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Pre-War Japan (PWJ)

One of the pleasures of maintaining this website is that I meet people from all over the world with similar collecting interest.
I had only heard about the Japanese making Lehmann-like toys or copies of Lehmann toys, but then I made a new cyber-friend from far away.
He was kind to share his vast knowledge of these PWJ Lehmann toys and sent many emails with great pictures.
His enthusiasm is contagious and I felt I had a duty to share this treasure trove of interesting information.
What follows are the emails and pictures in his own words (and with his permission by the way) with minor edits for privacy.
Who knows, he may have other tidbits to share, so check back!

Please, if you have any PWJ Lehmann toys to sell or know anyone who does, please contact this website and let me know! I am more interested than ever now!

I started collecting tinplate toys in 1982. It was an epiphany I had during a chance attendance of a touring exhibition documenting toys from the preceding 100 years.

With no roadmap available, everything about my new interest was a challenge. Fortunately, I discovered a handful of like minded people who introduced me to the magazine Antique Toy World, and the David Pressland bible ‘The Art of the Tin Toy’. One of the first toys I found was a spectacular early Gunthermann auto which reinforced the engagement with my new hobby.

During the 1980’s it soon became apparent to me that I would never be able to assemble a truly great collection of European toys, due to limited access and funds. The toys that turned up more often in my part of the world were Japanese, and I developed an appreciation for the Pre War Japanese (PWJ) approach to tinplate toy manufacture, and their lithography in particular.

As time went on I divested my collection of mainly German toys and concentrated on PWJ toys. Knowledge was non existent, acquired only by direct exposure and ownership. As more and more came my way, I was able to establish some re-occurring themes, particularly the occasional plagiarised toy originally of German manufacture. I could have my cake and eat it too – a toy collection of PWJ toys mimicking some of the great German toys, particularly in the automotive arena.

I was able to put together a collection of PWJ toys copying Tippco, Hess, Distler, Gunthermann, Levy, Bing and so on, but no clear theme other than the fact that they were copies, and not all were to my personal taste. I had been intrigued by the advertisements I came across earlier in Antique Toy World magazine seeking PWJ copies of Lehmann toys, and I had a reasonable collection of the originals at that point, so I set about finding some of those toys as a collecting challenge.

What you see below has taken me over twenty five years to find. “Rare” is an overused word in describing toys, but most genuinely fall into that category.

Part 1 – The Balky Mule
Unlike Lehmann toys, the boxes for any PWJ Lehmann copy are extremely hard to find. This box is in exceptional condition and the detail images show how faithfully it copies the original, tweaked to show it’s Japanese origins. This toy was made by H. Yamada and is clearly marked, and trademarked, on the box lid label as well as embossed on the box itself. Ironically, Yamada also chose to copy the Lehmann trademark, with the letters H and Y overlaid within a screw press. On the toy, the manufacturer is also marked in the same places as the original. The toy itself faithfully copies the German original in every respect. Intuitively I date this toy’s production to be either immediately prior to, or just after, the First World War.

Within the main section of this website an even earlier example of this toy is shown under the letter “P”. That particular toy replicates the earliest version of the Lehmann original, unlike the one below. Although the toy in the main section is unmarked, I have no doubt it was also produced by H.Yamada, and would have been made prior to WWI.

Part 2 – May Beetle
This exotic beetle was made by C. Kuramochi & Co. and was trademarked as such (CK within a diamond). Interestingly, this toy was retailed with a box lid label titled “May Beetle”. In 1936, and for one year only, Lehmann produced a variation of their common Beetle with the title May Beetle EPL No. 823. It would appear that this Kuramochi copy was made only briefly too, some time after 1936, but prior to 1939.

This toy also displays a second trademark: an “E” within blacksmiths tongs. This is the trademark for Egawa Toy Co. The relationship between these two companies is not known, however Kuramochi’s export catalogue for 1935 makes reference to “The extraordinary increase in the volume of our export business in recent years”. I have only ever seen one toy singularly trademarked Egawa – a copy of the original Lehmann Beetle No. 431. An example of this toy appears in the final photo of this sequence and has the date of “Mar 1926” lithographed on the body. It seems reasonable to speculate that Kuramochi acquired Egawa sometime between 1926 and 1936.

