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Toys that shuffle, tap or dance a jig

A suspended clockwork clown jig doll achieved $2,300 plus the buyer’s premium in August 2021 at The RSL Auction Co. Image courtesy of The RSL Auction Co. and LiveAuctioneers

NEW YORK — Toys or dolls that are sometimes known as “jiggers” have free-swinging limbs that render the appearance of shuffling or dancing. Starting with a simple figure on a wooden or tin-plate platform, these antique toys evolved into more complex playthings that employed clockwork or wind-up mechanisms.

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Formidable Gang of 5 rules the toy robot realm

A boxed Machine Man toy robot soared to $159,900 and set a world auction record in so doing. It sold in September 2020 at Morphy Auctions. Photo courtesy of Morphy Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

NEW YORK — Toy robots have been popular for decades, and nobody built them better than Japanese manufacturers of the 1950s and 1960s. Several Japanese toymakers achieved global market dominance by pioneering technology that powered tinplate toys with batteries.

Japan’s oldest toy company is Masudaya, also known as Modern Toys. During the post-World War II era, its golden era of toy production, the firm produced a series of big, boxy robots that came to be known as the “Gang of Five.” According to verbal lore within the toy-collecting hobby, the Gang of Five monicker may have been invented by pioneer robot enthusiast Robert Lesser as a humorous play on “Gang of Four,” the Chinese Communist political faction that came to prominence during the Cultural Revolution.

While popular in their day, Gang of Five are in far greater demand more than half a century later. Today’s collectors of sci-fi toys will pay big money for Gang of Five robots in very good or better condition, especially those retaining their original boxes.

A Radicon robot toy earned $7,000 in May 2021 at Milestone Auctions. Photo courtesy of Milestone Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

According to the Antique Toy Collectors of America (ATCA), Masudaya earned renown for its five “skirted” robots (so named because they have solid all-around bases rather than “legs”) issued during a seven-year span. The first robot in the series rolled off the assembly line in 1957. Dubbed the Radicon, it was the first radio-controlled robot toy offered by Masudaya. Radicon was a challenge to manufacture, and at 15 inches tall, it was one of the largest toy robots on the market. Its lithographed and stamped panels of grainy gray metal similar in appearance to old office filing cabinets. Its design was complex and ahead of its time.

A Non-Stop Robot, nicknamed Lavender Robot because of its coloring, realized $3,539 plus the buyer’s premium in June 2018 at Antico Mondo Auktionen. Photo courtesy of Antico Mondo Auktionen and LiveAuctioneers

Masudaya’s next entry in the series, the Non-Stop Robot, appeared in 1959. It has the same body mold as Radicon but was equipped with the extra function of what Masudaya called “non-stop” (or “bump-and-go”) action. If it bumps into a wall or object, it corrects itself and proceeds in another direction. Non-Stop Robot’s body sports a light lavender color, earning it the nickname of Lavender Robot.

A special order from an American importer spurred Masudaya to make the Giant Machine Man (better known simply as Machine Man) in 1960, a bright red robot that was similar to the Non-Stop. Unlike the other robots in the series, the third member of the Gang of Five never appeared in a Masudaya toy catalog. It shares the same catalog number as the Lavender Robot and its overall shape is nearly identical, save for the coloring on the panels, mouth and body. Some estimates say only 12 dozen examples of Machine Man were made for that one American special order. Owing to its limited production run, and perhaps its gargantuan size, it is the rarest of the Gang of Five. 

A fine example of a Machine Man set a world auction record in September 2020 at Morphy Auctions in Denver, Pennsylvania, when it sold for $159,900. It showed very little wear and came with its extremely rare original box. The bizarre artwork on the box lid depicts a huge red robot against a lunar-like landscape with a rocket in liftoff position in the background. Inexplicably, the robot is greeted by a grinning man holding a coffee cup, and a waving child, both looking like they should be in an ad for a ski resort. At the upper righthand corner of the box are the words, “With mystery non stop walking action /Eyes and ears light up /Arms swing as he walks forward and backward.”

