The array of old toys from the 1930s and earlier in the US were rich with diversity and creativity. The rolling hoop, a testament to the power of simplicity, offered endless fun with just a stick and a hoop, proving to be popular with children for old-fashioned outdoor play.
Toy soldiers and hobby horses, along with a spectrum of dolls — from paper dolls and the elaborate china-head dolls, to simpler rag dolls and storybook companions like Raggedy Ann — offered children an array of characters and narratives for their imaginative play.
Old toys like the intricate tin wind-up toys, rhythmic toy drums, and delicate tea sets added their unique charm, enhancing playtime. Doll houses, rich in detail, offered a mirror to the adult world, while stuffed toys of all shapes and sizes provided comfort and companionship.
These old toys collectively reflect the fun and creativity that drove playtime in those years, and below we have collected dozens of photo examples for your nostalgic enjoyment — as well as a couple articles from the 1970s and 80s discussing these collectibles and their value at those times.
Antique toys from the 1930s and earlier paint a vivid picture of a past era. They serve as reminders of a time when a simple object could be transformed into an endless source of fun and creativity.
A look back: Some of the best buys in old toys (from 1974)
Article from American Home, December 1974
Antique toys are double-barreled delights. They arouse pleasant remembrances and reflect good design. If you’re Christmas-gift shopping and are willing to spend $10 to $95, the choices are rich.
The examples we show [black & white images only] are from the antique toy department of FAO Schwartz, New York.
Old toys: Vintage monkey toy bank
The monkey, a mechanical bank, tips its hat when a coin is dropped into the slot.
The bank, made sometime after 1880, is of stamped iron — a budget substitute for heavier cast iron.
Antique spinning optical toy for kids
This museum piece is a bit broken, but you can see a round spinning piece here on the front, and a round piece within the box, too.
Antique stuffed animals: Early Winnie the Pooh characters
Photos courtesy New York Public Library
Antique toy from 1892 – Star Bell Hoop rolling hoop
Old toys: Toy soldier
$10 buys this toy soldier dressed in 18th-century uniform, though he’s probably a product of the 19th century, when historical models became very popular. He could as easily be a drummer in the French and Indian Wars as in the American Revolution.
Aside from rare earlier examples, toy soldiers are part of a tradition begun in the 1700s. Germany made flat models; France, dimensional ones.
Tin and lead alloys were used until [the 1970s]. The hollow-casting technique, which made metal figures lighter and less costly, was introduced by an English manufacturer about 1890.
More antique toy soldier & battle toy figurines
Vintage dancing man toy from around the 1840s
Antique board games
$30 is what you’ll pay for Autograph Authors, one of innumerable card and board games introduced after 1860.
For this price, you’ll receive an impressive supply of portraits of significant American authors of the 1880s. All are sure to be as enjoyable to look at now as the game was once to play. They are done in a realistic style typical of magazines of the period.
An old game may not be practical for playing, but owning it provides an appealing — and amusing — interpretation of the styles of yesterday.
Antique dollhouse furniture
$70 is the price of this set of mini “bentwood” furniture. It was designed for a child to use when playing with dolls and is beautifully inconsistent in detail — a refreshing contrast to the more sophisticated work intended for adult appreciation.
Besides using wood, turn-of-the-century toy furniture craftsmen occasionally used paper and metal. This set reflects the charm of life-size designs that were fashionable in rustic country cabins.
Old toys: Antique ceramic and china-head baby dolls
$70 is not unreasonable for a realistic ceramic baby doll from the period just after World War I.
The idea of making children’s dolls dates from about 1850, but first efforts were simply small-scale versions of adult figures, extremely well-dressed.
[Around the 1920s], a number of sculptors took pains to determine what was characteristic of babies physically, and dolls like this one were the result. Early examples of doll figures are rarer and more costly.
