Telegraph Antiques Column with Michael Dowse: Toys with a value far more than just a penny
Cheaply made from pressed tin and very easy to break, these small toys, measuring no longer than five inches, were affordable to all as they really were sold for just a penny by many street peddlers and market stalls who still made a good profit on them.
Penny toys were in production from the 1860s but peaked in popularity around 1900, largely due to the process of transfer colour lithography that was widely available by 1890. It enabled fine detail and colour to be added to sheets of tinplate very quickly and economically making the toys very bright, exciting and desirable to children.
Many of the Penny toys were produced by well-known toy manufacturers and largely in Germany.
German-based Distler, for example, started off as a penny tinplate toy manufacturer before expanding its range.
Penny toys were very small, which actually made them quite difficult for children to play with, especially where the toy involved a tiny detachable piece, like a driver, which was tricky to take in and out of a car.
Vehicles were a dominant subject matter for Penny toys; they would all move, some needed pushing while the more sought after were fitted with a flywheel allowing them to propel themselves. Penny toys were quite often tiny replicas of larger, more expensive tinplate toys on sale at the time.
There is a good collectors’ market for Penny toys, with very good or mint condition being the most important element in value, closely followed by rarity. Early examples tend to be more popular as the quality of production did decline over time as demand grew. Fine lithography and interesting or intricate designs are also keenly collected.