This example of a Giant Sonic Robot brought $2,500 plus the buyer’s premium in April 2017 at Milestone Auctions. Photo courtesy of Milestone Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

The Giant Sonic Robot, aka Train Robot, debuted in 1962. It shares the generous size and bright red coloration of Machine Man, as well as non-stop action and a “supersonic” sound effect that resembles the “whoo-whoo” whistle of a train. 

Masudaya released the final entry in the Gang of Five series either in 1964 or ’65 (sources differ). True to its name, Target Robot came with a dart gun and suction-cup dart. If the fired dart hit the target on the robot’s chest, it would emit a screaming sound to indicate a bull’s-eye. 

A Target Robot with dart gun and suction-cup dart attained $11,500 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2021 at Milestone Auctions. Photo courtesy of Milestone Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Interestingly, a robot shown in a 1965 toy catalog advertisement looks a lot like the Target Robot, but was given the name “Shooting Giant Robot.” No physical examples boxed under this name have ever been seen on the market, so it evidently did not leave the prototype stage.

Chris Sammet, president and co-owner of Milestone Auctions in Willoughby, Ohio, sells Gang of Five robots whenever he can, but says they don’t come to market that often. He also personally collects robots and has two from the Gang of Five series. He’s a fan, and he’s not the only one.

 “I think it was just the space and rockets and the technology of robots,” he said, explaining the appeal of the toys, which date to the middle of the 20th century and the early years of the space race. “They are almost timeless. That’s why I like them. Robot boxes are always gorgeous compared to a lot of the other toys that were produced around that time.”

Given that toy robots were designed to be played with by kids rather than admired by grownup collectors, it’s a wonder that any have survived unscathed. Original packaging was even more perishable than the toys they held, which is why attractively printed boxes with vibrant graphics add to a vintage robot’s value.

The market for toy robots is strong. Robot collections are not often consigned as a whole, which means choice examples appear here and there at auction. Of those, few are in textbook mint condition. The best examples tend to be new/old stock (products meant for retail sale but discovered years or decades later, unopened, in storerooms or warehouses) or toys that were barely played with and stashed away in attics or basements along with their original boxes. Vintage robots fitting those descriptions are scarcer than unicorns, so collectors often accept examples that are in the best condition they can find, whatever that may be, in hopes of one day upgrading. “You just want them all complete and with good colors, that’s what is really important,” Sammet said. “If you could find one that was new/old stock or never played with, it would command such a premium … the sky’s the limit.”

Vintage pedal cars copied classic automobiles

NEW YORK – What kid didn’t beg mom or dad to steer the family car, and what kid didn’t dream of having his or her own car? Child-size pedal cars, operated by leg power instead of a motor, became popular toys in the 1920s and ’30s. They were mostly a plaything for wealthy families, however, as they were expensive.

First hitting the market in the 1890s, early pedal cars were made of wood. Later on, manufacturers began rolling metal pedal cars off the assembly lines with all the bells and whistles, much as their full-size counterparts rolled off the assembly lines in Detroit. While cars were popular and usually modeled after cars of that period, there were also pedal planes, trucks, buses, trains and tractors.

This American National ‘electric’ Packard pedal car, circa 1926, sold for $18,000 in May 2015 at Bertoia Auctions. Prices quoted do not reflect the buyer’s premium. Photo courtesy of Bertoia Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Among the biggest early makers of pedal cars in America were American National, Gendron Iron Wheel Co., Toledo Wheel, Murray and Steelcraft Wheel Goods. Pedal cars were successful up until World War II, when steel was needed for the war effort. Production resumed in the 1950s and ’60s, though, most collectors usually seek out early models or choose cars made to replicate a favorite full-size car they owned, such as a 1961 Thunderbird, a ’58 Chevy Impala or a 1927 Auburn Boattail Speedster. Pedal cars were also well represented by overseas makers from Russia to England and across Europe.

