Between 1934 and 1939, British toy brand Dinky Toys by Meccano produced a range of die-cast miniature vehicles and aircraft modelled on the British military. One such example was the Singapore Flying Boat, which was a realistic die-cast reproduction of the Royal Air Force’s (RAF) Short Singapore III. This replica model has a fascinating military history behind it.

At the end of the First World War, 37 Short Singapores were built to serve as vital coastal reconnaissance seaplanes and help patrol and protect the maritime territories of the British Empire. Made with a full-metal exterior capable of landing on water, the biplane flying boat had undergone three modifications since its first incarnation in 1926. With its enhanced specifications, the Short Singapore III weighed an incredible 9,237 kg and cruised at a maximum speed of 190 km/h, while being armed with two 250 kg and eight 11.35 kg bombs. This would have been fairly advanced for the interwar period.

One of the most significant operators of the Short Singapore III was the No. 205 Squadron of the RAF based at Seletar, Singapore. As one of the British colonies with a vital seaport, a total of ten Short Singapores were delivered to the squadron from 1935 to 1941 to carry out maritime reconnaissance along the Straits of Johor.

Before the Japanese advancement into Southeast Asia in 1941, the Short Singapores had become effectively obsolete. With the arrival of the more powerful Catalinas to Seletar Airbase, the use of the Short Singapore III eventually declined. The No. 205 Squadron in Singapore remained the last RAF operator of the Short Singapore III before it was taken over by the Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) No. 5 Squadron as a stopgap before the arrival of modern aircraft like the Catalinas.

Under the RNZAF in Fiji at the beginning of World War II, the Short Singapores were deployed in anti-submarine patrols and air-sea rescue missions. Although the Short Singapores were obsolete in comparison to other seaplanes of the time, the RNZAF No. 5 Squadron accomplished an astonishing feat by submerging a Japanese submarine in the South Pacific. This proved to be the solitary achievement of the Short Singapore III in World War II.

Pre-war die-cast toys across the Dinky range were made with an unstable impure alloy. These impurities within the alloy made the toys susceptible to corrosion and caused them to flake and disintegrate over time. Hence, pre-war die-cast toys by Dinky that survive corrosion are incredibly rare. Dinky Toys resumed the production of pre-war military models after 1945 with improved alloys. In the case of the Singapore Flying Boat, Dinky Toys produced both a pre-war and a post-war version.

When we think back to our childhood, the familiar toys we grew up with always give us a burst of old school nostalgia. As each generation grows up, the toys that accompany them also change. Nowadays, most Singaporean kids spend their childhoods entertained by electronic gadgets and digital screens – toys that seem worlds away from the simple plastic and wooden toys of the 80’s and 90’s. Vintage toys from our parents’ and grandparents’ generations are even harder to spot, and you might only see some in dedicated exhibits or museums such as Singapore’s MINT Museum Of Toys!

Yet the nostalgia of vintage toys remains strong, and many of us still remember our childhood companions fondly. As times change, teaching our children and grandchildren about old school toys gives us a chance to connect with them through these simple joys. Here are 4 of the best loved Singaporean toys to take you back to your childhood:

1. Kuti-Kuti


Credit: MINT Museum Of Toys

These small plastic tokens might look simple, but fans of Kuti-Kuti will remember how exciting it was to watch a game unfold! Kuti-Kuti was an old school game popular in Singapore around the 1950s and 1960s, and you can still find the tokens in some small shops in Singapore and Malaysia. Players tried to flip their tokens onto their opponents’ tokens. If they succeeded, they could claim that token into their own collection. Interested in picking up Kuti-Kuti again? Head to the MINT Shop to purchase a set of these vintage toys online!

2. Wooden Gasing Tops

Credit: MINT Museum Of Toys

Before there was Beyblade, there were gasing tops. These old school traditional Malay tops are made from wood and are launched with a string or rope. In Singapore today it’s rare to see people playing with gasing anymore, but gasing is actually still a popular game in northern Malaysia. There are even gasing competitions, so it’s clear this vintage toy isn’t going away anytime soon! Look out for this Gasing Spinning Top with Pepsi Bottle Cap in the museum’s upcoming Collectables toy collection on Level 2.

3. Five Stones

Credit: MINT Museum Of Toys

Ask your parents about Five Stones, and watch their eyes light up in excitement. This old school toy consists of a handful of small cloth beanbags, and players have to toss them into the air and catch them, increasing the number of bags caught each time. It’s the kind of game that sounds simple enough, but is actually pretty difficult to complete (fully) without practice. Anyone who’s played Five Stones before can also remember the frustration of dropping a stone and having to start all over again! If you’re particularly crafty, you can look out for seasonal workshops under the MINT Museum of Toy’s Journey of Rediscovery Programme to learn how to make traditional games and toys such as Paratroopers or Five Stones.

4. Aeroplane Chinese Chess

Aeroplane chinese chess

Credit: MINT Museum Of Toys

Though it has ‘chinese chess’ in its name, this vintage toy actually has more in common with the Western game of Ludo. Many Singaporean kids eagerly spent hours engrossed in this board game, battling it out with their friends to see whose airplanes could complete a round around the board first. Find Aeroplane Chinese Chess and other old school toys on the MINT Shop to relive your childhood memories and introduce your kids to a classic game they’ll love!

Rediscover Old School and Vintage Toys at the MINT Museum Of Toys

Reminiscing about our childhood doesn’t just bring us back to those simpler care-free times, but also gives us a chance to teach the younger generation about history in fun ways. Rediscover old school toys and more at the MINT Museum Of Toys once it reopens after renovation, or shop online at the MINT Shop to bring a little piece of the past home.

