At my antiques appraisal events across the country, audience members often bring me antique and vintage toys to review and appraise. These objects always spark stories of childhood memories and many oohs and ahhs from those in attendance. Like many other objects that I regularly appraise, toys speak to American culture.
Toys can tell us a lot about what is happening at a certain point in time. For instance, the contemporary character toy Bob the Builder, as I have discussed for years, is the collectible toy of the future because Bob is an example of Americans’ interest in remodeling homes in the early 2000s. Bob, a cartoon subcontractor, highlights the popularity in investing in the American dream during the early years of the 21st Century when many people were building homes, fixing up properties, and hiring handy men.
In the early decades of the 1900s, American toy manufacturers excelled in the production of mechanical toys while foreign toy companies focused on flooding the American toy market with cheap play things. Toys fell into various categories such as construction toys, transportation or vehicle toys, and sports toys were made by companies such as Buddy L, Wyandotte, and Marx. War toys fell out of favor after the end of World War I and with the introduction of mass production methods, toy companies served an ever-growing market with inexpensive toys. Materials of choice of the era included tin, pressed metal, and cast iron.
Fred Lundahl founded the Buddy L Toy Company in East Moline, IL and made his mark in pressed steel toys. Originally, the toy company started out as Moline Press Steel Company. The company got work from the automotive industry and stamped out fenders, door panels, and pressed steel truck parts. Lundahl started the Buddy L toy line in 1921 after he made a dump truck toy for his son out of left-over steel from the company’s scrap heap. The first Buddy L toy was a miniature truck of pressed steel based on an actual truck model manufactured for International Harvester.
Lundahl’s toy company was named for his son, Arthur, who family and friends called “Buddy L”. Buddy L toys were marketed simply as “toys for boys” when Lundahl showcased the toys at the New York Toy Show in 1922. Much of the toy line was made of pressed steel and while the toys were attractive, the price was deemed too high to attract buyers. Despite the price point, F.A.O. Schwarz and Marshall Field highlighted Buddy L toys in their stores throughout the 1920s. Lundahl urged toy stores to carry his line of miniature sports cars, tractors, delivery vans, construction trucks, dump trucks, cement mixers, fire trucks, etc. He expanded his toy line in the mid 1920s and highlighted functionality of the toys with moving parts.
By the time of the Great Depression, Lundahl sold the Buddy L Toy Company, however, Buddy L continued to hold a leadership role in the pressed steel toy business until World War II. The war changed everything for Buddy L. With steel unavailable for toys, wooden toys were re-introduced and then the advent of plastic toys took the place of the pressed steel toys on store shelves.
Today, collectors look for Buddy L toys for nostalgia and for resale value. Examples of the market for antique Buddy L toys range from the green passenger bus with bench seats and movable doors which commanded $7,700 at auction to the rare red tugboat with searchlights on the pilot house which sold for $30,800.
On more than one occasion, I have evaluated a great American classic toy and one of the most popular toys of the 1920s, the Buddy L Model T toy car. Eleanor from Norristown, PA brought me her late husband’s Buddy L pressed steel Model T toy car for appraisal. It was in good condition and she was happy to have saved it all these years. Like Eleanor, Richard from Naples, FL also asked me to evaluate his Buddy L pressed steel Model T toy car from circa 1923, too. The vintage toy cars were both worth $1,200 yet both Eleanor and Richard were most interested in their toy’s history than its retail value. It was obvious that these toys brought children all over America great joy.
Ph.D. antiques appraiser, author, award-winning TV personality, and TV talk show host, Dr. Lori presents antique appraisal events nationwide, including around Tampa Bay. Dr. Lori is the star appraiser on the hit TV show "Auction Kings" on Discovery Channel airing Tuesdays at 9 p.m. Visit www.DrLoriV.com, www.Facebook.com/DoctorLori or call (888) 431-1010.