Toy steam river boat, metal, made by Bing Works, Nuremberg, Germany, c.1925
This toy river boat, made in Nuremberg, Germany, in about 1925 at the Bing works, is part of a large collection of toys purchased in 1985 from the remarkable tin toy collector Ken Finlayson. Finlayson developed his collection through auctions, swap meets and market stalls, and his connections with toy dealers and other serious collectors. Some toys were simply found overlooked sitting on the shelves of remote country newsagencies, brand new and never opened.
Finlayson's knowledge and love of toys saw him amass a collection of nearly 2000 items, including highly collectable tinplate toys manufactured by respected names such as Carette, Marklin and Lehmann, as well as a variety of other German, English and Japanese makers. The Finlayson collection contains almost every type of transport toy including cars, trucks, tractors, fire engines, buses, motorcycles, aeroplanes, ships and trains, as well as novelty toys, robots, kitchen toys and Meccano sets. It represents the type of toys that were available in Australia throughout most of the twentieth century, including ones made in this country by Boomaroo, Wyn-toy, and Cyclops.
In the Edwardian period, the toy manufacturing company Bing , who made this toy river boat grew to be the world's largest toy manufacturer. The firm produced virtually every toy available to children at the time from toy steam engines, trains and cars to doll's kitchens and the finest porcelain dishes. By 1906 the firm had showrooms in Hamburg and Berlin as well as London, Paris, Milan and Amsterdam. While the toys made by Bing were both strong and durable, it was their willingness to manufacture items especially for sale in particular countries which sets them apart. They printed different names on their boats and designed toy versions of particular full-size vehicles recently introduced in various countries.
The significance of this Bing river boat lies in the fact that it mimics the adult world of the time. Passenger travel by river boat was a popular method of travel before cars were widely used after the Second World War. Generally, the public fascination with sea travel and naval warfare encouraged toy makers in Europe and America to build toy boats of every size and description. The most popular were war ships, followed by passenger, racing and tug boats, then submarines. It should be noted that toy boats of this period were very expensive to buy and today are rare to survive. Many just sailed away from their owners on lakes or, because of their use in water, suffered from rust.
Margaret Simpson, 25 September 2007
The famous firm of Bing Brothers (Gebrüder Bing) was established in Nuremberg, Germany, in 1866, as a small distribution company for kitchenware and later toys by the brothers, Ignaz and Adolf Bing. Iganz had worked as a traveller in tinware and was aware of the marketing potential for this product. Business flourished and in 1869 the brothers decided to establish their own factory firm at Karolinenstrass, employing 100 factory workers with more working at home. At the Bavarian State Commercial and Industrial Exposition of 1882 the firm exhibited the largest variety of goods with six thousand items listed in their catalogue including tin plate and sheet metal toys and household utensils.
In the early 1890s other finishing workshops were opened as well as a factory for enamelled toys at Grünhain, in Saxony, though the warehouses and administrative officers were in a main building in Nuremberg. In 1895 the firm became a limited company with Ignaz as chairman of the board. The firm was among the first in Germany to recognise the importance of good worker-management relationships and there were trade-union representatives in all their factories. The Bing brothers themselves were not involved in toy design and their interest and skill was purely administrative. Ideas for toys not only came from their inventive designers but also the shop-floor employees as well.
In 1900 the Bing brothers were said to have become the world's largest manufacturer of toys with a range of mechanical tin toys cars, toy railways, elaborate ocean liners, dolls and their accessories, soft toys, as well as optical and kinetic toys. Production increased and toys were exported around the world. Despite the cost of shipping, Bing could undercut the local toy producers because of their skill in manufacturing and the low wages demanded by their workers. The firm's export success, of which they could boast that their toys could be bought anywhere in the civilised world from Sudan to Alaska, was dependent on huge warehouses set up in various countries where repairs and spare parts were locally available.
By 1912 the firm's catalogue and price list was 550 pages long necessitating three lithography shops and four printers to produce. By this time the firm employed 2700 workers and huge factory premises had been established in Nuremberg.
Bing made a large range of toy ships including liners, submarines, river steamers, battleships and torpedo boats. The ocean-going steamboats had funnels, lifeboats, decks and masts, and flew German or United States flags and ensigns. The firm's finest quality ships were sold in cardboard presentation boxes with a seascape background. Names such as 'Moltke' and 'Wilhelm' were painted on boats intended for home sale while those for Britain and America were given names appropriate to their countries.
By 1912 a range of ocean liners were available with some being replicas of actual ships such as the Cunard liner Mauritania. This came in two sizes a 16 inch (41cm clockwork model and a 25½ inch (65 cm) steam-powered version. Other types of vessles included a range of naval ship such as gunboats, dreadnoughts, torpedo ships, destroyers and submarines. An enthusiasm for illustrating the functioning aspects of the boats saw some come with brass boilers and oscillating brass cylinders steam engines for paddle steamers.
The development of naval vessels reflected the increasing strength of Germany's naval capabilities. Naval ships were popular subjects with a submarine, called the 'Navy Model', available from about 1909 to 1912. In the years just prior to the First World War, torpedo boats and destroyers with torpedo tubes were popular. Bing's battleships, though functional were at first given ornamental scrolling at the prow, but this detail was not seen after 1912.
A quaint pre-War item was a fully-furnished houseboat, completed with Chinese lanterns and potted plants. Characteristic features of Bing boats included their light appearance, compared to the thickly painted Marklin boats; transfer portholes, which were later stamped on; attention to detail giving a realistic appearance; and a streamlined shape.
Up until 1914, Bing boats fell into two production series, the first from 1890 to 1910 featured boats from 64 to 75 cm (25 to 29½inches) in length, with up to three masts, two propellers, two funnels and six lifeboats, some elegant bow decoration and most propelled by a clockwork motor. The second series, from 1910 to 1914, featured boats with the same high quality finish but with a simpler design, a length ranging from 18 to 94 cm (7 to 37 inches), often electrically-powered motors and with more modern superstructure designs.
Ignatz Bing died in 1918 and in 1919 his son, Stefan Bing, became Director-General of the company. The value of the German Mark fell in the late 1920s, causing German toys, though of high quality, to be sold cheaply in foreign markets, a move that became catastrophic for some Nuremberg companies, including Bing. In 1927 Stephan Bing left the firm due to serious differences of opinion with the supervisory board. The Bing family then severed their family connection with the firm although it did keep trading using the Bing name. The firm continued to suffer during the stock market crash of 1929 which affected demand and halted the creation of new lines. The decisive event was the bankruptcy of the Bing sale firm, Concentra, in 1929, requiring the original firm to meet its debts. The company began to falter and in 1932, with too much stock and few buyers, and a reduction in toy exports by two-thirds, the company ceased toy production and went into liquidation. The Bing empire was split up among a diverse group of firms including rival Nuremberg toy manufacturers Karl Bub, who purchased much of the firm's tooling and took over the Bing train production and Fleischmann who took the toy boats.
Trademarks for Bing toys made between 1900 and 1906 bear the letter, GBN (Gebrüder Bing, Nuremberg), from 1906 until 1919 the trains featured the GBN logo enclosed in a circle while from 1919 to 1923 the circle was replaced with a square. From 1923 a sidways 'B' next to a 'W' standing for Bing Werk (Bing Works) was used.
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Franzke, Jürgen, (ed). "Tinplate Toys from Schuco, Bing, & other companies", Schiffer Publishing Ltd, Atglen, PA, USA, 1995
King, Constance Eileen, "The Encyclopedia of Toys", Quarto Publishing Ltd, London, 1978.