Queen Elizabeth II has been the queen of Britain and the Commonwealth for almost 70 years, making her the longest reigning British monarch in history. Her coronation in 1953, a year following the death of her father King George VI, was the first widely publicised and televised British Royal event of its time. More than 100,000 people tuned in to view the event, and coronation celebrations were held not just in Britain but in Commonwealth countries worldwide.

To celebrate the Coronation, many toymakers (especially in the United Kingdom) went on to produce toys and collectibles to commemorate this once-in-a-lifetime event. Many of these vintage collectibles and toys can only be found on online auction sites today, and are widely sought after by collectors and royal enthusiasts worldwide. To get a glimpse of these valuable items in Singapore, look no further than the MINT Museum Of Toys’ own collection of toys from the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II:

1. The Coronation of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II – Singapore Celebration Programme

The Coronation of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II - Singapore Celebration Programme

Maker: Public Relations Office
Year of Make: 1953
Material: Paper
Country of Origin: Singapore

Made in Singapore in 1953, this original programme from the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II is both a historical artefact and a valuable collectible. The cover drawing depicts boats on the Singapore River with notable Civic District buildings in the background including the Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall, the old Supreme Court, City Hall, and St. Andrew’s Cathedral. Above the drawing is the coats of arms of the Colony of Singapore, and the City of Singapore.

The programme was printed in Singapore – a Crown Colony of the United Kingdom at the time – to mark the Coronation celebrations. The Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II took place on 2 June 1953 at Westminster Abbey in London, followed by the death of her father King George VI the previous year. It was the first British coronation to be televised, and was watched by over 10 million viewers worldwide. Not only is this programme a peek into the festivities of the Coronation itself, but it is also a reminder of Singapore’s colonial past.

Part of the week-long celebrations included islandwide activities, the opening of Queen Elizabeth Walk and the Esplanade Gardens, nightly processions, and even firework displays. The celebrations lasted for one week, and religious venues such as churches, mosques, and temples all held special religious services as well. On the final day of Coronation Week, a parade was held at the Padang to celebrate the Trooping of Colour (also known as the sovereign’s official birthday).

2. Coronation Series – Box D Procession

Coronation Series - Box D Procession

Year of Make: 1953
Material: Cardboard, Die-Cast, and Paper
Country of Origin: United Kingdom

Made by British toy company John Hill & Company (or Johillco) in 1953, this cardboard and paper box set includes die-cast figurines of individuals involved in the Coronation procession of Queen Elizabeth II. The four-wheeled coach is gold, and pulled by eight horses. Figures of both the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh are visible inside. Accompanying figurines include the Household Cavalry, Guardsmen of the Household Division, Royal Footmen, and other soldiers and officials.

The set comes with an instruction sheet explaining the correct positions to replicate the Coronation procession. Though simple and understated, these vintage figurines would have brought much joy to British children of the time.

Johillco stopped operations in the 1960s, making collectibles such as these even more valuable and hard to find today. Complete sets such as these can now sell for several hundred British pounds at an auction or on sites such as Ebay!

3. Queen Elizabeth II Riding Horse Figurine

Queen Elizabeth II Riding Horse Figurine

Maker: Britains
Year of Make: 1988
Material: Die-Cast
Country of Origin: United Kingdom

The British royal family has continued to capture the attention of people worldwide throughout the years, and they are still one of the biggest drivers of tourism and visitors in the United Kingdom. Even years after the actual coronation had taken place, many British toy and memorabilia companies were still producing collectibles commemorating the event.

This 1988 die-cast figurine from Britains depicts Queen Elizabeth II riding sidesaddle on a black horse, while dressed in the uniform of one of the regiments of the Guards Division. The outfit comprises a red military jacket with a blue sash and medals, long blue skirt, and black hat with a white plume. This small figurine looks simple, but its intricate and hand painted details make it a widely desired item by royal collectors today. Britains has been famous for their die-cast miniatures since the company was first founded in the 19th century, and that craftsmanship is one reason why Britains figurines such as these have become collectibles amongst royal family enthusiasts.

Take a peek into History at the MINT Museum Of Toys

Vintage collectibles give us a glimpse into our past. While they may look simple compared to the toys and collectibles of today, they are still valuable memorabilia that hold immense value and (in some cases) nostalgic memories.

You can look forward to learning about history through toys at Singapore’s MINT Museum of Toys. Sign up for a museum membership to stay in the loop about the museum’s upcoming reopening, or follow us on social media for the latest updates.

Most people associate toys with children and childhood. Once we get older, we’re expected to leave our toys behind – or at least to shift to more valuable collectibles deemed suitable for grown ups. But Singapore’s MINT Museum Of Toys is changing our perception of toys, one toy at a time!

The MINT Museum houses a world-class collection of toys , collectibles, and memorabilia from over 40 countries and dating back as early as the 1840s. Each vintage toy holds endless stories about historical events and the day-to-day lives of people from generations ago. While the museum is still undergoing renovations, visitors will soon be able to walk through the walls and admire the uniqueness and variety of the toys displayed. Sign up for a membership or follow our social media pages to receive the latest updates on the museum’s reopening!

In the meantime, here are the top 6 collections at the MINT Museum of Toys to look forward to:

1. Outerspace – Beginnings Of Robots (Level 5)

Look around you today and you will easily spot an example of a robot, whether as a pop culture reference in movies and songs, to the technological advances in the field of medicine, manufacturing, and more. The idea of a mechanical assistant dates all the way back to ancient times, but the idea of the modern robot really only came into being in the 1920. From the 1958 ‘Shakey’ robot designed for industrial purposes to today’s cutting-edge Artificial Intelligence-powered home assistants, valuable and ubiquitous robots have now wormed their way into our everyday lives. One old school example of a robot toy in this collection is this Smoking Spaceman from Linemar.

