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Tin Litho Toys: Tips to Identify Fakes from Real

Uncle Sam tin litho toySome of the most sought after and replicated toys are those that are tin lithographed. Original toys date back to 1875 when the process of offset lithography was invented.

To understand one way to determine if a toy is fake, is to understand the difference in how original lithograph toys were manufactured vs. how replicas were manufactured after c1960.

In the original process, colored ink from the printing plate is transferred (offset) to a rubber roller that deposits the ink on the flattened metal. In some cases up to 12 or more plates were used to achieve the desired coloration. It should be noted that the colors applied using this process appear solid. Once all colors had been applied, the printed sheets of metal were processed through molds and cutters creating 3-D pieces ready for assembly.

After the late 1970's a new process was used to create color on tin toys. While the process still makes use of plates, rather than 12 plates being used, only four color plates were needed - black, red, blue and yellow. By printing and combining these basic colors as tiny dots on the metal, an unlimited number of colors could be created and used. For example, blue and yellow result in green; blue and red result in purple. [1]

Therefore, inspecting a toy's colors for solid vs. dots is one way to tell if the toy is a true vintage or a more modern replica. This test is better is used on areas with two or more colors - or where shading is seen. If the toy has large areas of a solid color, you may not see the dots since that area would have been printed in a single color. If the toy has more than one part - check all parts for the presence of dot-color structure.

Word of caution, some of the more modern toys that only have one or two colors will not have the dot structure - so additional tests should be used to try and determine age.

An additional test is to use a long wave black light. Many of the modern inks - especially red and white - will fluoresce under black light.

Rule of thumb: Inks used on toys pre-1960 rarely fluoresce and inks pre-1940 virtually never fluoresce.

Visual inspection of the toy's construction is also recommended. Specifically, seams should be checked. Newer toys may have rolled seams and rounded corners while the older toys will have square corners and use slots and tabs to hold it together.

In the sample pictured, the paint is solid, construction is slot/tab and the key is removable. In the very early wind-up tin toys, the key was fixed and could not be removed.

[1] Antique Trader Fakes & Reproductions

'New Old' photo courtesy Antique Trader Fakes & Reproductions


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