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Vintage and Antique Tin Toys

As many antique collectors know, tin litho toys were stamped out of tin plate and painted with chromolithography or hand painted. These colorful objects were treasured by children, and they are now a favorite among collectors. Some antique tin toy enthusiasts focus on collecting certain types of toys while others diversify their collection by acquiring objects from several eras and manufacturers.

What sorts of toys were made from tin?

Tin was normally used to make metal toys in these sorts of categories:

  • Vehicles: The majority of vintage tin toys are shaped into the form of cars, trucks, trains, motorcycles, and carriages. Children loved these because they normally came with intricate moving parts, and some were even wind up.
  • Airplanes and Rockets: As flight became more common, antique tin toys started appearing as planes and rockets. A lot of the airplanes are modeled after World War fighting planes.
  • Whistles:Tin was not just used for moving vehicles. It was also formed into beautifully designed whistles.
  • Figurines: Small action figures in the shapes of farmers, drivers, and cowboys were also made of tin. Robots were also made from tin.
  • Buildings: Though somewhat rare to find now, many vintage toy houses and other model buildings were made of tinplate.
What eras are antique tin toys from?

Older tin toys tend to be rarer, but they are highly sought-after among tin enthusiasts. You can generally find antique toys from these eras:

  • 1850-1900: Germans first began mass-producing tin toys during this era, so this is typically the oldest toys you can find.
  • 1900-1920: Due to the first World War, the United States took over as the major producer of tin toys. They were often called "penny toys" for their affordability.
  • 1920-1940: Louis Marx and Company produced most tin toys made during this time. Metal toys were in high demand during this time, so you can find many vintage toys from this era.
  • 1940-1960: Production in the U.S. dropped off during the forties because tin was needed for the war effort, so most of the vintage tin toys you can find from this time period were made in Japan.
  • 1960-1980:With the introduction of plastic after World War II, the production of tinplate toys decreased. Though fewer tin toys were being produced, vintage toys from this era are very common on the antique market.
How do you clean antique tin toys?

You need to be very careful when cleaning tinplate antiques because vigorous cleaning methods could remove paint. If the object has moving parts, gently spray with WD-40 and let it drain overnight to see if you can wind up the toy again. WD-40 or Armor All can also be used to remove oily residues. You can then use a microfiber cloth, canned air, or a dry paintbrush to brush off any other grime. Air dry the old toys after cleaning to avoid streaking or rust.

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