Part 3 – Galop
A known Galop copy has has the word “Kosuge” proudly lithographed on the left hand side. It is not the name of the toy, despite it appearing where “Galop” appears on the original. “Kosuge” is also lithographed on the right hand side where “Lehmann” appears on the original, but it is probably not the manufacturer either!

PWJ toys made by large scale manufacturers such as Kuramochi and Nomura (trademark “T.N.” in a diamond) occasionally carried a secondary identification, the word “kosuge” or its abbreviation “KSG”, particularly on automotive toys. Kosuge Toys may well have been an agent or toy distributor rather than an outright manufacturer, possibly even commissioning specific toys from their manufacturing partners.

So who made this toy? The answer probably lies with the Lehmann style tabbed medallion at the rear. The letter “K” within the Japanese Sakura (Cherry Blossom) flower is the trademark of the relatively unknown firm Kokyu, with the assumption being that Kosuge was acting in the role of distributor on behalf of Kokyu.

The cockpit is lithographed as per the original, but it is inconclusive if there was ever a steering wheel. The four wheels are faintly lithographed “Made in Japan”. The underside construction and clockwork mechanism is where the main differences appear compared to the original.

The only known example of this toy appears in the main collection under “P” fitted with a driver and steering wheel.

Part 4 – Motor Car
This PWJ copy of Lehmann’s Motor Car is so faithful to the original that it leaves little to highlight. In theory it is incredibly rare. This fact is pointed out in a lengthy article in the March 1996 edition of Antique Toy World where variations of the original Lehmann were being compared as well as analysing the Japanese copy. It is conceivable, however, that examples have turned up in the past without being noticed as Japanese. This could be due in part to the fact that no wording appears on the toy, just two logos.

On the doors, where the EPL trademark would appear on the original, a coronet crown is displayed. The coronet logo is not known to be linked to any Japanese toy manufacturer. On the rear, where Lehmann patent text is lithographed on the original, a winged wheel logo appears that bears a striking resemblance to the original logo for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway! This logo is likely to be a trademark as it has appeared in several instances on box lid labels as a secondary, unnamed, identifier of unrelated PWJ toys.

Part 5 – Monkey Automobile
While not 100% a Lehmann copy, there is no doubting that the inspiration for this toy comes from the Also, Oho, Lolo range. The Japanese choice of a bellhop monkey for the driver transforms Lehmann’s relatively bland originals into a far more engaging toy.

Apart from the driver/ steering wheel combination, the disc style wheels marked “Made in Japan” are the external differences, along with a typically Japanese styled key. The underside photo shows a different steering arrangement and clockwork motor compared to the Lehmann toys that inspired it. It is not known if the number “753” is of any significance.

The trademark within the sunburst at the rear is possibly that of the manufacturer “Yoshi”.

Part 6 – Oho
Kuramochi made this version of Lehmann’s Oho, but whether it is the “Best Automoblie” is debatable!

This toy is a far more accurate copy of the German original, even down to the trademark C.K. branded key head and other mechanical aspects. The lithography closely mimics the German Oho, with changes to the rear wording including “Made in Japan” to help identify it’s origins. The heavily freckled driver is an amusing touch, but no match for a monkey bellhop!

Both this Oho copy and the Monkey variant are extremely challenging to find.

Part 7 – Zig Zag
Lehmann’s Zig Zag is faithfully rendered in this Japanese version, other than making the two drivers white, removing one of the defining features of the original toy.

The maker is Yoyasu, abbreviated without vowels to “Y.Y.S.” in the centre section between the drivers, along with the wording “Made in Japan”. Additionally it is trademarked “YO” within a Cherry Blossom flower, and the cast key head has “Y” and “O” embossed on either side. So much branding in fact, there was no room left for the toy’s name.

An excellent example of this toy appears in the main collection under “P”.

Below is a variant from the Kitahara Collection, where the maker is lithographed as “I.S.” in the centre section rather than “Y.Y.S.”. The significance of this is not known.

Additional Examples of Lehmann Copies

Part 8 – Aha

In 1972 legendary Japanese toy collector Yuji Sakamoto ran a series of advertisements in Antique Toy World magazine seeking Pre War Japanese toys. Two of the advertisements featured Lehmann copies.