L5 Smoking Spaceman

Maker: Linemar
Year of Make: 1950s
Material: Lithographed Tin and Plastic
Country of Origin: Japan

Linemar was a Japanese company from the 1950s and 1960s that specialised in mechanical and battery-operated toys. This vintage lithographed tin toy is in the classic shape of a humanoid robot complete with a square body, grille mouth, and a transparent headpiece.

When activated, the robot walks forward and swings its arms. The headpiece and eyes also light up, and smoke emanates from its mouth. The smoke is produced by heating oil, taking this toy a step further than other standard mechanical toys of its time. Tiny details like the dials and switches dotted across its body make this robot reminiscent of the robots you might spot in a sci-fi b-movie from that era – its toy box even features a cartoon of a similar robot walking on an alien planet.

2. Characters – The World of Comic Books (Level 4)

‘The World of Comic Books’ collection features iconic comic book superheroes from around the world including 8 Man Robot and an iconic Batman made by Japan’s Bandai in the 1960s – signalling his international popularity even back then! Many of these vintage versions of popular heroes are now highly valuable collectibles, worth thousands of dollars today.

L4 Batman

Maker: Bandai
Year of Make: 1960s
Material: Tin and Vinyl
Country of Origin: Japan

What do the Japanese toy brand Bandai and the American comic book hero Batman have in common? While these two names might be familiar to you today, there was a period of time when Bandai actually manufactured toy robot versions of this DC superhero! The robot is made from lithographed tin, with a painted vinyl head and dyed fabric cape. When activated by flipping the switch on its back, Batman walks forwards with his arms swinging.

The outfit worn by this toy is a classic old school Batman outfit – a light blue costume, yellow utility belt, and dark blue accessories. Batman had first appeared in DC Comics’ “Detective Comics” series in 1939, and was so popular he was given his own comic book series soon after. By the time Bandai started producing these vintage toys in the 1960s, Batman was already a beloved character even here in Singapore and had begun to branch out into other media including a live action television series. Today, there have been almost 20 Batman movies made including the popular Dark Knight trilogy, as well as video games, cartoon series, and endless comic spin-offs all set within the Batman universe.

3. Childhood Favourites – Teddy Bears from around the World (Level 3)

For many kids, a teddy bear is the first soft toy or stuffed animal they’ll enjoy. Some people even hold onto their own special teddy bear into their adult years, or pass them onto their own children. Teddy bears have been a popular children’s toy for over a century, and new models are constantly popping up every day. This adorable collection dives into vintage teddy bears from renowned teddy bear makers Steiff, Merrythought, and the Shanghai Doll Factory. You might even recognise these toy company names today, giving you a chance to see how they’ve evolved over the years!

L3 Steiff Teddy Bear

Maker: Margarete Steiff GmbH
Year of Make: 1903
Material: Fabric and Metal
Country of Origin: Germany
Estimated Value: GBP 20,000

German company Steiff has been known for its stuffed toys ever since it was founded in the 1880s. Though this vintage Steiff Teddy Bear from 1903 may look different from the popular Steiff toys available in stores today, what they have in common is their high quality materials to give kids a playtime companion they will cherish for years to come. The bear is made from dyed mohair, with a dyed fabric ribbon and metal teddy bear-shaped medallion around its neck. Interestingly, this toy lacks the signature metal tag in its ear that genuine Steiff toys have today. This is because the tags were not introduced until 1904, a year after this teddy bear was introduced.

4. Childhood Favourites – Door of Hope Dolls (Level 3)

The Door of Hope dolls were made in 1900s Shanghai, China by young destitute women in the Door of Hope Mission. The Mission provided a safe haven for these women, and gave them lessons in essential skills such as literacy and handicraft that enabled them to earn a living. The old school wooden dolls in this collection were handcrafted by expert craftsmen, and their delicate outfits hand sewn by the women in the mission. There were about 25 standard designs produced, each representing a different traditional Chinese costume or role. As each and every doll’s clothing were handmade, each piece was unique even if they were of the same design.

L2 Door of Hope Wedding Couple

Maker: Door of Hope Mission
Year of Make: 1920s-1930s
Material: Wood and Fabric
Country of Origin: China

These Door of Hope Wedding Couple dolls are dressed as a traditional Chinese bride and groom, and are wearing the traditional outfits of that time. The groom doll is dressed in a full-length purple robe with a floral ‘p’u-fang’ – an embroidered panel indicating his rank – on his chest and back, as well as a purple hat with a red tassel, and black boots. The bride doll wears a bright red tunic and skirt embroidered with flowers and decorated with four long tassels. On the bride’s head sits a traditional red headdress decorated with beads, tassels, and a pom-pom. A small red handkerchief in the bride’s hand completes her look. Today, these dolls are a window into the past as they let us see what life in China was like in the early 20th century.

5. Collectables – Globalisation of Climbing Monkey (Level 2)

Climbing Monkey lithographs were a worldwide sensation in the early 20th century, and climbing monkey toys soon followed. With no known creator or patents in place, toymakers from around the world produced their own climbing monkey toys from the 1880s up to as recently as the 1980s. Each toy in this collection reflects the adaptations and modifications made to the simple concept by individual toymakers. Showcasing figures from Germany, China, and more, each piece is a unique and valuable take on a common idea reflecting the imagination and creativity of toymakers worldwide.

Level 2 Climbing Monkey

Maker: E.P. Lehmann
Year of Make: 1885-1945
Material: Lithographed Tin
Country of Origin: Germany

This German climbing monkey toy by E.P. Lehmann is made from lithographed tin that has been shaped and painted with bright colours, and decorated with a dyed fabric tassel on its head. The monkey has brown fur and a long tail, and wears human clothing including a green jacket, yellow waistcoat, red shorts, and a red ‘fez’ hat with a brown tassel.

