Collecting toy cars is a great introduction to the real thing. Not only is it much less expensive, but you won’t have to build or rent garage space to display your treasures.
As soon as there were cars, there were toy cars, with tinplate German models appearing as early as the late 19th century. Most had to be pushed by hand.
A market for U.S.-made cast-iron cars (sturdy, but heavy!) developed early in the 20th century, in part because of the World War I–era blockade of German products. Hubley was incorporated in 1894, and made finely detailed vehicles into the 1990s. Competitor Arcade built a moving van that today is highly collectible with five-figure prices.
Soon toy cars (some selling for only a penny) were made all over the world, in all sizes. British die-cast models such as Matchbox, Dinky, and Corgi became popular in the early 1950s.
One of the most valuable toy vehicles in the world is a Tippco Mickey and Minnie Mouse Motorcycle made in Germany in 1932. A pristine example was sold for US$56,000 in 2010, a high-water mark for toy cars.
RM Sotheby’s is a regular vendor of toy vehicles, which are often included as “automobilia” in the sale of large classic-car collections. Last year, for instance, a lot of five battle-scarred metal toy cars from the 1920s was sold in New Hampshire for US$1,440 as part of the late Henley Group CEO Michael Dingman’s extensive car collection. Inexpensive toys like these were often thrown away, so survivors are rare.