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Collecting vintage tinplate toys

Janet Horner talks to Janet Gleeson about her love of vintage tinplate toys

Tinplate toys
Jody Stewart
Published: August 5th, 2022 at 10:00 am

What is it that made you start collecting tinplate toys?

We were initially drawn to their visual appeal – they are so bright and colourful, and they do things. After we found the plane in the snow, we started to look for them wherever we went. We’d find them in unexpected places and buy them for Christmas and birthday presents.

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Tinplate toys

Did you focus on their history when buying?

We discovered that tinplate toys began in the mid 19th century with famous German makers such as Bing, Märklin and Lehmann. But these were often beyond our budget and there was an element of chance to our collecting. We became interested in space toys after the Moon landings and bought robots, flying saucers and astronauts. We also really liked animals. I had a wonderful tumbling monkey that terrified the children. He disappeared one day and I never found him again. I think one of them must have disposed of him!


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Where did you buy them?

Mainly from junk shops and jumble sales. During the summer holidays we used to stay with the artist Fred Cuming at his house in Hythe, Kent and, while there, we always visited a junk shop in Folkestone that would invariably have one or two tinplate toys. One year we discovered that the owner had died and the shop was closing down. We asked if there were any toys left and were told to go upstairs, where we found a huge collection. We bought the lot for about £50.

Tinplate toys

Do you have a favourite tinplate toy?

Yes – it’s a singing bird by German company Hohner, which is best known for making harmonicas. I bought it new from Habitat when I was very pregnant with my youngest son. It flaps its wings and turns its head and sings.


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What advice would you give to a new tinplate toy collector?

Look after them. I keep mine dusted and oiled and I take care not to overwind them because if the spring goes that’s it. These days there are lots of reproductions around. If, like we did, you are buying for visual appeal, there’s nothing wrong with a new tinplate toy – so long as you recognise that’s what it is.

Tinplate toys

Where to buy tinplate toys


1950s Peter Pan Clockwork, Tinplate Toy, "Banana Joe"

Tinplate toys

This colourful Banana Joe tinplate toy is in worn condition, but it's certainly a rare find. The toy had been cleaned and oiled, but no changes have been made to the original piece.

Buy 1950s Peter Pan Clockwork, Tinplate Toy, "Banana Joe" from Etsy (£225)


Vintage Handheld 1930s Tin Boxer Toy

Tinplate toys

Fun and colourful, this 1930s tinplate boxing toy is in good condition considering its age. Simply squeeze the tinplate toy to make the two boxers fight.

Buy Vintage Handheld 1930s Tin Boxer Toy from Etsy (£30)


20th Century Toy Acrobatic Rocking Painted Tin Plate Clown

Tinplate toys

This quirky tinplate toy was based off an earlier Victorian creation. Set the clown spinning and watch it reverse as it reaches each end.

Buy 20th Century Toy Acrobatic Rocking Painted Tin Plate Clown from Vinterior (£300)


Tinplate Deep Sea Diver by Fleischmann, 1940

Tinplate toys

For a tinplate toy with a difference, this one from 1st Dibs has a working lantern for a quirky light fitting. This tinplate toy still maintains all its original paintwork from 1940.

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Buy Tinplate Deep Sea Diver by Fleischmann, 1940 from 1st Dibs (£6,500)

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