A simple pull-string mechanism is attached to the toy’s back, with a metal tab on either end. To operate the toy, the bottom end of the string is placed on the floor, with your foot holding a metal tab in place. The other tab is held up in the air so that the string is vertical. When the string is taut and the top tab is pulled, the monkey begins to ‘climb’ up the string.

6. Collectables – Early Toys and Traditional Folk Games (Level 2)

Kids today are used to entertaining themselves on their ipad, phones, and tablets. But back in our grandparents’ day (or even our own childhoods for those of us born in the 20th century!) any household item lying around could be used as a toy. As industrial-made toys could be expensive, simpler options were a common mainstay of kids’ toys for a long time in Singapore. You can find modern versions of these old school toys in stores in Singapore or Malaysia, or our very own MINT Shop.

L2 Gold Gasing Top

Maker: Unknown
Year of Make: c. 1950s
Material: Wood and Metal
Country of Origin: Singapore 

This Gold Gasing Spinning Top is a version of the popular ‘kampong’ toy the gasing (or spinning top). Gasing tops were a common childhood toy for many kids in Singapore and Malaysia in the middle of the century, and could be made from a variety of materials. This top is made from wood painted gold, along with a metal hook and tip. A name and string of numbers are engraved on the side – presumably the original owner’s name and ID number.

To make a gasing top spin, a string is tightly wound around the top. The player throws the top onto the ground, holding on to the end of the string, then pulls the string back. With enough practice, you could improve your spinning technique to enable your top to ‘fight’ your opponent’s top. The traditional Malay game ‘gasing pangkah’ is played in this way, with the aim being to knock your opponents’ tops out of the circular playing field or to disable the tops by knocking them over. Gasing is still played in some communities today, although younger generations might be more familiar with newer top franchises such as Beyblade.

Rediscover the wonder of Toys at the MINT Museum

Each and every vintage toy housed at the MINT Museum Of Toys reflects a valuable slice of culture and history, allowing us to revisit the past. From everyday companions to priceless collectibles, the MINT Museum is Singapore’s own treasure trove of terrific toys. Sign up for a museum membership today to get the latest updates for the museum’s grand reopening!

Traditionally, toys came in recognisable forms but tended not to be tied to a specific character or franchise until the 20th century. For example, toy dolls have been present in culture for millennia but it wasn’t until the 1960s that the Barbie doll emerged as a doll franchise. This paradigm shift towards commercialisation and merchandising started during the 1930s, when the comic book and animated media industries began to gain worldwide popularity as a whole new form of entertainment for children and youth.

Of all the characters that would emerge during this era, one of the most popular ones is still dominating toy shelves today: Mickey Mouse! Following the commercial success of the cartoon character, many toy makers jumped on the bandwagon and fought for the license to produce Mickey Mouse toys. The commercialisation and merchandising of Mickey Mouse alone has transformed into a multi-million merchandise and turned him into a staple icon across a variety of toys and other products and media.

While some vintage Mickey Mouse toys look vastly different from the Mickey Mouse memorabilia you can see in stores today, they hold the same interest and joy for kids and collectors alike. Almost 100 years on from when these toys were first produced, Mickey Mouse (and the ensuing plethora of Disney characters and franchises to follow) have become some of the most famous, recognisable, and beloved characters in the world.

Here are just 3 vintage Mickey Mouse collectibles that were produced during this time:

1. Mickey Mouse Talkie Jector

Maker: Talkie Jector Company
Year of Make: c. 1930s
Material: Metal
Country of Origin: United States of America

A Talkie Jector was a vintage toy that combined a phonograph (Talkie) and a miniature movie projector (Jector). Powered by a mechanical motor, this remarkable piece of metal memorabilia shows us the past of both Mickey Mouse as well as the history of film.

Paper strips called Movie-Jectors (or Movie-Jecktors) could be fed into the Talkie Jector while the crank on the side of the machine was turned. The drawings on the strips could be projected onto a flat surface, allowing kids to ‘watch’ the stop-motion-esque movie that emerged. Though this is a far cry from the video-on-demand services of today, it was almost revolutionary at a time when the cinema industry was still in its early years.

As this particular Jector came with an attached ‘Talkie’, accompanying records sold with the set could be placed onto the phonograph to play music simultaneously. This marked the beginning of films being able to be brought into the home – making this a testament to the draw and popularity of cinema even a century ago. Today, a valuable Talkie Jector collectible such as this could sell for thousands on online auction sites.

2. Mickey Mouse Hurdy Gurdy

Maker: Johann Distler (J.D.N.)
Year of Make: c. 1930s
Material: Lithographed Tin
Country of Origin: Germany
Value (USD): 35,000

A hurdy-gurdy is a mechanical string instrument which produces sound by rubbing a wheel against its strings. A hand-crank is manually turned in order to play the instrument, and the music produced is similar to the music of bagpipes. The hurdy-gurdy has been in existence since before the 11th century, but is not a common musical instrument today. Some of you might recognise it from the 1968 song “Hurdy Gurdy Man” by Donovan, but it is primarily used for European folk music today including Occitan, Hungarian, and Slavic folk music.

To activate this vintage Mickey Mouse Hurdy Gurdy toy, a mechanism is wound by hand. When released, Mickey begins to push the hurdy-gurdy while turning the crank to play the instrument. As Mickey ‘plays’, the Minnie Mouse figurine standing on top of the hurdy-gurdy moves and dances along with the music.