A convertible Cadillac pedal car realized $8,000 in October 2015 at Dan Morphy Auctions. Photo courtesy of Dan Morphy Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

The first American company to make such wheeled toys was the Garton Toy Co., founded in 1887. The largest maker of kids’ vehicles by the 1930s was American National, which had as its company jingle, “Raise the kiddies on wheels.” The company was the result of several firms merging, including the Toledo Metal Wheel Co. and the National Wheel Co., and later, even took over one of its competitors, the Gendron Wheel Co. According to fabtintoys.com, American National exported pedal cars into nearly 30 countries.

“Pedal cars of the 1920s and 1930s are a big part of our history,” notes FabTinToys on its website page detailing the history of pedal cars. “They have moved from sidewalks into our living rooms for decorating, displays etc.”

This Gendron Buick pedal car fetched $12,000 in April 2018 at Bertoia Auctions. Photo courtesy of Bertoia Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Pedal cars are widely collected today and one of the largest collections was sold in January 2015 with more than 70 pedal cars owned by Ron Pratte offered at Barrett-Jackson’s car auction, highlighted by a 1956 Pontiac Club de Mer concept car design studio model pedal car at $33,925 (converted to electric), a 1930s Gilmore Speedway Special pedal car by Skippy at $13,685 and a 1958 Corvette Sting Ray pedal car by Eska at $11,500.

An American National, early 1930s Lincoln tandem child’s pedal car with all the bells and whistles earned $9,500 in August 2016 at Rich Penn Auctions. Photo courtesy of Rich Penn Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

On its website, Barrett-Jackson published an article in September 2015 about the evolution of pedal cars. “Like the first Model Ts, early pedal cars were simplistic and basic, but as the automobile evolved, so did the pedal car,” according to Barrett-Jackson. The auction house noted that the wood-frame models made in the 1920s became bigger and heavier and made mostly of steel in the 1930s. They were as well appointed as the full-size luxury cars they replicated – be they a Packard, an Auburn or a Cadillac – with chrome hubcaps, ornate hood ornaments, leather upholstery, working horns, headlights and turn signals; hood ornaments, a distinctive grill and custom body paint. Pedal cars also were usually outfitted with accessories to make play realistic from toolboxes and radiators to oil cans.

An American National tandem pedal car, circa 1933, went for $7,000 in June 2014 at Mosby & Co. Auctions. Photo courtesy of Mosby & Co. Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

“Pedal Power,” on view through March 10, 2020 at the McLean County Museum of History in Bloomington, Ill., showcases the personal pedal car collection of the late Bruce Callis, another enthusiastic pedal car collector and restorer.  His family gifted 53 cars from his collection to the museum, which are featured in this two-year exhibition. “This exhibit features dozens of child-size autos that span 50 years of pedal car production from the 1920s through the 1970s,” according to the museum in an online blurb on the exhibition.

Most veteran collectors seek out early examples with the larger, prewar pedal cars of the most interest. Collectors also find 1950s models of interest but all but ignore later cars, which often were made of plastic and lack the realistic features of their predecessors.

Whether one is mechanically minded and wants the joys of hand-restoring an antique pedal car or is simply looking to relive one’s childhood by indulging in nostalgia, pedal cars are a wonderful collectible.

From the Heartland: Buddy L Toys

As any number of parents can attest, children have good memories, and keeping promises made to them is usually a good rule of thumb. Little did Fred Lundahl know that by fulfilling a commitment made to his son nicknamed Buddy, he would become part of the industrious and innovative spirit of early 20th-century America – and that the result of his ingenuity would become toy vehicles that are popular with collectors nearly a century later.

Buddy L tanker truck with original paint, decals and features, circa 1928, measuring 26 in. long x 9 1/2 in. wide x 12 in. high. Estimate: $1,800-$2,000. Jasper52 image

Although Lundahl’s original business had nothing to do with toys, it did provide valuable inspiration. In 1920, a decade after founding the Moline Pressed Steel Co., in East Moline, Illinois, which manufactured parts for farm implements as well as fenders for cars and trucks, Lundahl used his skill and some scrap metal from his business to fashion a toy vehicle for his son. According to a variety of sources, the decision to create a miniature version of a dump truck came after seeing the lackluster craftsmanship of his son’s store-bought toys. Lundahl’s promise to his son, Arthur, aka Buddy, resulted in the toy becoming a neighborhood sensation, and ultimately the development of the Buddy L toy line.

