Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: Today tin is in and I am featuring this lovely, but very simple toy that Kim gave me for Christmas this year. It came from an auction and caught my eye. Pictorama readers may know that this falls well outside my usual area of collecting – nary a cat or even an animal to be seen, not a wind-up. Yet there is a sort of universal charm about this toy. If there was something akin to a toy archetype in my mind this toy might qualify.
The handle of the wood chopper turns and that causes the log to be sawed and the mill wheel to turn. The wear on this is a testament to the belovedness of the toy. The paint is gone on part of the roof from it’s proximity to the turning wheel, and also on the edges of the house where you tend to grasp it. There is something very satisfying and soothing about turning the wheel and watching the pieces move. The charm of the origin detail in the paint with shading and the texture of the house exterior and log – I think it was a very brightly painted toy in its day. There is something a bit amiss about the proportions – of house to log and mill, even assuming the “log” is indeed a tree.
My knowledge of this kind of tin toy is really about zero, but I assign it to the category of penny toys. These tin toys were the brain child of German manufacturing starting around 1885 these toys were designed to be accessible for purchase by working class families. In Great Britain they sold for the price of a penny – hence the term which has stayed with them. Although the manufacture of them continued longer, they were most popular from 1885 until about 1914 – I assume without knowing that the World War probably slowed production and export and killed the popularity for export. According to a brief entry in Wikipedia, countries of destination were considered in the making and marketing of these toys – British omnibuses, trains for the United States for example and we know they weren’t doing business with Germany much from 1914 on and for awhile.
In my mind penny toys are one notch smaller and less sophisticated in motion than this one, but I think that is my own prejudice on the subject. In reading about them online the term definitely seems to cover toys of this size and relative complexity and beyond.
This toy is marked with a tag it retains, DC Made in Germany and this was the mark of a company in Nuremberg, Germany called Distler – Johann Distler KG to be precise. The company was founded by Mr. Distler in 1895 making these sorts of penny toys in the early years, with a catalogue of about 500 items. An article I found in the Sheffield Telegraph mentions the company as having gotten on board with early licensed Disney toy production and cleaned up on early Mickey Mouse toys starting in 1928. (This seems early to me as the first cartoon appears in 1928.)
At Johann’s death, in 1923 (meaning he completely missed the Mickey Mouse boom) the company was taken over by his partners and then ultimately sold in 1935. The company and name is ultimately sold again to a Belgian company where in particular their line of race cars is produced until the late 1960’s. (Much of this quick history of the company comes to me via the Bertoia Auction site – which is where I purchased this toy, although the history was note in the listing for it.)
Images for toys associated with the company does not immediately turn up any like mine – it is car heavy, even in the earlier toys. Notably there is a Felix, circa 1925, I would certainly like to get my hands on, shown here. (An early indication on prices show is that I might have to mortgage the apartment however!) My wind-up Felix, shown below, does declare that he was Made in Germany, but does not give a manufacturer’s name. I don’t believe he’s ever gotten his own post and maybe I will set my cap for that in the New Year.
It goes without saying that these toys, originally designed to be affordable and accessible are now sold for many multiples of their original sale price, somehow making the appellation a bit ironic for collectors like me. Nevertheless, I welcome this first example of this type into the Pictorama collection.