Antique Wooden Toys

In plentiful supply and easy to shape, wood has been used for toy-making for centuries. So, it's hard to argue that wood did not mark the true beginning of toys -- especially in America. Many, many immigrants to America were skilled hand craftsmen and brought from their heritage the ability to carve toys from any available piece of wood. The times were simple and children relished in the simple wooden toys made by their fathers and grandfathers. Original hand-carved antique wooden toys still represent one of the most expensive and collectible of all wood toys -- especially those carved by famous people or well known toy makers. 

However, today's toy collectors are most interested, not in the hand carved toys, but the mass-produced wooden toys made during 19th century. Even wooden toys manufactured in the '60s and '70s are also being sought after and collected with as investments. Although this sounds a bit odd it is expected -- the supply of hand-carved wooden toys is so small that only the richest few would be able to participate in collecting. Another factor is that there has been a resurgence of the wooden toy pastimes caused by the longing of parents and children for more conventional toys.

The History of Wooden Toys

Before the 1850s practically all toys were one-of-a-kind hand made pieces. Carved miniature figures designed for nativity scenes date back to the 15th century and were the precursors of the popular toy arks made from the late 16th century until the 1930s.

Prior to the 19th century, Germany produced more wooden toys than any other country. Craftsmen there worked primarily with pine, a wood that is fairly sturdy yet easy to carve. Maple and birch were also occasionally used for finer wood toys. Small toys were carved by hand with a knife. Larger toys, particularly structures such as Noah's ark, were made of sawed pieces of wood fastened together with nails and glue. Many of the sawed toys made in the late 19th century were decorated with Lithographed paper, which was glued to the wood. 

Wooden Toys made in the United States were usually larger than those from Germany. Pine was the most common material, but because of their strength, ash and oak were also used for the largest of wooden toys. American toys were usually crafted on a lathe rather than carved by hand. Originally, since lathes and drills were powered by water wheels that were set in motion by running streams, the availability of water power in America determined where toy manufacturers had to set up their shops well into the 1870s. 

The earliest of Wooden toys were painted by hand but stenciling was introduced around 1850 and lithography in the late 19th century. These three characteristics can be used to help date old wooden toys if one is careful. After the Civil War, machines were increasingly powered by steam engines, which allowed shops to be located in larger towns and cities not necessarily close to a water source which created a huge boom in the American wooden toy business.

Some of the most charming jointed wooden toys were patented and produced by Charles Crandall from the 1860s through 1900. They depict scenes from fairy tales and from everyday American life, including a schoolroom, complete with dunce, as well as a scene with a soldier celebrating the Centennial.