Although Buddy L was not the first brand of toy vehicles to come to market, it may have been the most prolific, according to Michael Yolles, founder of the virtual Pressed Steel Metal Toys Museum, and a longtime member of the Antique Toy Collectors of America, Inc.

“Buddy L not only produced a large selection of pressed steel toys, but also they were very well-made,” explains Yolles, whose collecting efforts focus on various models of toys, including Buddy L toy vehicles manufactured prior to 1932. “One of the things you’ll find with Buddy L toys is the paint job lasted. They dipped their toys in paint, instead of using other methods.

“If you put Buddy L’s up against other toys manufactured in the same era I believe you’ll see their color and condition held up the best.”

Buddy L Wrigley’s Spearmint delivery truck, circa 1940s-50s, with minor wear, measuring 7 1/2 in. high x 14 1/2 in. long, sold for $300 in November 2015. Rich Penn Auctions image

The quality paint job on Buddy L toys, while impressive, isn’t the only thing that sets these toy vehicles apart, as Rich Penn of Rich Penn Auctions explains.

“First, they were bigger than almost any other toys in the market. Second, they were built better and were more durable. A child could actually ride many of them. Third, most kids never had a Buddy L. They cost more than most of the other pressed steel toys.

“So, they were only available to the upper middle-class kids. When the rest of us grew up and had a little money … we bought those toys we never had when we were kids.”

Buddy L Fact: In the 1920s when Buddy L toy vehicles were first made available to the pubic, many cost between $2.50 and $4.50. That is the equivalent to a cost range of $34 to $61 in today’s economy.

The attraction of these nearly larger-than-life toy vehicles, then and now, is also based on Buddy L’s measuring up to their design. With many of the vehicles able to sustain a rider weighing upward of 200 pounds, not only could a child enjoy a ride, but adults could as well. This coupled with movable parts and many accessories, such as doors that opened and closed, and functioning operations, Buddy L vehicles were as much experience as toy.

“Most of the construction vehicles were able to do what they were built to do, which was really exciting,” said Yolles.

Whether these toy vehicles inspired youngsters to go on and become adults who earned a living operating the full-size vehicles replicated in Buddy L miniatures, it’s hard to say. However, as Penn explains, the line of toy vehicles likely brought more than a few youthful dreams to life.

“As a kid, you would certainly be able to better imagine yourself as a truck driver, engineer or fireman, if you were driving a Buddy L.”

Buddy L fire pumper, circa 1920s, with original paint and accessories, measuring 23 1/2 inches long, sold for $3,900 in June 2017. Bertoia Auctions image

Alas, the pioneer of the Buddy L line, which ultimately expanded to include multiple variations of trucks, cars, tugboats, trains and construction vehicles, only experienced the early years of the company named after his only child. Fred Lundahl died in 1930 due to complications following surgery, according to the Quad City Times. The company persevered, changing hands more than a few times; and like many similar manufacturers in the U.S., faced the steel shortage of World War II. At that time, the company turned to manufacturing toy vehicles made of wood, but the successes of Buddy L’s early pressed-steel toys would not be repeated.

Buddy L Fact: Durability is the name of the game when it comes to this classic line of pressed-steel toys. Touted as vehicles that could hold a rider of up to 200 pounds, the toys themselves often weigh between 8 to 20 pounds.

Yet, if the number of inquiries about variations, parts and condition of vehicles fielded by Yolles, and the response to Buddy L vehicles at auction is any indication, these large-scale pressed-steel toys remain an appealing presence in the secondary market. In early June of 2017, Bertoia Auctions presented a 1920s Buddy L pressed-steel fire pumper. The vehicle, with original paint and parts, nearly doubled its low estimate of $2,000, finishing at $3,900.

