Antique Toy Hunting with a Metal Detector


Antique Toy Hunting with a Metal Detector


By Michael Bernzweig

There is a world of difference between the toys of today and those from a century ago. At the turn of the nineteenth century, toys were constructed mostly of metal; they were more solid and sturdy than today’s plastic counterparts. Antique metal toys are highly desirable and collectible throughout the world. Because of their durable construction, they can often be scooped up by collectors in mint condition. Surprisingly, antique metal toys may be worth thousands of dollars. Just visit an auction house, and you’ll see how much rare old milk trucks, sleighs, cars, and other metal toys go for.

The most common way to collect antique toys is by purchasing them at flea markets and antique shops. However, you can also locate antique metal toys with a metal detector. Metal detector hobbyists have discovered thousands of toys buried just inches below the ground’s surface. Common finds are old lead soldiers and cast-iron cars. Metal treasures are scattered all around us, just waiting to be found! Antique hunting with a metal detector is a great way to locate valuable toys to collect or sell. Where should you begin hunting for them? You can do a little research in the town room of your local library to locate areas where children once populated. Be sure to read our related article entitled Metal Detecting Locations: Digging Into Research at Your Local Library for more information.

Types of Metal Antique Toys

Tin Metal Toys

From the early 1800s until about 1940, tin was the metal of choice used to create toys. It could be lithographed and was bendable enough to make trucks and other play vehicles and houses. Some antique tin toys had parts including wind-ups and friction. According to Schroeder’s Antique Toys Price Guide, a tin horse-drawn milk delivery wagon with an opening front sells for $1,400 today. A 7 3/4" street railway car with six passengers is valued at $200.

Cast Iron Toys

Realistically modeled and carefully detailed cast-iron toys were popular from the turn of the 20th century until about the 1940s. Some of the cast irons were more than 20" in length and very heavy. Many were vehicles patterned after actual models seen on city streets then. Horse-drawn carriages are highly collectible and valuable. Other sought-after antique cast-iron toys are airplanes, boats (including paddle wheelers and riverboats), construction vehicles, and fire engines.

Lead Toys

Lead toys had their heyday well into the 20th century. Children collected and played with cowboys & Indians, war heroes, soldiers, and toy cars. Manoil toy soldiers and figurines are well-known antique lead toys that are valuable today. Lead toys were very popular until concerns emerged about lead poisoning, and they were banned from production.

Steel Toys

Steel sheets began to be used to produce toys in the late 1930s. This is when Matchbox and model cars made a splash in the toy market. Steel die-cast cars were great because of their level of intricate detail. Steel allowed for the design of opening doors, trunks, and hoods. The time frame of steel toys gave way to the age of plastic.

What are the Best Antique Toy Hunting Metal Detectors?

Antique toys are considered relics, so a metal detector suitable for relic hunting is ideal. Be sure to check out our selection of relic hunting metal detectors. Also, be sure to read our related article entitled What are the Best Metal Detectors for Finding Relics for more information.

It’s important to determine if the soil you will be hunting in has heavy mineralization. If so, choose a detector with automatic ground balance or manual ground balance. The next consideration is the frequency of the detector. A detector with a lower frequency will better target metals such as iron and steel than a detector with a higher frequency. Your metal detector should be able to accept both large and small search coils depending on the ground conditions and terrain. For targeting antique toys, accessories can also prove abundantly helpful. For instance, headphones can help you indicate shallow or deep targets.

When it comes to the appeal of an antique metal toy, there is nothing quite like it for toy collectors. These toys often have a lot of history behind them and can be very valuable. Some of the most popular antique metal toys are hot wheels cars and antique toy trucks. Let's face it, a toy truck is fun to play with, but a vintage toy truck can be both fun and valuable. These antique truck toys can draw big dollars and are among the most sought after items for toy appraisals. Popular toy vehicles include the infamous hess toy truck, a fire truck, diecast cars, antique buddy l trucks, and other antique tin toy vehicles. These vintage toy trucks can be the focus of a collection for a toy collector or just the tip of the iceburg.

The characteristics that make antique metal toys valuable are their age, rarity, condition, and desirability. Antique metal toys are usually at least 100 years old. The older the toy, the more valuable it is, but that being said, there isn't a large variety of these toys left. 

