A History of Pre-War Automotive Tootsietoys
by Clint Seeley
edited by Robert Newson
Part 5 - Grahams, new Mack trucks and other 1933 issues
Clint Seeley's original text is in green, and my editorial additions are in blue.
Put your mouse over the thumbnail images to see the picture caption, and click on the thumbnail to enlarge.
The year 1933 saw the world-wide depression well advanced, with many industries facing financial disaster, national economies continuing to decelerate, and world politics entering a period of transition and growing central power, often at the expense of individual and corporate freedom. While the nation and the world were confronted by the gloomy downward spiral of their economies, in Chicago the makers of a popular ten-cent toy were enjoying ever better annual sales figures, as the demand for more expensive toys diminished. Indeed, the 1933 catalogue of the Dowst Manufacturing Co. was the most opulent and inclusive of the entire series. By that time the firm had been in business in one form or another for more than half a century, and in the business of making small die-cast metal toys for a generation. They had invented the die-cast miniature (not strictly true - see part 7 of this article) and had compiled an impressive list of firsts, though they may not have been aware of the historical significance at the time.
With so rich a tradition of innovation, it should have been no surprise that the 1933 catalogue would introduce several further novelties. Rubber tyres made their bow, being standard on new issues and made available as options on earlier models still available with metal disc wheels. Models with rubber tyres were designated by catalogue numbers beginnlng with 0, this figure being added as a prefix to rubber-shod versions of older numbers. Where rubber tyres were an option, this is indicated in the listing (parts 8 & 9 of this article).
The 1933 catalogue:
A colour reproduction of this catalogue was published in 1989:
Another change was the substitution of the harder zinc alloy called Zamak for the older lead formula. This resulted in a much stronger casting, but led to a problem of slow oxidation if there was any lead contamination in the metal. When this occurred, a gradual expansion and disintegration took place, often miscalled "metal fatigue", an all too familiar phenomenon. This malady afflicted relatively few Tootsietoys made for a few years after the changeover, and has not been the catastrophic epidemic that has wiped out so many of the Dinky and Marklin toys of the same era. I do not know the source of the problem in Europe, but at Dowst it usually happened this way: when lead alloy had been the order of the day, employees often tossed scraps of foil into the melting pot, and many a crumpled liner from a tobacco package lies hidden harmlessly in older lead toys. When this habit carried over into the age of Zamak, it was a different matter, and the seeds of ultimate destruction were sown. The firm became aware of the problem after a year or two and discouraged the practice. Prior to that it was sheer chance if a batch got through safely, but most later old Tootsietoys are as sound today as when made over thirty years ago. The problem recurred when metals became scarce just before and during the Second World War. l am told that it is safe to assume that a casting is essentially lead-free if it appears sound by the time it is about ten years old, but the rapidity of disintegration seems to be proportional to the amount of contamination. So don't panic and dispose of healthy old Dlnkies in fear that the future may kill them.
The new models in 1933 showed a greater sophistication of design, and a greater accuracy of line, proportion and detail, both in the new Macks and the most famous Tootsietoys of all, the 1932 Grahams. A new catalogue numbering system was also introduced with the Macks and Grahams, a bit too complex to detail here. Careful study of the comprehensive list at the end of this series will unlock the mystery, but a few remarks might prove helpful.
"Convertible" models were merely the same castings as closed models, but with their tops painted khaki, often resulting in a three-toned colour scheme. No Graham passenger cars were ever shown without spare wheels except in boxed sets (such as the Taxicab set illustrated), so the fact that many such models exist is a small mystery. Also, as different colours were used in later years in some instances, the ratios in which they were boxed for wholesale marketing do not seem to hold up in surviving collections. There is further confusion because of the multiple combinations made possible in the 'Bild-a-Car' sets, in which five bodies and five chassis were interchangeable by means of divided axles, held by clips in the centre. Collectors have muddled it further by restoring models with still other colours. There are also many minor variations of castings, involving all parts (body, chassis, grille, wheels), which baffle me and are thus declared beyond the scope of this run-down.
The Graham sedan shown with an individual box is possibly a dealer promotional (note the wheels in body colour).
The Graham commercials were given numbers in sequence with the new Mack trucks, segregating them from the passenger cars. The 'Commercial Tire' van was not numbered, as it was only available in boxed sets 5300 'Tootsietoy Motors' (1935) and 5360 'Bild-a-Car' (1938-9). The Ambulance was out of the catalogue as a single item in 1939, but continued in Army Set 5220 in 1940-41, and was also available singly in 1941 in camouflage finish, some of which had solid black rubber wheels. By then it was the last Graham in production.
I am still asked from time to time about certain models which never existed. These include: town car without spare wheels, breakdown truck or panel van with side spares, touring car, station wagon (estate car), and mail van. Any such that you may encounter are the product of choppers, children, or charlatans.
