Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Recycling in postwar Japan

I recently purchased this brush fire jeep for one of my train layouts (see: An Accidental Addition). The style and color of the lithography suggests that it was manufactured in Japan in the mid to late 1950's. There's no brand on it, so I'm not sure which company made it.

When I was cleaning the toy, I saw what appeared to be two eyes staring up at me from the floorboard. I carefully removed the body from the chassis, and found a surprise -- and a mystery.

The chassis for this vehicle was stamped from a sheet of metal that have previously been lithographed. The pristine condition of the lithography and the lack of dimples or extraneous creases in the metal suggest to me that the toy was made not from a recycled finished product, but from a flat sheet of metal that had been decorated but not used.

Who's there?
And what was that decoration? A little research revealed that it was the design for a Burgermeister beer can. This San Francisco brewery updated its graphic regularly. This particular version is from 1953-54, which is in line with my assessment of the jeep's age.

Here's the mystery, though. Where did that sheet of Burgermeister cans come from? The brewery would have used an American cannery. Were unused sheets/factory seconds sold to a jobber for the overseas market?

It makes a certain amount of sense, as it ensures no unscrupulous domestic company could make the cans and pass off their own product as Burgermeister beer.

Container freight is economical now, but would it have been cost effective to ship used steel to Japan in the 1950's? I'm not sure. But if not, then where did this recycled sheet come from? It's unlikely Burgermeister had a brewery in Japan.

And there's one more mystery. Because there are no markings on the jeep, I don't know who made it. I'd like to -- because I'd like to see if they regularly used recycled metal for their toys, or if this was unusual.

The original can (L) and the jeep chassis superimposed over it (R)

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