A review of upcoming on LiveAuctioneers reveals more than 30 lots featuring Buddy L vehicles coming up for bid through the end of August.

It’s clear, the legacy of a man skilled in metalwork, who simply set out to fulfill a promise to his young son and ultimately elevated the performance of pressed-steel toys, lives on in the appeal of this heartland favorite.

Dip into a Seasoned Collector’s Toy Box

There are few collector categories that can rival the global appeal of antique and vintage toys. Ask any toy enthusiast and they’ll tell you the “toy bug” plays no favorites. No matter where you grew up or what your age may be, you’re sure to recall with fondness your own favorite childhood toys, and that’s often what leads to an exploration and appreciation of toys of an even earlier era. Many in the know say the smart way to start a collection is via the auction route. Nothing can beat buying from a collection that has already been upgraded and refined, like the one offered in this week’s Vintage Toy sale.

A gem of a collection, the 79-lot assemblage features early European tin wind-ups, including automotive; comic character toys, Japanese vehicles with colorful original boxes, banks, clowns, and German toys by Lehmann, Gunthermann, and other manufacturers.

There are some surprising rarities in the sale, like this 1901 Fernand Martin “Le Pianiste” (Piano Player). When wound up, the cloth-dressed musician appears to play the piano, his hands moving across the keys as he sways back and forth. The market for French-made Martin toys has never been stronger. This particular toy is expected to make $3,250-$4,000.

Vintage Fernand Martin French Mechanical Automaton, Estimate: $3,250-$4,000. Jasper52 image

 

Any serious European toy enthusiast would want at least a couple of Gunthermann toys in their collection. This auction offers several possibilities. A hand-painted 1910 Man Playing Cello has been professionally restored and is cataloged with a $1,000-$1,500 estimate.

Vintage Restored 1910 Guentherman Musical Cello Player, estimate: $1,100-$1,500. Jasper52 image

 

Other Gunthermann productions include a Little Boy Twirling Two Celluloid Balls, estimate $650-$800, and a Galloping Horse with Rider, $400-$500.

Vintage Wind-up Gunthermann Little Boy Twirling 2 Balls, Estimate $650-$800. Jasper52 image

 

When it comes to antique and vintage German cars, demand is always greater than the available supply. Lot 32, a handsome Lehmann ivory with red, lithographed tin LUXUS limousine with driver is in perfect working order and complete condition, even retaining its original battery-operated headlight bulbs. This 13-inch beauty is not often seen in the marketplace. The example offered here is estimated at $7,150-$8,800.

Prewar Germany Wind-up LEHMANN EPL 785 ‘Luxus’ Limo, Estimate: $7,150-$8,800. Jasper52 image

 

Lot 30, a vintage Fischer tinplate wind-up 4-door sedan finished in green and black is expected to make $500-$600.

Vintage FISCHER Tinplate Windup 4-Door Sedan Car, Estimate: $500-$600. Jasper52 image

 

Boxed construction toys include a 1950s Tru-Mix cement mixer truck, a postwar (ATC) Japanese tin Ford F-800 dump truck; a Momoya tin friction dump truck, and several tractors by desirable Japanese manufacturers.

Vintage ASAHI (ATC) Japan Tin Ford F-800 Dump Truck, Estimate: $300-$400. Jasper52 image

 

A treasure of the early comic character era, Lot 35 is a 1932 Chein production of wood and tin depicting Ignatz Mouse, the precursor to Mickey Mouse. The playful rodent retains its original King Features Syndicate Chein & Co decal and original leather ears. A bright, colorful charmer, the toy is entered with a $2,860-$3,520 estimate.

It has been well documented that Ernst Paul Lehmann, creator of the ingenious tin toys bearing his name, took his inspiration from things he saw in his own German village or during his travels. The latter seems to have been the case in his design known as Dare Devil, Lot 26. The toy depicts a man seated in a cart pulled by a zebra, something Lehmann is said to have witnessed while visiting Africa. The lithographed tin Dare Devil in this sale is in excellent, all-original condition and carries an $850-$1,040 estimate.

