Thursday, June 26, 2014

Collecting -- and collecting information 16

Who made these, and were they sold as a set?
It doesn't take much to open up a line of inquiry. In this case, it was an impulse purchase costing a dollar. I'm always on the lookout for appropriate accessories to add to the Straco Express display layout. The main criteria are that additions have to be Made in Japan tinplate toys from the 1950s-1960s.

At a recent toy train show, two such items caught my eye. They were brightly lithographed road signs, and were marked $0.50 each. Sold.

When I got home, I examined them carefully.  Both were marked "Made in Japan," and both had a patent number of them -- but no manufacturer's mark. Unfortunately, the patent number didn't yield and information from the available American and Japanese patent registers, so the maker is still a mystery.

Clearly the same manufacturer (note the octagonal sign),
but this set yielded no additional information.
In the process of searching, though, I ran across an assortment of similar signs for sale. The signs were clearly a set: each one was made the same way, with the same peculiar shade of blue paint covering the back.

Along with the signs were six under-sized toy cars. Two blue, two red, and two green, with identical lithographed details. They all belonged together, but did they belong with the signs.

I think so. The style of the lithography is consistent, and the undersides of the vehicles are the same blue as the signs. I was even surer of my deduction because of a second assortment that became available.

A three-piece toy train with four railroad signs went up for auction, which I won. Like the car set, the locomotive and the passenger cars have their undersides painted blue, and it is indeed the same blue as the back of the signs. Plus, both this set and the car set have the same octagonal RR crossing sign.

Both the backs of the signs and the
undersides of the cars were painted the
same blue, suggesting a common origin.
I'm pretty sure that the train and the signs were also sold as a set. The only question is, do I have a complete one?   The car set has six signs (two pairs, plus two odd designs), and six cars. The train set has four unique signs and a three-piece train. Have some of the passenger cars been lost along with some of the signs?

It's possible that the train set had matching railroad crossing signs, just as the car set had matching railroad crossing and traffic intersection signs. On the other hand, the pin and loop connectors are only marginally effective at keeping the rolling stock coupled. Adding three more passenger cars, light though they may be, might be too much for the couplers.

Plus, the semaphore and the crossbuck sign are larger than any of the road signs, using about twice the metal. So perhaps to keep the price the same, the train set only had seven pieces while the car set had 12.

The undersides of the train pieces are the same blue,
and the tires appear identical to those of the
toy cars.
Lots of questions, that can only be partially answered at this point. I've noticed on eBay that more of these vintage Japanese penny toys are coming on the market in their original plastic bags, reclaimed from unsold (and probably forgotten) store stock. The cardboard tag on such a bag may have the answers I'm looking for.

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