Old toys: Miniatures & more antique scenes
$75 would be a good buy for this barnyard scene in miniature, because it shows off the wood-carver’s skills so beautifully.
We picture only a portion of the set, which includes other trees and people and many more pairs of farm animals, all of which have the charm of folk art.
These wood figures were a specialty of German carvers of the late 19th century, but American and Scandinavian craftsmen did similar work on occasion.
Antique puzzle blocks
$90 is a fair price for a set of picture blocks that children played with as puzzles and also as building blocks in the 1880s.
Each wood square is covered with six different picture pieces, which when put together create six city scenes. New York, Venice, London and Paris are readily identifiable, but others from the Near and Far East are not easy to recognize — or put together.
The scenes — lithographs done in the spirit of such printmakers as Currier and Ives — appealed to the public’s expanding interest in color.
Antique toys: Mini tea set for kids
$95 will purchase this particularly attractive mini tea set from the mid-19th century. It duplicates both a shape and a pattern that were popular in the 1790s.
The wide interest in doll houses, beginning in the late 18th century, inspired potters everywhere to produce small-scale wares.
If there is a collector on your Christmas list and you have time to shop widely, you will find antique miniatures of just about every type of pottery made.
Antique toy drums
Vintage paper doll costume
A blue formal dress with white trim and red flower garlands
Toy-size child’s antique pocket watch
Little girl riding on an antique hobby horse
Antique collectibles: The new rage for old toys (1981)
Children move aside — vintage lead soldiers and wind-up Popeyes are for grownups only
Fram an article by Rita Reif – House and Garden magazine, November 1981
Publisher Malcolm Forbes collects toy soldiers. Producer Joshua Logan adores automatons. Bill Blass has a passion for toy frogs; Woody Allen is wild about wind-up comic-character toys; and artist Maurice Sendak has a mania for Mickey Mouse toys, and acquires them in whatever form he can find.
Toy collecting is at an all-time high today, nationwide and around the world. Old toys that once enchanted small children today keep thousands of adults searching at shops, antique fairs, auctions, and flea markets for possible acquisitions.
Virtually every kind of toy made from the 19th century through the 1950s — tin wagons and robots, dolls with china heads and Shirley Temple face, Popeye windups and Uncle Remus banks — is climbing in price and rarities grow rarer each year.
When it comes to their playthings, collectors are a very serious breed.
Mr Forbes, for one, is extremely serious about his toy soldiers. The Forbes Magazine Museum of Military Miniatures in Palais Mendoub, Tangier, Morocco, numbers 70,000 soldierly toys.
Recently at auction at Phillips in London, he added to his collection a vintage 1916 battalion. This set of 666 soldiers of the London Scottish Regiment went to Forbes for $12,339, making it the most expensive ever auctioned.
Mr Forbes was also active in the bidding in August for the toy soldiers that British bank clerk Leonard W Richards collected until his death at 75 a year ago.
The 17,000 lead miniatures, the largest toy-soldier collection ever gaveled, totaled $124,890 in the two-day Phillips auction, an all-time high for such a specialty sale.
The event also rewrote the record for a single toy soldier to $512.20, with the sale to a British collector of a British Camel Corps soldier manufactured by William Britains in 1910. When it was new, that palm-sized lead figure cost two pennies.
One of the most active areas of collecting is the windup comic-character toys that were all the rage in the 1920s and 1930s.
Robert Lesser, a New York collector who owns hundreds of these tin windups, recently purchased for $3,000 one of the rarest of them, a Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse on a motorcycle, made in Germany by Tipp around 1930.
Another German-made Mickey and Minnie with a barrel organ sold four years ago for $3,600.
“If it appeared today, who knows how much it would sell for, maybe $10,000,” Lesser said. “If you find it, you name your own price.”
The rarity of, and thus the demand for, these early Mickey and Minnie Mouse toys is due in part to the fact that they have five fingers; this error reportedly so angered Walt Disney that the producers changed the design to four fingers.