Tin toys production in Germany, France, Spain 1813-1920

Due to the rapid evolution of industrialisation at the beginning of the 19th century and the first German public railways between Nuremberg and Fürth in 1835 with the “Adler”, small and family businesses started producing tin toys made of tinplate and tin.

The toy production was also inspired by the steam engine invented by James Watt around 1769. As early as at the end of the 18th century, steam engines were produced for modelling purposes, crafted so accurately that they would run with real steam. The tin toys production was initiated in the beginning usually by small or family businesses, i.e., with the formation of Rock & Graner in 1913 in Biberach initially making unpainted sheet metal household appliances and simple doll tin toys.  

During the World Exhibition 1851 in London, Rock & Graner already exhibited different tin toys, i.e., toy canons made of sheet metal, horse-drawn carriages, simple trains with no drive, plain sheet metal ships and doll kitchens and accessories. Companies like Lutz, founded 1844 in Ellwangen, Büchner, founded around 1836 in Nuremberg, and many more would complete very similar production contents by offering an increasing number of manufacturing companies for tin toys.

With the company formation of Gebrüder Märklin in 1859, a milestone of success was set, which still stands today. Doll toys made of sheet metal, later from approx. 1890 colourfully painted railways with no drive and equipped with clockworks and steam drive and from approx. 1900 with the by then most expensive variation of the electric drive, a highly successful era began. Railways by then were produced in various tracks, accessories for railways, horse-drawn carriages, castles, automobiles, flying objects, steam engines, drive components, etc. There were hardly any toys not produced by Märklin. Almost anything made of sheet metal or wood was rather seldomly used by this company.

The tin toys were soldered accurately, mostly equipped with one of the drive types already mentioned and hand-painted with utmost care to detail.

One of the most important French companies to mention are the tin toys manufacturers Maltête et Parant around 1866, Tantet et Manon around 1879, F.V. around 1859, Dessein since 1822, Portier in 1876, Emile Sander in 1882 and J. Carron in 1856. These companies have gained popularity especially due to their artful and highly-detailed coloured production of tin toy railways, ships, cars and carriages. Well preserved earlier exhibits dating from before the turn of century are already today hard to find, because the sheet metal often was not primed, causing the top coat to dry out when not stored perfectly and the paint to get off.

Maltête et Parent antique handpainted train

From the middle to the end of the 19th century, Germany saw the formation of many other companies specialising in tin toys. The product range became increasingly extensive. By then, there existed steam engines, hot-air engines, gas engines, steam turbines in very different variations, many different drive components, cars, motorcycles, tin figures, sheet metal carriages, all kinds of flying objects, fantastic sheet metal ships, fascinating railways and the corresponding accessories, etc.

Among those companies counted Gebrüder Bing, founded in 1866, Jean Schoenner, founded in 1875, Georges Carette, founded in 1886, Ernst Planck, founded in 1866, Leonhard Staudt, founded in 1867, Siegfried Günthermann, founded in 1877, Georg Fischer, founded in 1903, Karl Bub, founded in 1851, Johann Andreas Issmayer, founded in 1820, and many more.

All those companies were based in and around Nuremberg and benefited from the nearby tin mines for material procurement of the tin toys. What had been entirely manual work in the middle of the 19th century, from tailoring the individual sheets to soldering and ultimately to finishing by applying artful manual top coat, would change with the increasing evolution and modernisation of the individual companies around the end of the 19th century.

In parts, manual painting was completed by lithographed sheet prints, which provided many low-priced toys a very lively feeling. Also the individually printed sheets were jointed by using flaps and not by using soldering technology. Ernst Paul Lehmann, founded in 1881 in Brandenburg, was an excellent manufacturer of lithographed sheets.

The high-quality, hand-soldered and ultimately manual painting was maintained, but mostly rather appealed to the upper bourgeoisie. Until the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, already then there would be increasingly higher quantities and series produced and more and more specialised cutting machines and presses would replace labourers' work. By then, there was worldwide exportation, the US, however, was the country where most sales were achieved. Last, but not least, I would like to point out to the tin toys manufacturing from Spain. Hispania, founded in 1890 in Barcelona, produced wonderful hand-made tin toys carriages, automobiles, ships of the finest crafting arts. This rather appealed to wealthy families of the imperial period.

Also, Rico was an interesting toys manufacturer from Ibi near Alicante, which was founded in 1916, and predominantly produced lithographed tin toys.

The company Paya, founded in 1906, also having its manufacture in Ibi near Alicante, is still today producing toys and still makes replicas of many old lithographed tin toys dating from the 1930s.

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