Category Archives: Toys

Turn on a Dime: J. C. Turner Dump Truck, ca. 1930s

An appealing aspect of seeking out unusual items is gaining insight into a previous era through its objects. Consumer demand evolves, as does the ability of manufacturers to cost-effectively produce the lines they build, market and distribute. As a result, we can backtrack to the demise of products that were weeded out due to the natural selection of the marketplace.

At a time when U.S. manufacturing had not yet been siphoned away by the war effort of the 1940s, or outsourced to cheaper overseas production locations, a multitude of companies such as Marx, Keystone, Buddy L, Structo and Wyandotte, to name a few, created large-scale steel toys. Today, if similarly substantial mass-produced toys exist, chances are they’re plastic.

The John C. Turner Co. of Wapakoneta, Ohio, was established in 1915 and specialized in flywheel friction steel toys. The pictured example, a classic dump truck, still retains much of its original paint finish, which covers the automotive-grade steel used to construct this piece. The correct wheels and functioning lift mechanism just add to this 27-inch-long behemoth.

Enter the Sandbox: Dinky Toys Collection, ca. 1950s

Playground politics are not to be taken lightly. Attitude comes second only to the hardware a child packs. Whether challenging one’s competitor to a car race down the driveway or excavating the dirt hill of the schoolyard, one is expected to produce from one’s pocket a die-cast gem to rival all others.

In the pre-War era of the 1930s, when a kid chose to throw down, chances are their car or truck of choice was a Dinky toy.

The Frank Hornby firm Meccano was founded in 1901. Best known for its electric trains and metal erector construction sets, the company began selling Modelled Miniatures in 1933 to complement its O-scale railway sets. By the following year, these products had been rebranded Dinky Toys. Production of the die-cast models took place in Liverpool, England and Bobigny, France. Prior to halting manufacturing during the second World War, the company had in its repertoire a broad range of cars, trucks, military vehicles, aircraft, ships and earth-moving machines.

The pictured collection includes a selection of 1950s Dinky Toys and larger Dinky Supertoys. Examples such as the red Blaw Knox Bulldozer come compete with driver and movable levers to raise or lower the shovel, while the Nestlé delivery van possesses some of its original, and very rare, milk cans. The maroon Foden flatbed log-delivery truck retains its chain and post guards as well as all the wheels, including a spare located under the bed of the vehicle. The previous owner was adept enough to fashion four wooden stumps out of dowel to complete the picture.

The L Word: Buddy “L” Dump Truck, ca. 1940s

It’s said that condition is everything, and Dorset Finds has to concur. That’s not to say, however, that good condition is everything.

Yes, there is certainly value in having a collectible toy in pristine, unplayed condition, and we certainly don’t want to detract from such extraordinary finds. But, isn’t there also a heightened significance in possessing the same item that was enjoyed and destroyed for decades, all under the context of play? What value do we place on jumping a three-foot dirt pile, Dukes of Hazzard-style, with Teddy still in the dump compartment? What worth can be found in surviving the ride all the way down the driveway, across the street and into the front yard of your neighbor?

The Moline Pressed Steel Company was started in 1910 by Fred A. Lundahl and manufactured steel parts for the automotive industry, such as International Harvester Company. Recognizing the need for a durable toy truck that could take all the batterings his son could deal out, Lundahl built a prototype with 18- and 20-gauge steel that he pulled out of his business’s  scrap heap. Buddy L was born in 1921 and focused on boys’ toys such as fire trucks, cars, trains, construction equipment and dump trucks.

The 22-inch model pictured is a true survivor. Despite heavy play, the axles are straight, the wheels spin and, structurally, the piece is solid.

Nicely played, Buddy L.

Horse Play: All-Nu Lead Figure, ca. 1940s

Before there was any notion of 3-D PlayStation games, children played with 3-D lead toys. You know something is really three-dimensional when it’s weighty like lead. Call of Duty: Black Ops, eat your heart out.

Companies like Britains, Manoil and Barclay developed figurines ranging from farm animals to military soldiers to simple, everyday street characters.

C. Frank Krupp was  a former sculptor and mold-maker for Barclay. His desire was to create his own line of lead figurines, and with the help of David Reader — the brother of Barclay owner Irving Reader — he incorporated All-NU in 1938. They started out in Yonkers, New York and in 1941 moved to their larger digs in Manhattan. That same year, Woolworth’s carried their full line of products, but with WWII came a cease in the production of lead toys. Shortly after the war, a partnership with Faben Products was formed and they resumed manufacturing the pre-war items that made All-NU so popular, such as horses, mounted hunters, cowboys and cowgirls on broncos.

