A Serious History of Antique Toy Cars Cannot Begin without talking Cast-Iron!

Most cast-iron vehicles were more or less faithful reproductions of full-size prototypes of cars and other wheeled vehicles.

In their mimicking of full-size vehicles, the makers of cast-iron car toys followed the lead of the tinplate toy manufacturers, even to the extent of producing versions of vehicles that were no longer in use. Thus, many turn-of-the-century, cast-iron vehicles have an archaic look that might lead inexperienced collectors to assume they are much older than they are. After 1900 much more accurate versions of such popular vehicles as the Model T Ford, Yellow Cab, Cord Supercharger, and other cars appeared. Cars constituted the majority of these toys manufactured during the period. Some of the more famous makers of the antique cast-iron cars were Hubley, Arcade, and Dent so be on the watch for these names stamped on toy cars. 

Miniature Sheet Steel Cars

Steel production did not thrive in America until about 1850, and was thus a latecomer as a toy making material. All-steel toys began to be widely produced about 1900, primarily for rideable toys such as bicycles and miniature cars. These were followed by the heavy-gauge steel toy cars and trucks made by Buddy Firestone, Dayton and Tonka Toys. Made in 1901, the first toy automobile was a sheet-steel copy of an Oldsmobile. A number of friction-driven cars, also made of sheet steel, were produced in Dayton, Ohio, prior to 1910

The earliest full-size motorcars were similar to the horse-drawn carriages they replaced. Most were high and block-shaped, and had open seats for drivers and passengers. Not surprisingly, the first toy cars closely resembled these prototypes. In fact, some were simply carriages from which the horses had been removed. As the modern automobile evolved, these miniature versions changed with it. 

Even as late as the early 20th century, firms such as Arcade and Hubley were still tuning out hundreds of kinds of accurate, miniature cast-iron cars -- Model Ts, Chevrolet coupes, and virtually any car model that came off the Ford, Nash, Chrysler, Cadillac, and Pontiac production lines.

Following World War II, cast iron was replaced by white metal and, to some extent, plastic. Toy car lines by Dinky Toy, and Tootsietoy featured highly accurate white-metal cars, which are attracting more and more collectors today. Rubber was also used during the 1930s, chiefly by Auburn Rubber but examples in this medium lack the realism and the durability of metal cars. 

A Few Antique Toy Car Tips

Cast-iron toys were extremely popular in the 1880s and '90s and continued to be made until World War II, when iron was needed for military purposes. Champion was one of the later companies to make cast-iron toy cars, producing a limited number of vehicles in the 1930s and early '40s. Because they were made relatively recently, Champion toys are usually found in good condition. However, they are not so well detailed and designed as earlier cast-iron toys made by Hubley. Nevertheless, they are sought by some collectors and will undoubtedly become more desirable. 

During the early 1900s, auto racing became a craze, especially in Europe, and toy makers produced miniature toy replicas of the cars that were setting records across the Continent. One of the first was a model of the then world's fastest pre-1900 racing car, which could travel more than a mile a minute. Although it was called an amphibian auto, it was simply a spring-drive jalopy and was not designed to operate in water. The presence of a cloth scarf on a figure is somewhat unusual for a tinplate toy. 

Large, 1930s-style cars with working headlights are choice collector's items and definitely considered antique. Although the battery terminals and light sockets are often corroded, they can easily be cleaned or replaced without reducing the value of the toy.

The Japanese toy industry was gradually rebuilt after World War II, and by the mid- to late 1950s had become one of the world's major exporters of children's playthings including toy cars. Since that period, virtually no potentially antique toy cars have been produced.

A Bit of History on Collectible Tinplate and Cast-Iron Toys

Originally tinplate was used mostly used for oil cans in the mid to late 1800s and Germany was the first to use the material in toys. Tinplate was an easy material to make cars from because of its ability to be stamped, soldered and painted. 

Following tinplate many toy cars were made from cast-iron. Cast-iron became the material of choice since it had characteristics that allowed for easier and cheaper mass-production. It also had a lasting durability unmatched by any materials before or since.

By the late 1960s tinplate and cast-iron cars had gradually disappeared as plastic and advanced metal alloy toys emerged. Since then few worthwhile collectible toy cars have been made by any manufacturers.

America's Contribution to Collectible Toy Cars

Never had a country been as prosperous as the U.S. and its prosperity showed early in the love people had for cars. With adults love for cars it was only natural for children to gravitate to toy cars -- what better way to pretend to be adults and head-of-households! 

Following World World War II the toy industry boomed in America and MANY American toy makers were producing hundreds of models of toy cars -- every boy could have a toy car just like his Dad. 

For a brief period (after Germany and before Japan became a major manufacturing country) America made and shipped more toys -- including cars -- than all countries combined. It seemed that the whole world was riding America's car craze.

Dating Toy Cars

Yes we are repeating this one more time... Why? Because for small toys this is one of the absolute best ways to establish an accurate date on the manufacture of the toy. If your collectible toy car just happens to still be in a box you can use ZIP Codes to determine the date it was made. 5 digit ZIP codes were first implemented by the US Post Office in 1963. In 1983 the Post Office implemented ZIP + 4. So if your collectible toy cars have a ZIP code of 5 digits, it dates between 1963 and 1983. If it has a 5 digit code followed by a 4 digit code, it dates from 1983 or later. 

New abbreviations for states also became prominent around 1963. Between 1943 and 1963, the largest U.S. cities used "postal zones." If your collectible toy cars have a postal zone number following the state in the address, it dates between 1943 and 1963.