Vintage Lehmann (Germany) Tin Lithographed Windup EPL 752 Dare Devil Man on Zebra Carriage Cart, Estimate: $850-$1,040. Jasper52 image

Click to view the fully illustrated auction catalog for this weekend’s Vintage Toys Auction.

6 Vintage Toys with Lasting Value

In this technological age, the lasting value of vintage toys is not to be underestimated. A century’s worth of toys has been curated into a prized collection that allows bidders to indulge their nostalgia for trains, planes and automobiles. Here are 6 standouts from the auction’s collection:

Technofix Wind-Up Tin Motorcycle

Technofix windup tin motorcycle with original box, 5in x 7 1/2in x 2 3/4in. Estimate: $750-$1,000. Jasper52 image

The popularity of mid-20th century toys is reflected in a trio of dramatically different models offered in this auction. Leading the parade is this postwar tin wind-up Technofix motorcycle. The bike is marked “Made in U.S. Zone Germany,” while the hard-to-find illustrated box is marked “Made in Western Germany.” In all-original, as-found working condition, this toy is estimated at $750-$1,000.

 

Nosco Friction Indian Motorcycle

Nosco friction Indian motorcycle with sidecar, early plastic police cycle, 5 1/2 inches. Estimate: $750-$1,000. Jasper52 image

The Nosco Indian police motorcycle with a sidecar has friction drive that produces a siren-like sound. This early plastic toy has a rare color and an adjustable front wheel, which allows the toy to run straight or in a circle.

 

Globe Cast Iron Indian Motorcycle

Globe cast-iron Indian motorcycle, 1930s, 8 3/4 in long. Estimate: $1,300-$1,700. Jasper52 image

The traditional choice in motorcycle toys is the cast-iron Indian with rider from the 1930s. The all-original bike is nearly 9 inches long and rides on black rubber tires.

 

Horse Drawn Wooden Wagon Toy

Horse-drawn wooden coal cart, 1920s, made by S.A. Smith Brattleboro Vt., 24in long. Estimate: $750-$1,000. Jasper52 image

From the 1920s comes a horse-drawn coal wagon toy, which is stamped with the maker’s name, “S.A. Smith, Brattleboro, VT” on both the base of the horse and the wooden cart. The 24-inch long toy is all original with an old repair to the cart.

 

Kai Bojesen Toy Dachsund

Kai Bojesen toy dachshund, articulated, mahogany, 12 1/2in long, 1934. Estimate: $800-$1,200. Jasper52 image

Kai Bojesen, an iconic figure in Danish design, earned worldwide acclaim for his collection of wooden toys, notably his monkey and toy soldiers. In 1934 he designed a dachsund made of mahogany. The head, tail and legs of this rare 12 1/2 inch long dog all swivel. In excellent vintage condition, this highly collectible toy is expected to find a new home for $800-$1,200.

 

Buddy L Tank Truck

Buddy L tank truck, 1926, original condition. 26in long. Estimate: $2,000-$2,800. Jasper52 image

Perhaps saving the best for last, here we have a 1926 Budy L tanker truck in fine original condition. The early Buddy L trucks are considered the Cadillacs of “floor toys,” large in scale and built of heavy gauge steel. Manufactured in Moline, Ill., this 26-inch long model is estimated at $2,000-$2,800.

View the full collection of vintage toys including dolls, stuffed toy animals and tin windup characters.

5 influential American toy companies of the 19th century

In the early 1800s, most American children played with homemade toys. That started to change with the arrival of the industrial revolution and the application of American ingenuity toward playthings.

Names like Marx, Tonka, Mattel and Hasbro, which are familiar to baby boomers and subsequent generations, didn’t emerge until the 20th century. To explore the American toy industry’s beginnings, one has to go back in time to before the Civil War, when pioneering toy manufacturers staked their claim on a still-developing sector.

