The Tinplate Story
Some of the finest, expensive and most sought-after toys today are made from tin. The range is hugely diverse, covering pull-along, clockwork and battery-operated items – cars, trains, planes, boats, animals – in fact manufacturers were enormously enterprising in the variety of toys made.
Some of the earliest tinplate toys came from Germany in the mid-1800’s – notable Companies were Bing (1863), Fleischman (1887), Lehmann (1881), Gunthermann (1880) and Marklin (1859) and they proved to be the giants of the Germany tinplate industry; soon, many other notable names emerged in Germany, such as Arnold in 1906, Tipp & Co, & Schuco in 1912 and Levy in 1920.
Tin toy manufacture began throughout the rest of Europe with the Rossignol factory in France and pioneers in Britain such as Chad Valley, a Company first established in 1823 trading under the name of “Chad” and later, in 1919, “Chad Valley Toys”. British companies flourished after the First World War when the British public shunned all German products, including toys.
Some of the more enduring British manufacturers were Lines Brothers Limited (1919-1983), later known as Triang producing a range of fine tin toys (Minics), prams and bicycles and wooden pull-along toys. Louis Marx, an American Company with a British subsidiary (1932-1961) produced a huge variety of unusual novelty items, including some tinplate toys.
The Mettoy (Metal Toys) Company Limited was founded in 1933 by Phillipp Ullmann, a refugee from Nazi Germany. His first premises were in Northampton and as his Company flourished, it supplied toy lorries and aircraft to Marks & Spencer Stores. After the Second World War, the company diversified into the first small plastic toys, leading on to Corgi’s which went into production in 1956.
Brimtoy (1914-1932) merged with Wells in 1932 to become known as Wells-Brimtoy Limited, producing a vast selection of high-quality tinplate items, some of which are very unusual and collectable today, such as their clockwork fish (1954), flying Superman (1957), dancing Fairy Queen (1954), Mickey Mouse drawing tutor (1955) and walking pig and jumping kangaroo (1945).
Japan has produced tin toys for as long as the Europeans, but it was not until the late 1940’s, 50’s and 60’s that production reached its height. The toys produced in Japan after the Second World War were high quality tin cars, novelty automata and tin and celluloid animals and were aimed mostly at the American market; however, most were marked “Foreign” (rather than “Made in Japan”) as the Americans had a similar negative attitude towards Japanese products as the British had towards German goods.
Nowadays, very few countries are still producing toys from tinplate – some items are still made in Eastern Europe, China and Taiwan, but their quality does not match that of the German, French, British and Japanese makers. With the emergence of plastic in the 1950’s and 1960’s, tinplate lost its popularity; plastic was cheaper and safer. Nonetheless, many people feel that tinplate was the medium which most successfully encapsulated the developments in transport design over the past 100 years.