Retro Trucks

By Karen Parr-Moody


Cars, planes, boats, trucks and circus animals — all of these and more were created from metal by the mid-1800s. Prior to this time, most toys were made of wood, but once metal toys hit the scene they became objects of wonder for children in the Western world.


Until World War I, such toys were painted by hand. Afterward, the application of chromolithography made it possible for intricate, multi-colored illustrations to be printed onto the toys.


As a boy, John Taylor was in awe of his father’s metal vehicles from the early 20th century, which he played with on his grandmother’s house in the country. Now he has amassed a personal collection from the 1930s and 1940s. He also sells similar, mid-century wares at Booth T-366 at GasLamp Too.


What fascinates Taylor about the pressed-steel trucks he collects is their Art Deco styling and incredible craftsmanship. “They actually used automobile steel to construct some of them,” he says. “And they withstood the years.” Taylor is also drawn to the splashy advertisements on the trucks. “Usually the trucks have advertising from a real store that went out of business during the Depression,” he explains.


Through his GasLamp Too booth, Taylor sells vintage trucks that date to the 1950s and 1960s, the decades just beyond those he keeps in his narrow personal collection. Currently, he has a wonderful array of trucks, including the rare 1959 Tonka service truck in the photo, above right ($175). It was only made in this pale blue tone for one year.


“That speaks to the rarity of it,” Taylor says of the truck’s color. “To a collector that may mean something. A casual observer may just like the truck because of the way it looks.”


Tonka Toys was founded in 1946 and its trucks, which were originally made of steel, were known for their nearly-indestructible build. The Tonka farm trucks are the models that have been especially popular in Taylor’s GasLamp Too booth.


“I actually had an early 1960s Tonka farm truck with the original horse trailer and the two original horses,” Taylor says. “That didn’t last a week.”


Taylor is currently displaying a rare Tonka farm truck in red and white (photo, left; $175). First introduced in 1962, this version was made until 1964. Such trucks were always popular among children in the early 1960s, according to Tonka historic literature.


In the photo, right, is a 1955 Tonka Carnation Milk delivery truck ($175).


“That is a beautiful toy,” Taylor says. “I wouldn’t say it’s rare, but it’s uncommon.”


The truck is also in good condition, retaining all of its pieces – which Taylor says doesn’t happen often – including the sliding door where the milk man would get in and out.


“That’s what was actually on the road in those days,” Taylor says of the truck. “From about 1949 to 1961, the Tonka toy trucks were replicas of actual delivery trucks.”


In the photo, left, is a 1950s Mini Town Parcel Service truck ($139). It was made by a firm that was once located in Wyandotte, Michigan, All Metal Products Co., which is better known among collectors as Wyandotte Toys. From 1921 to 1957, the firm produced millions of toys that sold all over the world.


Taylor admires the look of the Mini Town Parcel Service truck’s lithograph logo printed over tin and steel.


“It’s just colorful and cool,” he says. “There’s just something really uniquely American about it.”


While Taylor says the Mini Town Parcel Service truck is not a replica of an actual truck, but rather an artist’s conception, it still reminds him of the delivery trucks from yesteryear.


“The way it’s printed up, the labeling on it, is so interesting,” he says. “That’s the kind of stuff I love. And what makes this one nice is the condition of it; it’s near mint. It’s almost impossible to find something that nice, that clean. Typically those things are locked up in collections.”


In the photo, right, is a rare, 1950s Marx Inter-State city service truck ($189). Marx was a company founded by Louis Marx and his brother during World War I, when German toy shipments to America were halted. In 1955, Time magazine declared Louis Marx the “Toy King” of the United States.


Taylor says that when this truck was originally sold it had play grocery store boxes in the bed. The three boxes that are currently in the truck’s bed are not original to the toy, but are from the 1970s.


“These lithograph toys from the 1950s are colorful and attractive,” Taylor says. “I think they have really nice shelf presence.”


Plus, says Taylor, who was born in 1959, “As we age we’re looking for toys that remind us of our childhood.”







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