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How to Clean Tin Lithograph Toys**

Tin toys are actually manufactured from sheet iron that has been plated with a thin, protective layer of tin to prevent rusting. In addition, this thin layer allowed the toys to be lithographed with assorted designs in different colors. These toys were very popular during 1930's-1950's and are still highly collectible today.

There were a wide range of toys manufactured during this time including:

Tin toys - Marx, Japanese, US Zone Germany
  • Figures
  • Character Toys
  • Motor Vehicles
  • Ship & Boats
  • Aircraft
  • Trains
  • Robots & Space Toys
  • Track Toys
  • Buildings, Homes, Garages
  • Guns
  • Halloween Noise-makers
  • Phonographs
  • Typewriters

In most cases, tin toys either had moving parts or motors. These motors could be either electric or battery-operated while some of the movement for the other toys was clock-work.

With tin toys being one of the more popular toys to collect and maintaining a good value, taking care of them should be a top priority.

  1. Keep them dust free with a soft cloth or soft brush. The dust can cause surface damage to the lithograph and can also get into moving parts.
  2. To remove grime, take a clean, soft cloth moistened (not wet) and lightly wipe the grime off being careful not to let any water run into moving parts or seams.
  3. For toys with paper labels, do not use any cleaner on the paper - oil or water - as this will cause damage.
  4. Using a soft cloth, gently apply a small amount of Armor All to the item leaving a very light finish. Do this for both tin and rubber.

    NOTE: Test a small area in an obscure place and allow to dry to make sure using Armor All will not cause any damage to the finish. If you see any sign of color or flaking of finish on the cloth, discontinue application immediately.
  5. Once the Armor All has dried, with a clean, soft cloth, i.e., T-shirt, lightly buff only the metal surfaces and wipe any residual from tires. Do not buff or rub any decals or paper labels.
This practice can be followed once a year to help preserve the toy.

Movements & Motors

  1. Motors should be kept clean by brushing with a soft brush or blowing out with 'canned air'.
  2. If you need to use any oil, only use a very fine oil, i.e., sewing machine oil applied with a Q-tip or small brush.
  3. Never leave a battery in any battery-operated toy. Batteries should be removed when the toy is not in use.

General Tips

  • Never store tin toys - or any toys for that matter - in an attic or storage place where they may be exposed to extreme temperatures or humidity.
  • Never display toys in direct sunlight.
  • If the toy has rubber wheels, rotate the toys about a quarter turn every 3 months to keep them from becoming flat on the bottom.

IMPORTANT: Before washing or cleaning - Do a small spot clean on the bottom where it can't be seen to be sure the color does not come off or fade.

Original boxes should be stored in a protective container, individually wrapped in acid free paper. This will help to maintain their structure and color. The toy can be kept in the box if you desire. If you think you may have moths or silverfish, use a couple of mothballs in the storage container but do not them touch the original box or toy. These boxes should be checked once a year for security and damage.

Most tin toys are a combination of materials, but using good common sense to care for them will help keep them in good condition as well as helping to maintain their value. Final thought - When cleaning any old or vintage toy, handle with care.

** User understands and accepts all policies associated with use of this procedure. View policies.

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