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From Value One, Summer 2016 No. 53  

A tin robot awakens our nostalgia
 

Craftsmanship That Overwhelmed the World

Tin toys are antique items that collectors are willing to pay unbelievably high prices to obtain. Japan once dominated the market as the leading manufacturer of tin toys—toys that charmed children in Japan and the West as well.

Made by coating steel sheets with tin, tinplate has excellent features that include a beautiful metallic luster, high corrosion resistance and superb weldability. Since tinplate is also easy to print on, tin toys have long featured diverse and realistic designs and colors.

A tin toy has a mainspring or motor built into a body formed from tinplate that is about 0.3 millimeter thick. The product variety is extensive, including robots, automobiles and ships.

The history of tin toys dates back to the mid-nineteenth century, when they were first made in Germany. The first tin toys imported to Japan arrived in the early Meiji Era (1868–1912). After World War II, tin toy production in Japan was expanded as they became valuable export items produced to make up for the supply shortage in the U.S., and Japan surpassed Germany as the world’s largest manufacturer. In those days, most tin toys were produced by small workshops in Sumida and Katsushika cities in Tokyo. At the peak in the 1960s, about three hundred tin toy manufacturers were operating in the area.


Metal House Co., Ltd. in Misato City, Saitama—originally established in Katsushika City in 1951—is one of only two tin toy manufacturers still active in Japan. “Back then, tin toys were so popular that American buyers brought their own designs to us for custom orders,” President Katsumasa Miyazawa recalls. “In the domestic market, our products flew off the shelves thanks to the country’s quick economic growth.”

Starting around 1970, the popularity of tin toys began suffering a steady decline due to the emergence of plastics—which are much lighter and can be given more delicate shapes—and cheaper production of tin toys in Taiwan and Hong Kong.

“Now we sell our products to American collectors online, but our business will no longer be viable in the near future. Even so, we want to continue to make what we can until the end,” says President Miyazawa, who is determined to keep the tradition alive.

In the current age, tin toys are items of nostalgia. The very foundation of Japanese craftsmanship that once overwhelmed the world is condensed in their charming forms.

President Katsumasa Miyazawa assembling a tin toy




A tin car from the early Showa Era, preserved at the Osaka Tin Toy Institute






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