marching through a city that had been annihilated with an atomic mushroom cloud overhead.

American toy companies also made toy robots. The Sears Christmas Book of 1954 had a crank operated robot called Robert the Robot. Other robots from American companies that were subsequently introduced during this period include The Robot Dog, Marvelous Mike, Z-Man, Big Max and Marx Electric robot.

The Japanese continued to battle the American toy makers and came up with new innovations. Batteries had been used in toys for lights or noise. The Japanese began to use battery operated motors to power robots. A famous movie in 1956 was Forbidden Planet that featured Robby the Robot. While no “Robby” toys were licensed, they were many similarities in robots named Planet Robot and Mechanized Robot.

Toy robots are difficult to give credit to the manufacturing toy maker or country from which it is made. That is because many manufactured items in Japan are subcontracted out, bought from an unknown supplier and even made from recycled materials.

One of the most productive makers of Japanese battery operated toys was the Horikawa company who used the trade logo SH. Horikawa sold hundreds of different robots from the 1950s through the 1980s. The confusion is that most do not know that Horikawa was a wholesaler and that the robots were actually made by the Metal House company of Tokyo.

Toys robots are not considered collector items. A toy robot that cost $3.95 forty years ago can now sell for up to $50,000 today at auction.

History of Tonka Toys

June 14, 2009 by  
Filed under Antique Toy History

Tonka Toys began under the name Mound Metalcraft Incorporated in an old school house in Mound, Minnesota. It was founded in 1946 by partners Lynn Everett Baker, Avery F. Crounse and Alvin F. Tesch. The first product offerings were two models of tie-racks; the original product line was to focus on the manufacture of lawn and garden tools such as rakes, shovels, hoes, etc.

A change of product focus occurred a year later in 1947. Mound Metalcraft was approached by another local manufacturer, Streater Industries, Inc., to manufacturer steel toys visualized by Edward Streater. The companies knew of each other because Streater had been former occupants of the building where Mound Metalcraft had subsequently moved into. Streater Industries had tried unsuccessfully to market two metal toys. Alvin Tesch modified their design. A new logo was created by Erling Eklof using the Dakota-Sioux “Tonka” which means big or great. The collaboration resulted in Tonka’s first models produced which were the model #100 Steam Shovel and model #150 Crane and Clam. Although the Tonka Toys name appeared on these original offerings, Mound Metalcraft did not legally change its name to Tonka Toys until November 1955. The focus on garden implements was reconsidered. Tonka Toys became a manufacturer of metal toys.

With the success of the Steam Shovel as well as the Crane and Clam, Tonka Toys became innovative in its model designs and its color combinations. The first two models were produced using an array of various color schemes. Different models are pressed steel toys were also introduced at this time. For example, dump truck, wreckers, semis and box vans were added to the product line. Tonka expanded their product line in order to compete with Nylint, Structo, Wyandotte and others. The solid steel construction of Tonka Toys made it a popular toy that was tough enough to be passed down from one generation to another. They were considered indestructible. In 1955 Tonka Toys moved into a new manufacturing facility due to high demand of the Tonka trucks. Shortly thereafter a 50,000 square foot addition was added to the new facility. Tonka Toys was in a growth pattern. In 1955 Tonka Toys changed its logo to an oval with the name Tonka Toys in red above waves. It is thought that this is to honor the nearby Lake Minnetonka.

Tonka moved into another phase when it was purchased in 1991 by Hasbro of Pawtucket, Rhode Island. The original solid steel construction of Tonka Toys has given way to the use of more plastic in the toys. This was due in part to a move to manufacturing to China in 1998.

Tonka trucks were inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame in 2001. This momentous induction is a recognition that Tonka trucks have achieved longevity and have played a role nationally in the world of imagination and play. It is a toy that is considered a classic. Tonka trucks remain a favorite toy of kids of all ages.

Antique ViewMaster Reels

June 11, 2009 by  
Filed under What's Hot

View-master has entertained children of all ages for many decades. It is a device that allows for viewing seven 3-D images on a paper disk.

The creation of the View-master occurred in 1939, but it is important to know the background story. In 1918, brothers Fred and Ed Mayer bought Sawyer’s Photo Services, a company that created photographic postcards. Harold Graves joined their operations in 1926. Graves subsequently met William Gruber, an organ maker and ardent photographer while Gruber was vacationing. They discovered that each had created devices for viewing stereo images.