Here are five companies that were on the ground floor of American toy production:

Francis, Field & Francis Omnibus. Sold for $56,000. Image via LiveAuctioneers

Francis, Field & Francis Omnibus. Sold for $56,000. Image via LiveAuctioneers

Francis, Field & Francis

The first toy manufacturer of record was based in Philadelphia. Known as Francis, Field & Francis, a.k.a Philadelphia Tin Toy Manufactory, this business was in operation as early as 1838. Francis, Field & Francis produced the first manufactured American toy, a horse-drawn fire apparatus. The company claimed their japanned (lacquered) tin toys were “superior to any imported.”

George W. Brown & Co.

By the mid-19th century, New England was the hotbed of toy making. George W. Brown of Forestville, Conn., apprenticed as a clock maker before co-founding George W. Brown & Co., to manufacture toys. Brown applied his knowledge of clocks in designing the first American clockwork tin toys, including a train that the company marketed in 1856. His company also produced many animal-drawn conveyances, platform toys, wagons, fire engines, ships and trains.

The District School figurine set made by Crandall's, 1876. Sold for $2,200. Image via LiveAuctioneers.

The District School figurine set made by Crandall’s, 1876. Sold for $2,200. Image via LiveAuctioneers.

Crandall Toys

Charles M. Crandall of Montrose, Pennsylvania, whose father and brothers were also toy makers, had his greatest success manufacturing building block sets. His sets patented in 1867 featured a tongue-and-groove arrangement that held the pieces together. Crandall introduced lithographed paper-on-wood building block sets in the 1870s. It was said that by the end of the 19th century, Crandall’s building block sets were seen in almost every civilized nation.

J. & E. Stevens Co.

J. & E. Stevens Co. of Cromwell, Connecticut, is credited as the first American company to produce cast-iron toys. John & Elisha Stevens started out making hardware but switched to simple toys like sadirons, garden tools and, later, pistols. J. & E. Stevens supplied cast-iron wheels to numerous toy makers. They are best known as prolific manufacturers of cast-iron mechanical banks in the late 1800s.

Ives & Co Cutter Sleigh, 1893. Sold for $190,000. Image via LiveAuctioneers

Ives & Co Cutter Sleigh, 1893. Sold for $190,000. Image via LiveAuctioneers

Ives & Co.

Of the many toy makers to emerge after the Civil War, the undisputed leader was Ives & Co. Edward Ives joined his father, Riley, around 1860. They moved their company from New York City to Bridgeport, Connecticut, a clock-making center, to facilitate their transition to manufacturing clockwork toys. The first were No. 1 Boy on Velocipede and No. 2 Single Oarsman, which replicated a man rowing a boat. Within a few years, Ives & Co. was producing about 20 high-quality clockwork tin toys. Ives set the pace with the trend toward cast iron in the 1870s, making the first mechanical bell toys on wheels. By the 1880s, Ives, Blakeslee & Co. was exporting toys to Europe and South America. In 1890, Harry Ives joined his father, Edward, in the business and continued manufacturing popular toys and trains well into the 20th century.

To view and bid on antique American toys, head to Jasper52 to check out this weeks’ curated toy auctions.

Information sourced from The Story of American Toys by Richard O’Brien (Abbeville Press, 1990)

How to Clean Antique Tin Toys

The cardinal rule when cleaning tin toys is to avoid paint loss at all costs. Why? Because a metal toy’s condition on the 1-to-10 scale is determined, first and foremost, by the amount of paint a toy has retained since its manufacture.

Carette Renault, c. 1906, lithographed sheet metal, original condition. Sold by Ladenburger Spielzeugauktion GmbH for €12,500. Image via LiveAuctioneers

Carette Renault, c. 1906, lithographed sheet metal, original condition. Sold by Ladenburger Spielzeugauktion GmbH for €12,500. Image via LiveAuctioneers

We all want our toys to be in tip-top condition, preferably boxed, but the more rare a toy is, the more leeway a collector might allow with respect to condition when contemplating a purchase. In other words, if you were to come across a toy that you believe to be one of few known examples, you wouldn’t necessarily pass on it because it’s not a 10, an 8, or even a 6. You might be willing to overlook its paint loss, buy it at a reduced price and hope that at some point in the future you’d be able to upgrade to a better example.

