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Historical toymaking in Nuremberg


Nuremberg’s history as a centre of toymaking lives on, with new and collectable pieces available to visitors

Sally McIlhone ,

In 2013, you are more likely to see a child playing with an iPad mini than a beautiful hand-painted, hand-carved toy car. But in Nuremberg – the former home of the largest toy factory in the world – the spirit of traditional, exquisite toymaking lives on. Nuremberg is still synonymous with playthings and although toy production here has been scaled down significantly, large numbers of visitors still come to the city to learn more about Nuremberg’s prestigious toymaking history, and to pick up a handmade memento of a bygone era.

Museum pieces
The first place to visit on your toy tour of Nuremberg is the Spielzeugmuseum (Toy Museum). It is based on a private collection of toys which was donated to the city so that a museum could be set up. The Spielzeugmuseum opened in 1971 and now has around 85,000 items, with a focus on toys from the 1800s and early 1900s.

Nuremberg is the perfect location for the museum: ‘It's the only city in the world that has a continuous history of toymaking and toy trading,’ says Dr Helmut Schwarz, director of the Spielzeugmuseum. ‘It started in the Middle Ages, and the first toymakers were registered here in the year 1400. They were the first commercial dollmakers and are listed in the tax records.’

Tin time
It wasn’t until the late 1800s that Nuremberg’s toy story began to take off, thanks to the mass production and easy manipulation of inexpensive tin. Prior to this, toys had been exclusively made from wood and required careful craftsmanship. Tin became the efficient and affordable alternative that played to the strengths of the local community. ‘Nuremberg already had artisans who specialised in working with tin, copper and brass, so when industrialisation came you had a large pool of skilled workers who could handle the new thin tin plates which were produced by machines. Nuremberg also had tradesmen with connections all over the world. These two factors made Nuremberg an ideal city for tin toy manufacturing.’

In the same way that tin toys trumped wooden dolls in Nuremberg’s heyday, more recently plastic has replaced tin as the cheaper toymaking material. Production of plastic toys with a broader, modern appeal increased in the US and China, taking business away from Germany.

International appeal
Today, only a few of the original tin toy brands survive, and do so by producing a smaller selection for collectors rather than for children. Schuco, one of the largest tin toy producers in the 1950s and 60s, still creates collectors’ items, while Trix trains, also from Nuremberg, are stocked in selected stores across Germany and have a thriving online presence.

For those looking to invest in a classic tin toy from Nuremberg, visit the Tin Toy Shop at the Handwerkerhof (Craftsmen’s Courtyard). Inside the store, run by Alexander Baier, you’ll find everything from antique tin animals by Arnold to Bing tin ships – all of which are valuable rarities. ‘We sell antique and newly produced tin toys, including cars, trains, boats, aircraft and figures. Collectibles cost from €10 to infinity,’ says Baier.  

In the early 1900s the Bing brothers ran the largest toy factory in the world, in Nuremberg. Nowadays the company’s tin toys are worth investing in, especially if they are well preserved. ‘As a rule, tin toys in mint condition are well worth buying because they don’t lose their value,’ says Dr Schwarz.

Whether you’re looking to start your own toy collection or to buy a single item, Nuremberg is the perfect playground for your inner child.

For more on German shopping, click here.

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