Tin Toys

Tin wind up monkey xylophone player, available at Tin Toys and Collectibles
A thing of beauty is a joy forever~John Keats
Whether it has a mechanical action or not, a tin toy is a beautiful object to look at and lovely to hold -it's that smooth, shiny surface, the rich colours, the quirky patterns and for many, the nostalgic image of childhood it conjures. A tin toy has charm.

A Little History
Tin merry-go round from Litily Maha
When manufacturers began to use tin plate to make toys back in the mid 19th century, it was considered a cheap substitute for wood. The toys were made from sheet metal and painstakingly hand-painted. However, in the late 1800s a process called offset lithography was invented, which meant designs could now be printed directly onto the tin, making production a simpler process.

By the early 20th century, Germany, which had developed the spring activated tin toy, had pretty much cornered the tin toy market and was the largest producer. During this period the most famous and innovative  tin toy maker was Ernst Paul Lehmann who exported almost 90 % of his stock to the rest of the world.

Classic spinning tops from Tin Toys and Collectables
In time however, other countries, - including France, England and the United States, began manufacturing their own tin toys. In the US, tin ore mines were opened in Illinois, facilitating the production of large numbers of tin toys. Unfortunately for the German manufacturers, post WWI, anti-German sentiment was at an all time high and this, together with the ramping up of US production, meant that the US became the new world leader in tin toy manufacturing.

1966 Tin Robotank-Z Robot
Alas, it was a relatively short-lived triumph.  A lull in production during WWII and the rise of cheap post war Japanese manufacturing, saw the end of the US tin toy ascendance. Tin toys remained popular until the end of the 1950s, when new, cheaper, safer and easy to manufacture  plastic toys swamped the toy market. Tin toys are still being produced today and not surprisingly,  China has become the leading producer.

In the heydays of tin toy manufacturing, there were literally hundreds of products made from  tin - anything from simple hand clickers and buckets and spades to mechanical robots and pedal cars. The world's first toy robot was made from tin. Of course, many of these early pieces are now quite collectible and as is the case with most collectibles, condition and original packaging go a long way toward premium prices- although, the 1966 Japanese Tin Robotank at right, sans box, sold for auction in 2007 for $557.Included below are a few resources for those with a deeper interest in tin toys.

Robot timer from TinToyArcade
The Art of the Tin Toy - David Pressland has been collecting tin toys since the 1950s and he now advises and sources for serious tin toy collectors. The website includes some terrific pictures of vintage toys.
Tin Toy Arcade  - this website has a vast selection of contemporary tin toys, many of which are reproductions of older styles.
ebay, Antique Tin Toys - there's some real beauties among this lot. Vintage toys from sellers all over the world.
My Tin Toys - includes a lovely selection of tin toys for sale and a resource page for collectors.