This Christmas, we are on a mission to find tin toys for our Santa’s Workshop-themed holiday party. We need at least enough toys to make a long centerpiece down the dining table. The flea market is the place to go for tin toys. The wind-up cars, tops, and animals have irresistible charm, and with so many available at flea markets, anyone can add a mix of nostalgia and whimsy to their home for the holidays.
On this trip to the flea market, we found a fantastic, nearly mint toy Ferris wheel ($62), but since we were looking for quantity more than quality, we reluctantly decided to save our money for better buys. Kitty dug through a box of Happy Meal Toys, Mega Bloks, and Beanie Babies to retrieve a spinning tin toy mouse ($3), and Jennifer spotted a tin hopping bunny ($6) in a booth overflowing with knickknacks. But the best deal was a big red fire truck—when Jennifer pointed out the wheels were stuck, she got the price down from $20 to $12! Talk about happy holidays!
Wind-Up Your Know-How
To start your own collection of tin toys, all you need is a little background and a few collector’s tips. While the “Golden Age” of tinplate toys was at the turn of the 20th century, most of the wind-ups in flea markets today are either expensive, mid-century collectibles or inexpensive reproductions. For example, we saw a wonderful 1940s G.I. in a Jeep for $125, and just an aisle away, we found several newer Japanese toys including a rolling ladybug and a pair of pecking chicks. Because the latter were knock-offs, they only cost five dollars each.
Whether you decide to collect pricier vintage toys or cheap-but-beautiful newer models, take a moment before you buy to inspect your find. Make sure each toy can stand on its own. (A spinning ballerina is amusing, but on display she is a lying-down ballerina.) See if the turn-key is still attached and test the wind-up mechanism. If any part is missing or broken, ask for a discount. Finally, look for rust, dents, and scratches. Although these flaws won’t affect the decorative value (we love a rusty patina!), they can help you negotiate a lower price. And getting a great deal is half the fun of flea market shopping!
Play With Your Décor
No matter what your style, adding the fun and charm of tin toys to your décor is easy. Think of these little antiques as artsy decorator touches, and let your imagination run free. Here are a few ideas for featuring old-timey toys in your home:
1. Perk up a breakfast nook by perching a flock of waddling ducks along a sunny windowsill.
2. Place a bobbing parrot in a wooden birdcage, then hang it by the kitchen window.
3. Give a bookcase a little zip by featuring racecars, motorcycles, or airplanes on top of stacks of books.
4. Liven up the living room by unleashing a bunch of tin circus animals on the mantel.
5. Create a kooky conversation piece with one big toy on the coffee table, like a mechanical walking robot.