Relics of the Playground

Relics of the Playground  by Rosemary McKittrick

Photo courtesy of Bertoia Auctions.

The nicks, scratches and dents on an old toy dump truck are the battle scars of a bygone childhood.  These beloved survivors of the sandbox were destined to be played with.  It’s was their job. 

It’s a field of collecting where toys are often clearly labeled.  Makers and marks are documented. Collectors appreciate the lack of guesswork.

It’s ironic because “playing” with them is what destroyed their value as a collectible.  It’s a catch-22 situation of sorts, a problem the toys’ first owner rarely shared.  And the original box--that was usually the first thing to go when the toy came home from the store. 

To the collector condition is everything even though they rarely play with their toys anymore, and those original boxes, well that’s just icing.

Stumbling upon one of these old beauties at a yard sale is enough to transport some grown up children back in time.  Especially if you owned that particular car or truck.   

Vintage toy cars and trucks are all about nostalgia and history. 

As automobiles showed up on the roads across America and the world their miniature counterparts showed up too.  These toy cars and trucks mirror the era in which they were made. They show us how cars evolved over time. 

They also offer a pint-size view of what traffic on rural, bumpy roads might have looked like. Colorful paint, miniature hinged hoods, replica engines, lamps, glass windows, opening doors, rubber wheels and spare tires bring the era back to life.

All that’s missing is a little imagination. 

Tinplate toy sedans, limos, coupes, and racers gradually replaced the original wooden toys in the early-19th century.  Tinplated steel offered versatility.  It could be cut out, shaped and decorated in an endless assortment of styles and models.

The late-19th and early-20th centuries are considered the Golden Age of the tinplate toy.  Many of the best makers were German and they dominated the market until the war broke out in 1914.   Names like Marklin, Bing and Carette stand out.

Before the1890s most of these tinplate cars and trucks were hand-painted and the detail in them is extraordinary.  In the early-1900s offset color lithography was introduced and toy vehicles were decorated with transfer prints.  Metal could now be run through a printing press.  It was easier and more economical.  Tinplate toys got lighter and less ornate. 

Toymakers also often contracted with business and built trucks bearing the names and advertising slogans of real-life companies.  Department stores, delivery services, moving companies and laundries are a few examples.

The good thing about toys is it’s a field of collecting where toys are often clearly labeled.  Makers and marks are documented.  Collectors appreciate the lack of guesswork. 

This brings us back to the most important issue—condition.  A whole system of grading is used to determine value.  Mint condition means like-new.  At the bottom of the grading ladder is play-worn which means virtually no value.  Having a set of guidelines gives collectors an arena in which to comfortably operate. 

On Sept. 24 and 25, Bertoia Auctions in Vineland, N.J., featured a selection of vintage, tin vehicles in its Donald Kaufman Collection IV sale.  Kaufman was an important American toy collector.

Kaufman Collection

Coupe De Ville Taxi; Carette; lithographed tin; red body; clockwork driven; German; circa 1912; 12 ½ inches long;  $3,738.

Open Tourer; Carette; four-seat; hand-painted tin; white body; clockwork driven; German; circa 1912;  12 ½ inches long;  $4,313.

Sedan; Marklin; two-door; hand-painted tin; deep blue; clockwork opening; German; circa late-1920s; 16 inches long;  $4,600.

Limousine; hand-painted tin; green body; clockwork driven; French; circa 1905; 20 inches long;  $4,600.

Taxi; attributed to Pinard; hand-painted tin; clockwork driven; French; circa 1910; 14 ½ inches long;  $11,500.       

Rosemary McKittrick is a storyteller.  For 26 years she has brought the world of collecting to life in her column.  Her website is a mother lode of information about art, antiques and collectibles.  Rosemary received her education in the trenches working as a professional appraiser.

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