There is a point of no return, however. If a tin toy has lost so much paint that the only way to make it presentable is to repaint it, then you’d probably be throwing your money away if you bought it for anything other than replacement parts.

Now for the good news: if a toy is simply dirty, there’s an excellent chance that its condition can be raised by one or even two points simply by giving it a proper cleaning.

There are various schools of thought as to how tin toys should be cleaned. Every collector has his or her own tricks of the trade.

Lehmann Echo with Box, lithographed tin, Germany. Sold by Bertoia Auctions for $9,500. Image via LiveAuctioneers

Lehmann Echo with Box, lithographed tin, Germany. Sold by Bertoia Auctions for $9,500. Image via LiveAuctioneers

Key toy-cleaning kit includes these staples:

  • Automotive paste wax. Rain Dance, is a good choice, but you might decide to choose a different brand that works well for you. Just make sure it has a moist consistency
  • WD-40 spray in a can
  • Armor-All Original Protectant in a spray bottle
  • Soft rags. Cotton diapers are best, if you can find them
  • Cotton swabs, like Q-Tips
  • Rounded toothpicks with pointed ends

There are two basic types of tin toys: 18th/early-19th-century hand-painted types, and lithographed tin toys, which came later.

Whether cleaning an early hand-painted Gunthermann wind-up or a 1950s mass-produced Disney wind-up, you must never attempt to clean a toy without first testing your cleaning product on a small, inconspicuous spot. This is especially important with hand-painted toys, because you can never predict how old paint will react. Many early toys were painted without the use of a primer. In such cases, the paint could come off quite easily. To test a toy’s paint, take a Q-Tip, lightly apply a tiny bit of paste wax to a spot and see if any of the color comes off or the Q-Tip has picked up a faint color stain. If that happens, you will know that the toy cannot be cleaned with commercial products, and you should never do anything except dust it off with a soft cloth, using a very light touch.

If a tin toy passes the initial test, you can feel confident about cleaning it. Here are the important steps to follow:

  1. Lightly wipe off surface dust with a soft cloth.
  2. If the clockwork mechanism is tight or even frozen, set the toy down on some newspapers topped with layered paper towels and spray some WD-40 into the keyhole, using the slim, red straw that comes attached to the product’s container. Don’t worry about over-spraying. WD-40 is a lubricant that frees metal parts that have seized up. It can only benefit your toy’s mechanism. After spraying, let the WD-40 drain over the paper towels. You might want to set the toy on its side to drain. If you’ve had to spray it more than, say, twice, it may have to sit overnight in that position so all of the product can drain out.
  3. Dry the toy all over to thoroughly remove any liquid residue.
  4. Now you’re ready to apply the paste wax in a small, circular motion. Use a light touch to begin with; then you can become more aggressive as you determine the hardiness of the paint. On small or odd-shaped parts, you can use a small dab of wax on a Q-Tip. Try to avoid getting wax on or around the tabs that connect the toy’s parts, as the wax can get stuck in the crevices.
  5. After the wax has dried, get a fresh, soft cloth and wipe off the wax.
  6. Next, spray some Armor-All onto a clean, soft cloth and wipe the toy off. Do not spray the product directly onto the toy; only spray it onto the cloth. Follow this by buffing the toy. It will shine!
  7. You may notice there’s still some visible wax residue in the toy’s crevices or tabs. That’s where the toothpicks come in handy. Cover a toothpick with one layer of soft cloth and carefully work the point of the toothpick into the places where wax remains.

You are now ready to admire your toy and the value your sweat equity has added to it. Discover and bid on antique toys in weekly Jasper52 toy auctions.

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