The Tonka Toy Company is renowned for the durable steel sheet-metal toys it began producing in the mid 1900s. Classics such as the metal Tonka toy dump truck have remained largely unchanged for over 50 years of production. Tonka toys are still being made today by the Tonka Toy Group, a division of Hasbro, Incorporated. There are a few different ways to determine the age and value of antique Tonka toys.
Tonka Toys first began in 1946 as a partnership between three individuals who started Mound Metalcraft Incorporated. The company was located in an old three-story schoolhouse and began as a manufacturer of metal garden tools, such as rakes, hoes and shovels. In 1947, Mound Metalcraft was approached by Streater Industries, another local manufacturer, with an opportunity to start making steel toys. The partnership between the two manufacturers resulted in the first two Tonka models: the #100 Steam Shovel and model #150 Crane and Clam.
Although the Tonka Toy name appeared on the earliest Mound Metalcraft toys manufactured from 1947 on, they did not officially change the company name to Tonka Toy Company until January of 1956. The name “Tonka” is derived from the Sioux Indian language and means “great.” Because of a demand for tough Tonka trucks, the company moved into a larger facility in 1955. The most popular toy truck, the Mighty Tonka Dump Truck was first introduced in 1964. Tonka Toy Company was purchased by toy giant Hasbro in 1991.
The value of antique Tonka toys depends upon a number of factors, the most important of which is the rarity of the particular toy. Generally, toys that were built to last, such as the Tonka toys, are more easily stored and survive through several generations. Long-lasting toys are more likely to belong to a well-established toy collecting category that has been collected and researched for many years. Both common and rare types of the particular toy will be documented and found in various toy guides.
Age is the least important factor for most toy collectors in regards to the value of antique Tonka toys. The vast majority of American-production toys were manufactured after 1880. Most collectors are more interested in the condition, manufacturer, rarity and overall demand for a particular toy. Typically toys were mass-produced and can be successfully dated by researching makers’ marks, patents and country-of-origin marks. For a fee, the United States Patent Office will research the patent number found on any toy and supply information about the name of the maker and the likely date range in which it was made.
The Tonka logo can be used to identify and date a Tonka toy. On Tonka trucks, the fender and light designs changed over time and can help determine a date range for the year of manufacture. TonkaToys.com and NeatOldToys.com both offer excellent Tonka identification guides with pictures and an abundance of descriptive information.
The standard of value for antique Tonka toys is mint condition: no repairs, intact finish and all accessory features included. True mint condition for a toy means it comes with the original box and instructions if applicable. You will find that very few toys will meet these criteria so most collectors settle for toys in “good” condition or less. Often a toy that has an improperly repaired part or has been repainted will be worth up to 50 percent less than one in mint condition.
The rarer a toy is, the more forgiving collectors are about normal wear and tear such as faded paint and properly restored parts. The price for antique Tonka toys can range from $25 for a Tonka Green Dune Buggy to $125 for a VW Tonka Toy car. On Tias.com you can find several antique dealers’ websites with antique Tonka toys available for sale.