The collaboration of Gruber, Graves and the Mayer brothers produced a unique viewing device. Gruber had initially developed a stereo imaging rig out of two Kodak Bantam Specials set up on a tripod. They updated this with the newly-available Kodachrome 16-mm color film. The View-master disk was born! It holds 14 slides (7 pairs). Two film slides are viewed at the same time, one for each eye. It replicates binocular depth perception. In 1939 Graves and Gruber formed a partnership that allowed for the retail sales of View-master viewers and disks. The patent on the viewer, which had became called Model A viewer, was issued in 1940. The sales of View-masters at Sawyer’s Photo Services far surpassed the postcard revenues.

View-master continued its gain in popularity in the late 1930s, the 1940s and 1950s. The New York World’s Fair in 1939 proved to be a great opportunity to sell View-master disk of Carlsbad Caverns and the Grand Canyon to eager tourists. The View-master was enlisted to help the United States military by providing personnel training via their disks. Over 100,000 viewers and approximately six million disks were purchased by the U.S. from 1942 to 1945. A major strategy by Sawyer’s was to eliminate their competition. They did so in 1951 by purchasing Tru-Vue, the main competitor of View-master. The takeover also allowed Sawyer’s to gain Tru-Vue’s licensing right to Walt Disney Studios. Sawyer’s went on to produce numerous disks featuring Disney characters. In 1966, Sawyer’s was bought by the General Aniline & Film (GAF) Corporation. Several television shows during that time period was featured on View-master disks. They include Star Trek, Here’s Lucy, The Beverly Hillbillies and Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In.

Innovation has always been a cornerstone of the View-master brand and that has been demonstrated throughout its history. The Talking View-master was created in 1971. In 1976, the year of the United States Bicentennial, View-master issued a commemorative red and white viewer with a blue handle.

The ownership of View-master has changed hands several times. In 1981, View-master was sold by GAF to Arnold Thaler. In 1989, View-master was sold to Tyco Toys, Inc. until Tyco merged with Mattel, Inc. Fisher-Price, a subsidiary of Mattel, then assumed leadership. In March 2009, the Fisher-Price division announced that production of scenic disks of tourist attractions has ceased production in December 2008.

View-master was inducted in the National Toy Hall of Fame in 1999 for its contribution and longevity as part of toy history.

History of Model Trains

June 10, 2009 by  
Filed under Antique Toy History

The love of model trains transcends age and gender. It could be because of the memories associated to the popular Lionel train set under the Christmas tree that model trains are so beloved.

The first model trains were curiously not geared toward children. They were used as promotional and sale models to promote the railways. It was instrumental in public relations to persuade those who have never ridden a train to do so.

The first complete clockwork train sets were made in the 1890s by a company called Marklin. The price of the set was rather expensive, though, and only the wealthy could afford them. Marklin had a complete product line that included beginner train sets, accessories, parts, different kinds of locomotives and tracks. The model train captured the attention and imagination of children who have always loved different modes of transportation such as trucks, airplanes and trains.

A period of growth followed. Other companies joined the model train industry. It was also discovered that a sophisticated version, the model railways, would appeal to adults. Many of the model railways manufacturers were located in Germany. It was during WWI when imports to the U.S. had been halted, that American companies were founded. In 1900, Ives, an American toy maker, decided to join the competition with clockwork tinplate trains in gauges 0 and 1. Lionel, another US manufacturer, not only utilized the European style tinplate tracks, but offered electric trains. Another advantage to the additional competition was the price of model train became more reasonable as U.S. manufacturers produced sets that were simplified. American Flyer also was a competitor in the American market. Anti German feelings during WWI led to the success of many American model train producers.

Innovations kept pace with consumer wants. An escalating trend was the infusion of increasing smaller scales. OO and HO gauge grew out of collaboration for table top toy. While the Bing Table Top system was not considered successful, it did spur an increased interest by adult modelers who favored this size. It was during this time that two scales were introduced in Britain, the HO 1/87 scale and OO 1/76 scale. Another trend was the increasing popularity of model railways as a hobby. Publications focused entirely on model railways were introduced and the hobby became quite popular in the United States and in the United Kingdom. The toy makers noted that parents usually were the ones to buy the train sets for their children. The way to expand their demographics was to produce a train set that the father would enjoy. Toy trains were adapted to adult tastes by incorporating more realistic detailing.

Another world war improved the standings of U.S model train manufacturers. Out of the leading toy train producers, only the U.S. companies avoided the devastation and physical damage from the war.

Model trains were a major toy during the 1950s. In a strange turn of events, as the real railways began to suffer a major loss in ridership due to cars and planes, the demand for toy trains decreased dramatically also. Some companies consolidated and other established brands disappeared.

There have been upturns and downturns in the model train industry. There still exists a large market for the toy trains whether it is a child or an adult enthusiast.

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