3. Mickey Mouse Magazine – October 1936 Edition

Maker: Kay Kamen Ltd.
Year of Make: 1936
Material: Paper
Country of Origin: United States of America

When one thinks of Disney executives, names like Bob Iger, Michael Eisner, or yes even Walt Disney come to mind. But many other notable individuals have played a crucial part in the rise and success of the Disney company and its characters – one of whom was Herman “Kay” Kamen. Kamen was a merchandising executive in the 1930s who worked on promoting Mickey Mouse. His firm (Kay Kamen Ltd.) had the licensing agreement for Disney merchandise until the 1950s, and many of their products would go on to become huge hits.

The Mickey Mouse Magazine was one of such successes. This vintage children’s comic book ran between 1933-1940 with a total of 60 issues. This October 1936 issue contained comics, poetry, and short stories which mentioned and promoted Disney toys and other merchandise available at the time.

See more vintage Mickey Mouse collectibles at the MINT Museum of Toys

The explosion in popularity of Mickey Mouse memorabilia was just the beginning. In the decades to come, pop culture and toys would become even more entwined, leading up to today’s pop culture and media environment where hit series and movies are almost always accompanied by their own toy collections.

Find out more about how these valuable vintage toys and collectibles have helped to shape history at  Singapore’s MINT Museum Of Toys. Sign up for a museum membership to stay in the loop about the museum’s upcoming reopening, or follow us on social media for the latest updates.

The Erzgebirge region is located in the Ore Mountain region of Saxony, and is famous worldwide for its nutcrackers and other wooden toys depicting idyllic scenes of traditional German village life.

Find out how this famous toymaking tradition got started, and visit Singapore’s MINT Museum of Toys to view even more history through the lens of vintage toys and collectibles.

Changing Trades to a New, Emerging Industry

The Erzgebirge region originally thrived on silver and tin mining though local miners eventually switched to woodcarving due to the abundance of lumber in the area. This gradually gave rise to the rich regional wooden toymaking tradition it is known for today.

Despite the region’s deep roots in the mining industry, working as a miner was a difficult, demanding, and sometimes deadly job. For over 800 years up till the late 1700s, mining was the primary industry keeping the region alive. Many miners gained incredible craftsmanship skills at work and transferred those into making wooden carvings during their leisure time.

However, as work in the mines dried up in the late 1700s, many turned to their leisure hobby as an alternative source of income. Erzgebirge wooden products were originally focused on utensils, small toys, crockery, and decorations. Despite this, earnings were not high due to the seclusion of the village with few peddlers moving across the region, and a lack of access to larger more cosmopolitan towns.

Peddlers who bought Erzgebirge wooden toys and implements would resell them in larger city centres including Leipzig and Nuremberg, bringing more attention to the region.

As the industry developed, innovations enabled local woodcarvers to expand their operations into family-run production lines as well as create more detailed and sophisticated designs. Many woodcarvers eventually made the shift to toymaking, with Erzgebirge becoming known as the “Seifferner Toy Corner” of Germany. 

View more historical and vintage toys at the MINT Museum of Toys. Sign up for a museum membership today to keep up-to-date with the latest news and developments!

Erzgebirge Toys Today

Erzebirge toys have a distinct look that makes them recognisable to collectors and enthusiasts today. Some notable characteristics include:

  • Round heads and hands
  • Pedestals for figurines to stand and pose on
  • Depictions of ‘everyday’ people rather than authority figures (e.g. kings, clergy)

Toys and other folk art from the region usually revolve around common themes as well including village life, the Christian faith, and experiences in the mine. Traditional ideas of a “German Christmas” frequently use Erzgebirge iconography, with one of the most famous toys to emerge being the Nutcracker.

 Another famous toy type from the region is the incense smoker. These toys would come in two pieces, with a space for an incense cone in the lower part of the body. As the incense burned, smoke would rise out of the open mouth of the figure – giving it the appearance of a “Smoking Man”. Designs vary greatly today, but popular traditional designs include Santa Claus, bakers, miners, and snowmen.

Maker: Unknown
Year of Make: 1850
Material: Wood
Country of Origin: Germany

Erzgebirge woodcarvers also produced toys atypical of its time, relying on hidden mechanisms that elevated them above normal wooden figurines. The Chinesische Treppenläufer (Chinese Stairspictured here) use liquid mercury to enable the toy to move without an electric motor. When mercury flows to the bottom of the rod, the toy’s centre of gravity changes and the figures appear to ‘climb’ the stairs.

The figures are dressed in gold-embroidered “Chinese” costumes and the stairs bear an Oriental pattern. At the time this toy was made, trade between Europe and the Far East was beginning to increase and many Europeans were fascinated by Far Eastern cultures, designs, and philosophies. This obsession led to the emergence of Chinoiserie, a European interpretation and imitation of East Asian artistic traditions using motifs such as pagodas, materials such as porcelain, and even habits such as tea-drinking. As part of our Collectables collection, this vintage toy is an excellent representation of the cultural mores and trends of its time.

Over the years, the development of Erzgebirge toys has reflected the particular changes of the specific region, as well as broader trends in Europe and around the world.  Toys (especially traditional wooden toys such as these that are not as common today) can reflect, capture, and even respond to historical touchpoints and cultural changes. If you are keen to discover even more traditional and unique toys, you may also book our Virtual Museum Tours to get a sneak peek and understanding of the collection before booking an in-person visit

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was released on 21 December 1937 by the Walt Disney Company – and immediately revolutionised the world of animation. Iit was the first full-length animated feature film, as well as the brief record-holder for the highest-grossing sound film in the world. Since then it has often been ranked on lists of the greatest American films, and was named the greatest American animated film of all time by the American Film Institute.