This elegant example is of a jockey atop a racehorse. There is some paint loss, but the original wire rein continues to be grasped by the rider. The number 2 is clearly marked on either side of the animal, and perhaps the greatest feat of all, there are no chips to the lead. The snout, ears, tail and hoofs are prime areas where play could have led to chips and breaks, but this piece appears complete and intact.

Commander in Chief: Tricycle, ca. 1940s

Running away could not be sweeter. Go clean your own room Ma...

Arguably, a child’s first taste of freedom is dealt with the arrival of their tricycle. No longer are they dependent on a parent for propulsion and they can dictate their own journey, even if it’s only within the limits of the driveway or playground.

The “Commander” was a deluxe model of tricycle manufactured in the 1940s by The Garton Toy Company of Sheboygan, WI. It’s a larger than average tricycle measuring 45″ long and unlike most three-wheelers which are powered via pedals extending from the front wheel, this model has a crank and chain. Remarkably, this example still has the rubber foot pads at the rear cross bar, used by an additional rider, plus original grips, wrap-around handlebars, sprung saddle and chain guard.

Sure Shot: Daisy Targeteer BB Pistol, ca. 1930s

Harold, why don't you shoot this helpful chap in the shoulder while I work out how to reload.

In the first half of the 20th Century it was not only culturally acceptable for American youths to own a BB gun, it was wholeheartedly encouraged – if you believe the marketing – as a natural part of growing up.

Daisy (Manufacturing Co.) began in the 1890s and remains the market leader today. Many models of BB guns were developed over the decades, most notably the famous, Red Rider that was immortalized in the film, “A Christmas Story”.

Here we have a 1930s Targeteer pistol. A few variations to this model evolved over the years that included a chromed look to the metal and adjustable sight however this is an early nickel version (with an awesome patina!) with fixed sight. Due to the infamously low velocity the Targeteer could shoot its steel pellets, it was marketed as an indoor BB gun that could be “safely” used by the whole family. It was a humorously flawed concept but intriguing nonetheless.

This example works perfectly and is clearly marked, “Patents Pending” suggesting that it was manufactured prior to the adoption of the model name, Targeteer.

Like A Motorway: Tether Toy Cars, ca. 1940s

Anyone who enjoys the hunt as I do knows that the more you look, the more you understand how little you know.

While in California recently I picked up these three locally manufactured, cast aluminum racing cars. To my eyes, the appeal came from the fact that they were clearly 1930′s – ’40s, very heavy and more or less intact despite obvious play wear.

What I didn’t realize is that in the ’30s/’40′s there was an underground movement of several hundred miniature car racing clubs that put these cars head to head. Each car had a finely tuned, hand-built motor which ran on gas! These cars were run in closed off parking lots (tethered to a pole and timed as they went around) and at 220 ft. race tracks, traveling at speeds upwards of 150mph. Blimey!

Later I found out that back in the ’40s these customized cars sold for $40 – $50. Clearly, not toys at all…

Shootin’ Out the Walls of Heartache: Primitive Toy Rifle, ca. 1930s

Until recently, every little boy knew what it was to possess a toy gun at some point in their childhood. Until the political correctness of the late 20th century, suburban front yards were carved out and territory fought over tooth and nail.

The battleground was harsh; Trash cans were overturned and became chuck-wagons, garden beds became reed shelters from which the enemy could be more closely surveyed, and on occasion, provisions would arrive from a nearby town in the form of a maternal figure bearing a large food tray.

This lovely little find is a touch under 13 inches long but would have been a formidable weapon in the adept hands of its pint-sized owner. The pictured rifle’s spring-loaded trigger mechanism is fully functioning and while the steel shows some signs of pitting and rust spots, the wooden handle remains tight and secure. When in use, its barrel was most likely packed with a small piece of potato or apple for ammo.

Take cover!

Where’s The Fire?: Pedal Car Fire Engine, ca. 1950s

What is it about these old pedal cars? Is it the heavy gauge steel construction? Is it the automotive styling from a time when each curve mattered? It’s tough to pinpoint but what’s clear is that they really speak to me.

It’s not too difficult to find vintage pedal cars in excellent condition and even  reproduction versions, made of lower quality metal, are aesthetically quite similar. My preference though, is the kind that has a history; seen a prang here and there and been well loved by its adolescent motorist.

This example is in the latter stages of its second coat of paint and still fightin’ fit. The pedals work, as do the steering wheel and the hood-mounted bell.

Clear a path. This one’s ready to roll…