This advertisement unmistakably features a copy of the Aha Delivery Van. The trademark in place of the Lehmann logo is the initials “S” and “K”, either side of an anchor. This is one of two trademarks used by Kitagawa Co.

Kitagawa was a prolific copier of German toys, particularly automotive. Apart from Lehmann, they also copied Hess, Tippco, Gunthermann and Karl Bub autos, often with a more appealing outcome than the relatively bland originals.

Part 9 – Zikra
The second of Yuji Sakamoto’s advertisements featured a copy of Lehmann’s Zikra, itself a derivation from their own Balky Mule toy.

The Japanese copy was called “A Carriage a Cab”, and was made by Wakimura & Co., more commonly known as “WUCO”. This toy is also marked “U.W. Toy Shop Co.” The trademark of the letters “W” and “U” overlain within a diamond serves both of these names. Wakimura toys occasionally appear marked “W.K.M.R.”, similar to some other PWJ toy manufacturers’ custom of abbreviation by dropping the vowels from their names.

Wakimura also transitioned the “A Carriage a Cab” name onto a very similar toy. In the 1920’s The Ferdinand Strauss Corporation in America manufactured a toy called “Jenny the Balky Mule”, which, while bearing many similarities to the Lehmann Balky Mule, was still quite original in it’s own way. Strauss made a number of variations of this toy over the years, one of which Wakimura unashamedly copied very closely, while carrying over the name “A Carriage a Cab”. It is unlikely that both these Japanese copies with the same name were available concurrently, with the Lehmann copy most likely to be the earlier.

Part 10 – Adam
In this example, the Japanese firm of H. Yamada has copied the porter’s trunk from Lehmann’s Adam and enhanced it to become a toy in it’s own rite.

This simple but delightful toy is part of the Kitahara Collection.

Part 11 – Na-ob
This toy is marked “Toyodaya” on the cart where the original Lehmann toy’s name of “NA-OB” appears. This, however, is not the name of the Japanese copy.

“Toyodaya” is also printed on the closely copied original wheels where the word “Lehmann” appears, and is a toy manufacturer’s name. The cart, however, carries the more familiar “C.K.” trademark of Kuramochi. The relationship between these two companies is not known.

The main difference between the two relates to the mechanism. The Japanese copy winding from above, the original winding from the right hand side.

This toy was offered by Global Toy Merchants Inc. in their February 1994 auction catalogue.

Part 12 – Alabama Coon Jigger
Although I have never seen this toy personally, it has appeared in the public domain with extensive photos on two occasions.

It was originally offered on in February 2002, and subsequently by Bertoia Auctions in April 2010.

Neither the toy nor it’s original box indicate any maker’s name, other than the origin giveaway “NIPPON”.

Both toy and box also carry the words “US PATENT MAY 24 1910”. This is a reference to the original patent registration by the American inventor of the toy.

Lehmann’s toy modified this original design with a device to regulate and slow down or stop the dancing movement and was granted it’s own patent. The Japanese version doesn’t have this control and remains true to the original design. It does, however, closely copy the dancer and and also the name “Alabama Coon Jigger”, which is lithographed onto a metal swinging tag pinned to the “ cotton bale” base of the toy. The box lid label illustration of the toy pictures this tag as well, discreetly naming the toy.

Despite the obvious difference to the toy’s base, it appears to have a key head in the Lehmann style, which may narrow down the potential maker of the toy. Irrespective of this, the toy would have almost certainly been made in the 1920’s, rather than prior to the First World War.

Part 13 – Other Lehmann Copies
I am sure that other PWJ copies of Lehmann toys exist that I am yet to encounter.

TOM the Climbing Monkey certainly does, and I believe that there is a copy of the AJAX Acrobat toy too.

Other partial copies also exist, where the Lehmann toy has heavily influenced a Japanese design, without them actually copying it.
The AUTOHUTTE Garage for two cars is a case in point. Two Japanese manufactures utilized the overall design but added totally different exotic lithography to decorate it.

Of course you have to recognise a Japanese copy first, as the two pictures below show how they can hide in plain sight.

Happy hunting!

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