To celebrate this iconic film, here are 7 facts about Snow White you might not have known:

Discover more vintage Disney toys at the MINT Museum of Toys, right here in Singapore! Book your tickets today and head to Level 4 for the Characters exhibit to see unique toys from your favourite franchises.

1. The 1937 film has never won an official Academy Award.

Snow White did receive a nomination in 1938, but did not win. In 1939 a Honorary Oscar was awarded to Walt Disney in recognition of the film’s achievement. The specially-designed award featured a normal Oscar statue accompanied by 7 mini statuettes as homage to the Seven Dwarfs.

2. The original fairy tale involves cannibalism.

In the original 1812 fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm, the Evil Queen intends to eat Snow White’s organs to gain immortality and orders the Huntsman to kill her. The Huntsman helps Snow White to escape instead, and fools the Evil Queen with a pig’s organ.

Disney’s adaptation of the fairy tale understandably toned this down, and set the trend for kid-friendly versions of childhood classics. Other subsequent Disney Princess movies including Cinderella (1950), Sleeping Beauty (1959) and The Little Mermaid (1989) continued this trend, introducing new generations of children to traditional fairy tales without the gruesome details.

3. The Seven Dwarfs could have had completely different names.

Other potential names included Jumpy, Dizzy, Baldy, Gabby, and Sniffy. But in the end, they were given the names they bear in the film – Doc, Grumpy, Bashful, Sneezy, Sleepy, Happy, and Dopey. The Seven Dwarfs (especially Dopey) have become popular characters right alongside Snow White, with their own merchandise and memorabilia available in Disney theme parks worldwide.

4. A prequel was in the works but was eventually cancelled.

The direct-to-video prequel would have covered the backstory of the Seven Dwarfs before they met Snow White, and the story of how the Evil Queen took over the throne. The production was cancelled in 2006.

5. Snow White is the first fictional female character with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Snow White’s star was dedicated on 28 June 1987, 50 years after the film’s release. She was the 3rd animated character to get a star – following Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny – and is still the only Disney Princess with her own star.

6. The 1937 film was one of the first 25 films preserved in the National Film Registry.

In the writeup about its preservation, author and Disney film history J.B. Kaufman describes Snow White’s “rich colour … infectious musical score, [and] absorbing, carefully developed story” as just some of the reasons why it’s remained beloved for so many years.

7. The 1937 film wasn’t the first film adaptation of the fairy tale, but it has been the most successful version.

Earlier adaptations of the Brothers Grimm fairytale include a now-lost 1902 silent film and a 1916 silent film adapted from the Broadway play. Walt Disney was actually inspired by the 1916 version, but his 1937 film has outshone all of its predecessors as the definitive Snow White adaptation of its generation.

The original movie made US$7,846,000 during its original theatrical run and grossed US$418M across its original release and subsequent reissues. Adjusted for inflation, the movie has one of the top lifetime grosses worldwide today – and this does not even include the merchandising sales from subsequent developments like the Disney Princess line.

Maker: Knickerbocker Toy Co. Inc
Year of Make: c. 1937-1949
Material: Fabric and Painted Composition
Country of Origin: United States of America

Following the movie’s premier, many toy and dollmakers jumped on the marketing bandwagon to cash it on the film’s box office success. Snow White Doll was accompanied by 9” dolls of each of the seven dwarfs, and came in 3 different sizes (11”, 15”, and 20”). The 11” doll featured a pink and blue dress whereas the 15” doll (pictured here) wears a brown and yellow dress. The back of her head is marked “Knickerbocker Toy – Walt Disney” – a signal of the decades of Disney merchandising that would soon follow the animation company’s rise to worldwide fame.

Discover more Vintage Disney memorabilia at the MINT Museum of Toys

Dive into the world of your childhood at Level 4 (Characters) of Singapore’s MINT Museum of Toys, where the vintage Disney Collection sits on display. Book a virtual museum tour to see our Collectables and Childhood Favourites exhibitions, or book your tickets today for an unforgettable day out with us!

Die-cast toys are one of the most popular types of toys and collectibles today – particularly in the form of scale-model vehicle replicas.

The die-cast toy industry only began in the early 20th century with names such as Meccano (Dinky Toys) and Corgi Toys. Today, we’re zooming in on the founder of Corgi Toys – Philip Ullman – and tracing his life story along with the early history of die-cast toys.

The Early Years

Philip Ullmann: Jewish Refugee Turned Die-Cast Toys Powerhouse The Leader’s Car

Name: The Leader’s Car
Maker: Tippco
Year of Make: 1938-1945
Material: Rubber, Elastolin Composite, Lithographed Tin
Country of Origin: Germany

Ullmann grew up in the years preceding World Wars I and II, and was a young man pursuing his career at Tipp & Co. (Tippco) by the time the Nazi Party rose to power.

Tippco was a Jewish-owned company originally founded in 1912 and Ullman took over from the original founders after 1918 as sole owner. In 1933 Ullmann had to flee to the United Kingdom (UK) due to increasing Nazi persecution.

Tippco was seized and became a propaganda arm of the Third Reich producing scale models of German military vehicles including staff cars, transporters, and tanks. This included The Leader’s Car, a die-cast scale replica of the Mercedes-Benz 770 infamous for its favoured use by high-ranking Axis politicians before and during WWII. The elastolin figurines in this toy even had moveable right arms to perform the Nazi salute, and this particular car was made with the license plate number 11A-19357 matching Hitler’s 1930s parade car.

Though Ullmann had left Tippco and Germany by the time this historical toy was produced, it remains a powerful memorial to the violence and political strife that coloured Ullmann’s early career as well as a reminder of the power of toys. Though they may look simplistic, toys like these were effective at normalising the effects of war for young children by minimising the brutal reality of what was happening and turning it into a fun game.