Dolls and other collectibles

The term "collectible doll" refers to a toy that has been designed for collectors. Most collectible dolls are made from plastic, metal, wood, or resin. Various sizes, shapes, colors, materials, and styles are available. Limited edition collectible dolls can be found as well as commercially produced collectible dolls. A collectible figure is an item that is designed for people who are interested in collecting them. In addition to toys, dolls, action figures, model kits, puzzles, board games, and a variety of other items, these products are also available. Collectibles can be valuable or just for fun. These things are collected because people like them or find them interesting. When you do some shopping, you can find many of these items at affordable prices, so you can start your collection.

Types of Speciality Collections

While many metal toy manufacturers have come and gone over the years, other specialty brands are popular and here to stay. Some iconic collectible brands include:

  • Star Wars
  • Harry Potter
  • Cadillac Jack
  • GI Joe

As one of the most popular collectible items among these, Star Wars products are one of the most sought after. There are many types of Star Wars collectible items available, such as toys, action figures, costumes, posters, books, magazines, trading cards, models, vehicles, replicas, figurines, key chains, bobbleheads, lunch boxes, postcards, coins, stamps, clothing, jewelry, art, games, puzzles, and many others.

Antique Metal Toys & Their Value

The value of antique metal toys is typically based on age, rarity, condition, and desirability. There are some coveted brands that fetch a high price on the market and, depending on their age and condition, can be extremely valuable. Here's how these characteristics affect an antique toy's value:

  • Age - The older the antique metal toy, the more valuable it is. This is because there are fewer and fewer of these toys around as time goes on.
  • Rarity - A rare antique metal toy will be worth more than a common one. If a toy is only produced for a short time or in small quantities, it will be more valuable.
  • Condition - An antique metal toy in good condition will be worth more than one that is damaged. In order for a toy to be the best value, it needs to be in its original box and in mint condition. Toys in excellent condition or working condition typically have the original paint and decals and show little to no wear and tear.
  • Desirability - If a lot of people want an antique metal toy, it will be more valuable. Certain brands, such as Lionel trains or Corgi cars, are very desirable among collectors and can fetch a high price.

Vintage toy repairs

Some repair shops out there can help restore an antique metal toy to its original condition. Repairs can be expensive, and you may not be able to add as much value as you think. Therefore, it's wise to consult an expert before making any repairs.

The idea of finding a car used by a child is appealing to many collectors. With that said, kids are tough on toys. A vintage tin toy is one that has been around for some time and with time wear and tear sets in. A community of expert toy repair shops has sprung up to bring these tin, diecast toys and other toys back to life.

You can find a variety of speciality repair shops on the internet. These shops repair everything from space toys to building toys to trucks and cars. You can also find these specialty repair shops at toy shows and other gatherings of collectors around the world.

It is not uncommon for collectors to morph their collecting in other directions. The art of mound metalcraft, for example, involves making sculptures from scrap metal. Many different methods can be used to create sculptures. A variety of methods can be used to create them, including casting, welding, hammering, cutting, bend, twisting, sculpting, painting, etching, carving, gluing, nailing, riveting, soldering, stapling, tying, wrapping, wired, and gluing.

Valuable Vintage Toys and Antique Tin Toys

Old toys are often worth a lot of money, but some are worth more than others. These are some of the most valuable antique metal toys that you can find on the market: 

  1. Tinplate toys - These were popular in the early 1900s and are now very rare. They are usually worth between $500 and $5,000 or more. 
  2. Dinky toys - These miniature cars and trucks circa the late 1930s are now very popular collectibles and can be worth up to $10,000. 
  3. Buddy L toys - These toy cars and trucks were first made in the 1920s. They are now rare and can be worth $20,000 or more. 
  4. Old toy trucks and Tonka trucks - A vintage antique toy truck is a pressed steel truck. These vintage toy trucks were first made in the 1950s and are now very collectible.
  5. Louis Marx - One of the most valuable antique metal toys is a Louis Marx toy. It is estimated that they are worth $50,000 or more and were made in the early 1900s. Louis Marx's toys include tin toys, toy soldiers, robots, mechanical toy trains, toy guns, action figures, dolls, and toy fire trucks.
  6. Vintage table toys - These are old metal toys that were meant to be played with on a table. Some common table toys include tin litho skaters, cars, horses, and boats. 
  7. Lionel trains - These toy trains are very popular among collectors and can be worth a lot of money. The most valuable Lionel train is the Blue Comet train, which can be worth thousands of dollars.  

Rare antique metal toys can be worth a lot of money. If a toy is in good condition and in its original box, it will be worth more than one that is not. And finally, if a toy is desirable - meaning that many people want it - it will also be more valuable. 

Copyright 2012 Detector Electronics Corp. - Revised September 2022