The roar of the bike and the speed of the open road… but what to do if you were only nine or ten years old? The answer was the toy motorbike, which allowed your imagination to do the travelling while you were safely in your living room. By Jack Tempest.
Today, the toy motorcycle is more likely to be appreciated by adults than children hankering for the open road. There are many types of road vehicles that attract the attention of adult toy collectors, but we’ll concentrate on those who enthuse over motorcycles and motor scooters.
The toy versions of the latter, like toy cars and buses, come in three versions: those made from diecast metal, those made from tinplate and fitted with clockwork or friction-drive, and examples moulded from plastic material. Once upon a time the metal model fans turned up their noses at the plastic models that were increasingly appearing on the scene, and it took some time - covering probably the emergence of a new generation - to make plastic products acceptable.
As I am from an older generation, I prefer tinplate toys. They are generally the most expensive on the market today, although diecast models can realise astonishing values nowadays – always, of course, depending upon their age, quality and above all, rarity. During their heyday in the 1920s and ‘30s, tinplate motorcycles cost only pennies to buy. Powered by clockwork mechanisms, they could be sent racing across the floor under their own power.
Many tinplate toys are now being made, a number of which are replicas (some good – others not so good), and are being marketed at quite low prices. The older versions, because of their age and rarity and the fact that they have survived many decades, are naturally enough honoured with much higher values.
Germany led the way in the tinplate mechanical toy business, but after the Second World War Japan launched an attack on the world toy market and caused many serious problems for Western toy manufacturers. They produced a wide range of well-made clockwork toys and introduced special effects by powering their playthings from easily available flashlight batteries that could generate various lighting effects, many weird sounds, the human voice, and even real smoke! Some of the toys were unashamed copies of popular German toys.
One post-war German toy copied by the Japanese was the motorcycle with the mounting-and-dismounting rider. The Japanese version was larger, however, and battery-powered. The German example was made by Arnold in the 1950s. Kellermann, of Germany, issued a motorcycle and sidecar model they named ‘Tourist’, in which the rider in the sidecar would realistically move from side to side when travelling on a curvy route. Kellerman also manufactured a motorcycle with rider and pillion rider who moved similarly when travelling. This was known as ‘Socius’, and first appeared in 1938 before the war; then it reappeared again after the war until it was re-designed in 1950, being available up to 1957.
Schuco produced many motorcycle toys in the early post-war years around the 1950s. Schuco was the well-known trade name of the lesser-known German Schreyer & Co. After the company closed down in the late1960s, the Schuco name was revived by a new company who reproduced several well-known early products, including some of the motorcycles. Collectors generally avoid these, preferring the original toys. The motorcycle toys included the clockwork ‘Mirakomot’ and ‘Motodrill’ racing bikes and the ‘Charly’ and ‘Curvo’ models; the latter toy could be adjusted to automatically follow different meandering routes or travel a full circle.
The 1950s seem to have been a very good time for toy motorcycles, although they had been made many years earlier, even before the 1920s. The Germans were leaders in this field and Arnold had produced several examples since the 1930s, some featuring hefty sparking flint headlights and civilian and military riders. Other models carried police figures, monkeys, roadside assistance men and cartoon characters – including Mickey Mouse and Minnie riding pillion. Character-toy collectors will find an appeal in the Mickey Mouse novelty bike and any other such novelty example, although they’ll be paying a premium; in 1998 an American collector paid US$81,500 for a boxed example of the Mickey and Minnie bike. Produced by Tipp & Co, it was originally sold through Woolworths in the 1930s.
The German firm of Mohr & Krauss had an early clockwork model of contemporary design on the market in 1914, with a lady seated in the sidecar. The model could also be purchased without the sidecar and passenger. Gunthermann had a similar model on sale around 1910. Other German manufacturers offering two-wheelers included Distler in the 1920s, and Lehmann, who produced their noted clockwork ‘Hallo’ from 1912 to 1941 and their ‘Echo’ from 1912 to 1935. GELY made a combination model in 1926 with rider, a lady pillion passenger, and an empty sidecar. Kellermann, Triumph and Fischer all produced motorcycle ‘Penny Toys’ (tiny models around 12cm in length).
Many international toy makers were responsible for issuing at least some tinplate motorcycle toys over the years, including Ingap, Rico, RSA, of Spain, and Marx, Wyandotte, and Hoge of the USA. French producers included Luxia, JML, SFA and Jouet Française. There have been many examples made in Japan, and since the 1950s these have generally been produced to appeal to American customers, regardless of the country to which they were exported; in those days the American dollar was in demand worldwide.
Many of the early vehicle toys enjoyed a very broad worldwide distribution, with exported toys being identical to those sold within their country of origin. Early wind-up bikes of lithographed tin are popular today with collectors in Europe, the USA and Japan, although for the toy to reach its maximum value all the parts need to be original.