Thankfully, Tippco returned to the Ullmann family’s control in 1948 after the end of WWII.

New Life in the UK

Name: Disneyland Skating Rink
Maker: Mettoy
Year of Make: 1950s
Material: Lithographed Tin and Plastic
Country of Origin: United Kingdom

Upon arriving in the UK, Ullmann and his Tippco colleague Henry Katz founded the Mettoy (Metal Toy) company in 1933. They brought their die-cast design and manufacturing expertise over to Mettoy, which specialised in lithographed tin vehicles, aircraft, and kitchenware similar to what other lithographed tin companies were doing at the time.

However Mettoy eventually set itself apart by producing media tie-ins and memorabilia like the Disneyland Skating Rink. The toy featured hard plastic figures of Minnie Mouse and Donald Duck, and a hidden magnetic base as the ‘rink’. Pushing the plunger moves the plastic figurines around through magnetic force, creating the impression that the characters are ‘skating’.

The use of “Disneyland” here is anachronistic, as the first Disneyland park was only opened at 1955. Its use here for British Disney toys reflect the growing Disney media empire of the time, and Disney’s popularity outside of the USA due to hits like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), Silly Symphonies (1929-39), and the original Mickey Mouse cartoons (1928-53).

International Success

Philip Ullmann: Jewish Refugee Turned Die-Cast Toys Powerhouse Giant Tower Crane

Name: Giant Tower Crane
Maker: Corgi
Year of Make: 1981
Material: Metal, Plastic, and Rubber
Country of Origin: Singapore

Over time Mettoy’s profile grew and the brand eventually released the first Corgi die-cast toy in 1956. The Wales-based company was named after the famous Welsh Corgi dog breed, and used a Corgi dog logo as well. The Corgi range was intended to compete with Meccano’s popular Dinky model cars and by the 1960s was arguably a more popular brand in the die-cast world.

Though Ullmann died in 1971 during Corgi’s glory years and the brand went through several changes in ownership, Corgi is still one of the most well-known die-cast toy brands today and was particularly known for using plastic glazing to create a more realistic sheen. The range of toys produced by Corgi was huge, and included scale die-cast models of famous vehicles from TV and movies like the Batmobile and James Bond’s Aston Martin DB5.

At the height of its popularity Corgi was exported and manufactured worldwide including Singapore, Malaysia, and Hong Kong. This Giant Tower Crane is one example of the kinds of die-cast vehicles Corgi is well-known for and reflects die-cast enthusiasts’ interest in the intricate machinery and design that makes up the everyday vehicles and machines we may take for granted.

Though Ullmann’s name might not be as well-known as other bigshots in the toy industry today, his legacy lives on in the form of Mettoy, Corgi, and their die-cast toys that are beloved around the world. Historical and vintage toys like the ones featured here not only give us a peek into the past, but also provide a window into the lives of quiet giants like Ullmann.

Visit us today at the MINT Museum of Toys to see more vintage toys and memorabilia! Book your museum tickets online and enjoy an enhanced on-site experience through our XperienceAR Museum.

You can also take our virtual museum tour from the comfort of your home which features toys from our Collectables and Childhood Favourite collections.

Children around the world often receive stuffed animals as one of their first toys – and some even keep their toys well into adulthood! Many also keep or preserve their childhood stuffed animals and teddy bears as gifts for their own kids, reflecting how toys aren’t just for having fun but can also hold deep sentimental value.

While stuffed animals have been around for a long time and are some of the most common toys we see today, no other stuffed animal is as prolific as the ever-popular teddy bear.

The Teddy Bear’s two origins

The teddy bear is typically associated with former US President Theodore Roosevelt – but did you know it actually has 2 origin stories?

The more well-known story is that New York toymaker Morris Michtom created the first teddy bear n 1902 and sought permission from then-President Roosevelt to name it after him. Roosevelt agreed and the rest is history.

Coincidentally at the same time in Germany, esteemed toymakers Margarete Steiff GmbH (now known simply as Steiff) produced a stuffed bear – the latest in their collection of stuffed animals. While Steiff had produced stuffed animals before, their teddy bear was by far the most popular.

Over a century later the teddy bear has gone through some noticeable changes:

  • Materials: Teddy bears were originally made from mohair fur which imitated the coarse fur of real animals. Today teddy bears can be found in almost any fabric including velvet, satin, synthetic fur, cotton, denim, and crochet.
  • Build: The first teddy bears were built to resemble real bears with longer snouts and smaller eyes. Today they have become cuter with large exaggerated eyes and smaller noses.
  • Variations: Travel back in time 100 years and you would see almost entirely brown teddy bears on the shelves. Today teddy bears come in a variety of colours and even patterns from pandas to polar bears to polka dots.

Certain teddy bears have also become cultural icons of their own including Paddington Bear, Winnie-the-Pooh, and the Care Bears. Although these franchises were originally aimed at children they have become beloved by kids and adults alike all over the world.

Famous Teddy Bear brands

1. Steiff

Maker: Margarete Steiff GmnH
Year of Make: 1903
Material: Fabric and Metal
Country of Origin: Germany 

Originally known as Margarete Steiff GmbH, this German company was founded 1880 and originally manufactured stuffed toys – in fact this Steiff Teddy Bear is the oldest toy in our museum!

Today Steiff makes stuffed toys, stuffed animals, baby products, baby apparel, and of course, teddy bears. While Steiff is still known today for their wide range of stuffed animals, Steiff bears in particular are well-loved worldwide by children and collectors alike.

Steiff craftsman go beyond simply treating the teddy bear as a toy and approach it almost as an art form. Their bears are known for their quality craftsmanship, elevating the humble teddy bear into a showcase of premium materials and artistic design. For example their Teddies for Tomorrow line is made out of alternative eco-conscious materials such as bamboo, hemp, linen, and paper while remaining soft, washable, and durable.