Copies of the Tootsietoy GrahamThe design of the Grahams, having body and chassis castings held together by the axles and a separate casting for the grille/headlights/bumper, was seminal in influencing the design of toy cars around the world for the rest of the 1930s. This design was patented in 1934 (see part 4), and Tootsietoy were quick to defend their patent in the USA with legal action, but this was less practical in other countries. Tootsietoy's construction method was copied extensively by Dinky Toys in England and France, and by other makers in the UK and Europe.
Some manufacturers went further, and made close copies of the Graham models themselves. In England, Johillco copied the Graham sedan (always with twin sidemount spare wheels) and the coupe (always with a rearmount spare). These were zinc diecast models, with the grille/headlights/bumper incorporated into the body casting. Raised door shut-lines (rather than recessed lines on the Tootsietoy) are another recognition feature. MADE IN ENGLAND was cast underneath. In Denmark, K.A.Birk & Co. made versions of the Graham sedan, coupe, van and wreck truck, in lead with a common tinplate chassis and lead grille. They also put their own designs of bodywork on the standard chassis, such as the attractive cement mixer pictured above. An unknown manufacturer (probably also Danish) made the lead Graham wrecker pictured in the fifth photo. The turned brass wheel hubs are original, and there is no identification cast on the model. A similar sedan (with rearmount spare) has also been seen. The foregoing models were all contemporary copies, i.e. from the 1930s, but the last photo above shows a modern white metal reproduction of the Graham sedan by Buccaneer (England) from around 1975. This is clearly marked underneath. The vast number of original Tootsietoy Grahams in the market makes it unlikely that anyone would bother to make a white metal reproduction these days!
New Mack Trucks
The other major feature of the year was the new, larger, Mack truck series. These featured closed cabs, headlamps, and well-defined bumpers and running boards. During the first few years they were made with separate cab and chassis castings and were fitted with dual rear tyres on both tractor and semi-trailer. These were replaced in 1936 by one-piece tractors and single rear wheels. Some half-way hybrids were apparently sold during the period of change-over (see the photo of the CITY FUEL truck above, also note the patent numbers added to the first-type chassis). The tractor for the dumper train never had dual tyres, and remained the first type two-piece casting until discontinued in 1941. The LONG DISTANCE HAULING closed cargo semi-trailer was discontinued after 1936, so is seldom seen in the second type. (Does it actually exist? Please e-mail me if you have evidence of this version!) The CITY FUEL COMPANY coal truck was issued in a handsome ten-wheeled version in 1933, but reduced to four wheels in 1936 and dropped after 1938. The economy version must have been a sales dud, as one is seldom so unlucky as to gaze upon this ugly descendant of the handsome first version; like the roc, it is a rara avis which only the most devoted purist is happy to find. The oil tanker carried the fictional DOMACO oil company name - a contraction of Dowst Manufacturing Company. The TOOTSIETOY DAIRY tanker was issued in dual-wheeled semi-trailer form, and was also available with two full trailers hooked behind the semi-trailer and with no dual wheels on this version (neither on the tractor nor the trailers). The RAILWAY EXPRESS AGENCY van with the Wrigley Gum decals on the sides was the popular introduction of 1935, changing to the second type casting the following year (both had single rear wheels). On the second type, there was also a small change in the body casting, a horizontal crossbar being added to the vertical slats of the gate at the rear. The car transporter was the first type casting only in its first year, 1935, loaded with 1934 Fords. This is now a rare creature, and I've never seen one intact, though I have seen one of the tractors. I have been luckier than Clint and have a complete example, pictured above, which came with 1935 Fords, believed to be original. The tractor is identifiable by a higher coupling post than the other Mack tractors, and also by the single rear wheels and yellow chassis. It changed to the second type, carrying 1935 Fords, in 1936. It changed form again in 1941, when the stamped tin rear was redesigned to carry three up-tilted cars of the 1940 "230" series. The high trailer with forward overhang required another modification of the coupling post, there being a backward bayonet offset to allow clearance between trailer and cab upon making sharp turns.
These pictures show special issues produced for sale at the Chicago World's Fair in 1933.
1933 was also the only year in which the GM series cars were issued in the "no-name" version, the whole GM line dropping from the catalogue the following year. These continued to be cast in lead rather than zamac, as was true of most of the other hold-overs. The older dies probably continued to be used with lead for some technical reason, possibly related to the higher temperature of molten zinc. This may also explain why so many older numbers were discontinued after 1933.
Thus, we bring to a close the chapter dealing with the prolific year of 1933, which surely must go down as the high point in diversity and innovation. ln the following parts we will go on to discuss the 1934 and 1935 Fords, the "Jumbo" or "Torpedo" series, the LaSalle/Lincoln/Doodlebug group and a few related pieces.