Story of the Week

Posted: 03.17.2013
The Early Days of Tin Toy Vehicles
By: Robert Tate
The early days of tin toy vehicles started when the horseless carriage and the automobile became a way of transportation for many Americans and European consumers all over the world. The journey began in the 1800s when a company named Marklin, among other French and German manufacturers, produced a variety of toys that offered outstanding qualities. Some of the features included hand painted bodies along with elaborate steering wheel mechanisms beneath the toy models that many children thoroughly enjoyed.

The Bub Company was another major manufacture and contributor whom produced early tin toy models. In 1851, at Nuremberg, Mr. Karl Bub founded the organization. By the 1900s, the firm began production on toy vehicles. Each toy vehicle had precise detail that featured metal wheels with great lithography.

 Gunthermann was another popular firm that made its mark within the toy store market. In 1877, S. Gunthermann founded the notable firm and produced its first car by 1898. The company continued until the late 1965 when it was purchased by Siemens.

By the 1900's, when the motor car developed and became established, more innovations and technological advances on real cars were made. The toy manufactures were also being creative with its line of tin toy automobiles. They developed techniques of tin pressing and lithography which enabled them to catch the spirit of prewar transportation vehicles. Some vehicles began offering adjustable steering, two opening doors, two side lamps and working handbrakes.

Toy cars were not the only tin models that were popular among children during the first part of the century. In 1910, The Bing Company produced a Double-Decker bus with great detail and an interesting lithographed with full color advertisements. Today, a Double-Decker bus in mint condition could auction for anywhere from $30,000-$40,000.

From 1918-1930, the new technological advances included enhanced methods of manufacturing and lithography along with the use of advanced materials to enhance the finished product creating various sounds from the toy vehicles. From 1930-1939, before World War II, was a period of great designs and classic automobile shapes that was marketed for the consumer buyer. Once again, the toy manufactures reflected their strong elements and creativity in tin toy car manufacturing.

During the early days of motoring, it was a known fact that many people came into direct contact with railways and public motor vehicles than privately owned vehicles. However, the toy automobile was able to bring the joy to many children, adults, and collectors. Today, early tin toy collecting is very expensive among collectors and pre-way items are in high demand. The tin toy vehicles in our story are not only beautiful and wonderfully made but also an important part of our American and European industry history. The toy vehicle era recalls a simpler time of our days with many great memories that have slowly disappeared into our past.

A special thanks to Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher, for donating the story to the MotorCities Story of the Week program. Photographs courtesy of New Cavendish Books, Graham Strong, and Nick Daly. (Bibliography: Levy, Allen. Toy Autos 1890-1939. New Cavendish books Ltd 1994. Hertz H. Louis. The Complete Book Of Building And Collecting Model Automobiles . Crown Publishers Inc., New York. 1970.)

Please do not republish the story and/or photographs without permission of MotorCities National Heritage Area. For further information contact Robert Tate at If you have a story that you would like to donate to be featured as a MotorCities Story of the Week, email Lisa Ambriez at

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