Picks and Pans Review: Post-War Tin Toys: a Collector's Guide

updated 01/27/1992 at 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/27/1992 01:00AM

by Jack Tempest

In 1965, when this writer was 9, Wham-O introduced the Super Ball. Made from "new amazing Zectron," this plum-size purple sphere could, the packaging and TV ads promised, bounce over a house.

Not ours. Despite months of trying, the Super Ball never cleared more than the garage. This early brush with failure, which I successfully blocked out for the next 26 years, came rushing back upon reading—nay, wallowing in—The Toy Book (Knopf, $35), a nostalgic guide to the toys baby boomers once held in their grubby little hands and still hold fondly in memory. "The toys of the fifties and sixties resonate in a generation's hearts and minds not just because we grew up with them...but because the entire world was bending over backwards to serve our slightest whims," write Asakawa and Rucker, baby boomers themselves.

Their informative text (Super Balls were made of "a high-resilience synthetic compound") thoroughly covers playthings from the Slinky (1945) to the first well-known video game, Pong (1972). Sensations and steady sellers of that period include Playskool Tyke Bikes, Bubbl-Matic Guns, Incredible Edibles, Hot Wheels, Betsy Wetsy and Chatty Cathy dolls, Etch A Sketches, Lincoln Logs, Flexible Flyers, Hula Hoops, Man from U.N.C.L.E. raincoats and all the other neato-keeno stuff that today's thirty-and forty-somethings just had to have (until, of course, they got it).

The Toy Book's only, but significant, weakness is its photographs—all of them printed in fuzzy tints of red, yellow or blue ink. Yucko! On the other hand there's the novel electronic cover, with tiny disc batteries imbedded in the cardboard. When you press your finger on G.I. Joe's nose he wolf whistles at (presumably) the picture of Barbie next to him. The cover also has a car that sort of honks and a baby that cries. If you can get the balky things to work, they're fun for a couple minutes.

Spin Again (Chronicle, $16.95) is weak where The Toy Book is strong, and vice versa. Its text tugs on the memory triggers, but skimpily and dutifully. Meanwhile it's loaded with sharp color photographs of board games from the '50s and '60s. Classics such as Monopoly, Life and Clue are here, but the real fun is noting all the games that came and went, including far too many tied to TV shows (Gidget games with Sally Field on the box, Gunsmoke and Rifleman games) or to personalities (Jackie Gleason's "And Awa-a-a-a-y We Go!" TV Fun Game). Minor carp: Where's the index?

Post-War Tin Toys (Wallace-Homestead, $24.95), soberest of the three, is a disappointment. The problem is that unless you are an ardent fan or collector, you never will have heard of any of these cars, planes, robots and mechanical figures, most of which come from Japan, Germany and Great Britain. Aimed at entry-level collectors who want to know where and what to buy and how much to pay, Tin Toys lacks the humor and sense of camaraderie of the other books. More important, tin toys, while amusing to look at in these sharp color photographs, are finally boring. Not one of them even claims to be able to bounce over a house.

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