2. Merrythought

Maker: Merrythought Hygienic Toys
Year of Make: 1940s
Material: Fabric
Country of Origin: United Kingdom

Merrythought is a British company founded 1930 that exclusively focuses on producing stuffed toys and animals with a strong and distinct British identity. All Merrythought toys are handmade in their Shropshire factory making them one of the only remaining British toy companies to produce items locally.

The classic Merrythought teddy bear (like this Teddy Bear in Night Gown) comes with large button eyes, detailed fur, and a ribbon accessory – but Merrythought is also known for its unique Punkie Bear or ‘Punkinhead’ line. Designed with a fluffy tuft of fur at the top of their head, the Punkie Bears were first released in 1949 and have become a popular toy as well as collector’s item since then.

Similar to Steiff, Merrythought has both everyday and limited-edition collector’s bears reflecting how valuable teddy bears are today and how toys can be a window into significant points in time. For example the brand has released several bears commemorating Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee in 2022.

Revisit your Childhood Favourites at the MINT Museum of Toys

Visit us at the MINT Museum of Toys to see your favourite and most popular childhood companions like you’ve never seen them before! See vintage teddy bears and more in our Childhood Favourite exhibit which features a dedicated Teddy Bears From Around The World collection.

Book your tickets today to see more unique vintage toys and memorabilia!

Vintage toys aren’t just for fun and amusement – they can be powerful ways to remember moments and social mores in history as well.

Join the MINT Museum of Toys as we cover 3 toys in our extensive collection that reflect racism and anti-Blackness, while also reminding us of the potential for change:

1. Black Minstrel Musicians

Maker: L. & B.
Year of Make: 1880s
Material: Paper
Country of Origin: Germany

The minstrel show first emerged as a deliberately racist form of theatrical entertainment in the USA in the early 19th century and quickly became a nationally popular art form by 1848. A show typically featured skits and performances that mocked and portrayed Black people as dim-witted, lazy, and superstitious. The White actors would don  blackface makeup in order to perform their partys.

Even after slavery was abolished in 1865, it wasn’t until the 1910s that professional minstrel shows began to disappear. Blackface had become less emphasised during performances by now and performing troupes with Black actors had also started to emerge; however this prompted racist riots against them from White audiences. Local minstrel performances were still put on up till the 1960s during the height of the Civil Rights Movement.

The legacy of minstrelsy remains in the caricatures of Black and non-White people that they created. These include the “Jim Crow” and “Coon” archetypes, stereotypes of Black or mixed-race women as flirtatious and hypersexual, and even the “Ching Chang Chung” mockery of East Asian languages.

2. Aunt Jemima and Uncle Mose

Maker: F. & F. Mold & Die Works
Year of Make: 1950s
Material: Plastic
Country of Origin: United States of America

Aunt Jemima and Uncle Mose are a husband-and-wife duo that have appeared on popular household food items since the 1800s. Both characters’ names and personalities are based in historically offensive and derogatory stereotypes of Black Americans, and Aunt Jemima’s name was even taken from the stage name of a blackface vaudeville performer.

Aunt Jemima is regarded as an example of the “Mammy” stereotype of a Black woman in slavery or servitude to a White family. Her kindly and docile nature was an invitation to White Americans to indulge in a fantasy of enslaved people as submissive, self-effacing, loyal, pacified, and pacifying.

While Quaker Oats tried rehabilitating the Aunt Jemima character several times – portraying her as a storyteller rather than slave – it wasn’t until the 2020 protests over George Floyd’s murder that the company finally announced her likeness would be discontinued.

3. Dutch Dolls and a ‘Golliwogg’

Maker: Unknown
Year of Make: 1930s
Material: Paper
Country of Origin: United States of America

The Golliwog has its origins in Florence Kate Upton’s 1895 book The Adventures of Two Dutch Dolls. In the book, the Golliwog is described as “a horrid sight, the blackest gnome” with a kind smile and caring nature. With dark black skin, bright red exaggerated lips, and curly hair, the Golliwog’s appearance follows in the visual tradition of blackface minstrel shows.

Upton’s Golliwog was highly popular when her books were first published and the character was even adopted by others including Enid Blyton. Golliwogs could be found as toys, labels, price lists, advertisements, and other home goods. Over time the terms ‘golliwog’ and ‘wog’ gained its pejorative and derogatory meaning against Black people and other dark-skinned individuals.

During the Civil Rights Movement in the USA during the 1960s, enough furor was raised that the Golliwog started to lose popularity and be phased out. However the character has still maintained some nostalgic qualities in Britain, Australia and New Zealand with some claiming it is ‘just’ a childhood toy. As recently as 2018, individuals have used the doll to distress or harass others – pointing to the racist connotations that continue till today.

See History through the lens of Toys at the MINT Museum of Toys

Each of these 3 toys look innocuous but carry with them a deep legacy of racism and anti-Blackness. Vintage toys reflect how damaging and insidious racist and derogatory social mores can be, and are also a reminder that we can and should combat discrimination within our communities. 

The phasing out of these toys over time has always been due to the advocacy and activism of those brave enough to speak out against the mainstream even at great personal cost, and we can can continue to look at our toys today to see how they reflect changing attitudes towards social issues.

Discover more toys from such periods of history in our Collectables exhibition at Level 2 of the MINT Museum of Toys. You can also get a sneak peek of the exhibition through our Collectables Virtual Museum Tour.

Teachers and educators who are interested in using our toy exhibitions as a teaching tool can reach out to us about our experiential learning activities for students and field trip options here in Singapore.

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