Hidden Treasures / Tin Toys

It’s not unusual to come across old toys at your estate sale. You may be tempted to dismiss them and put them on your “toys and misc. stuff” table. But it may be worth your while to do a little research first.


Tin Windup Toys

Antique and vintage tin windup toys are very collectible, and have statistically increased in value by about 15% per year. In some cases they can be surprisingly valuable, such as the vintage 1930’s toy that recently sold on eBay for over $6,000.  More typical is this windup roller coaster, manufactured in the 1930’s in the U.S. by the J. Chien Toy Company. Its current value ranges from $75 to $100 depending on condition.


A Little Bit of History

So, how do you identify a vintage or antique tin toy? Here’s a little bit of background information that should help. First, the terms “vintage” and “antique” generally refer to a toy made before 1965. Tin toys were being produced as early as the mid-1800s in many countries, including Germany, England, France and Japan. By the 1950s Louis Marx and Company in the U.S. was the largest toy manufacturer in the world.

Then in the 1960s the U.S. began regulations to reduce the dangers of materials used in making toys, including the tin and paints being used. Plastics then became the material of choice in toy manufacturing, because they are easy to use, make a soft durable toy, and cost less than other materials.


What is Collectible?


Japanese toys made in the 1950s and 1960s are some of the most collectible tin toys today. Space and science themes, such as spaceships and robots, tend to have the highest resale market values, though of course values depend heavily on condition. Toys that have no broken or missing parts, that have their original paperwork and packaging, and are in good condition are the most valuable.

Is it Vintage or a Reproduction?

There are plenty of vintage toy reproductions toys on the market, and keep in mind that just because your grandmother owned it doesn’t mean it’s an antique. Look carefully at the toy for clues to its age. If it’s pristine and has vibrant colors that look new, it’s probably a reproduction. Also look at the screws used to assemble the toy; if they are Phillips-head screws then it’s a reproduction. Look for maker’s marks or any indication of where it was made.

Next, take a picture of the toy and download it to Google Images to find other similar toys; this can give you a clue of its maker and when it may have been produced. Once you’ve identified the toy and its age and origin, you can research its resale value.


What's it Worth?

Now that you’ve identified your toy, go to online auction and resale sites to determine a reasonable value. Remember, you’re looking for sale prices, not asking prices, so look for information on recent sales in your area. Keep in mind that “condition is everything” when you’re setting your asking price. If you have a more valuable vintage or antique toy, either set a minimum price for your sale, or look online for collectors who might make a better offer.


Be sure you know what you’ve got by doing your research, before you price that item. Stay tuned to Tales From the Sales for more insightful and valuable articles.

  • Donna

Donna Davis has over twenty years of experience in the antiques and estate sale business, and conducts sales every weekend in the Greater Atlanta Area. She is also the Founder and Director of the National Association of Estate Liquidators, and Lead Instructor of NAOEL’s online school. You can contact Donna by email at donna@naoel.com or by phone at 800-521-8820.


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