Saturday, January 10, 2015

Want to Know About Hess Toys? - Part 1

Sunday, January 11, 2014
Partly Sunny and warmer

Want to Know About Hess Toys?
Part I

  Yesterday's post was about an anomaly  (A deviation from the normal rule) that I discovered. It wasn't really an anomaly, but something that I always thought existed for friction toys.  The mechanism is actually a flywheel. What I had thought until yesterday, was that you rolled the wheels of a toy with a  friction flywheel to build up reserve power, and then you released the toy. However, yesterday's "anomaly" discovery changed all that.

  I had found a new toy that had a wind-up friction flywheel - Eureka! I wanted to know more about this type of friction flywheel so I did a search and came upon a exceptional website written by Mr. Chuck Ehlers all about Hess toys and about the History of the Hess toy company. Chuck has a  fine collection of these toys, and must have taken a long time to create the website that he now has. He's quite willing to share, and is very patient and accommodating, when I stared to send e-mails and ask all kinds of questions.

The first question that I asked Chuck was why collect Hess toys?

"I had collected steam engines, stirling engines, electric motors and toy workshops in the past. One day I saw a pristine example of a Hess Dynamobil for sale on EBay. I bid on the piece and was high bidder, but the reserve price was not met. Later the seller posted the toy again without a reserve and I was able to win the auction. I examined the piece on receipt and just fell in love with these workshop toys. I love to do the history on anything I collect and began trying to research Hess. Very little information surfaced which added to the intrigue and my curiosity. I think at that point I was hooked on Hess and began collecting all types of Hess toys. That was 14 years ago, really rather late to be collecting toys from this era, but I was not discouraged. I have met many nice people from all over the world that collect toys, but no Hess specialists."

Chuck also provided me with a great history about the company: 

"Hess recorded his trademark in 1826 and reportedly began making toys shortly thereafter. Most of my Hess toys are litho printed from 1890 until 1934 when they ceased business. Before 1890 the toys were hand painted or spirit varnished tinplate. I have very few toys from the pre-litho era of 1826 until 1890. Hess never produced their own toy catalogs but instead depended on distributor catalogs to advertise for them. Before 1880s or 1890s not many catalogs were produced (or at least survived). Hess primarily sold through distributors OR through other manufacturers such as Carette, Bing, Schumann and possibly others who produced their own catalogs".

Below is one of Chuck's triptychs
 ( a combination of 3 pictures or paintings combined on to one piece of photo paper or mural) 

If you do a search for friction toy, you can see how much more complex the Hess "Dynamobil" movement is. This complex machine became the core method of movement for the Hessmobils (Autos) and for workshop toys (please read about them much later). The Dynamobil was available as a separate piece or mounted on to a wood board with 1, 2, or 3 accessories.

Below is a screen-capture of Chuck Ehler's cover page.

Not only has he a lot of information and photos of his fine toys, but he's presented it like a book.
I was even going to label the posts as "Chapter 1,Chapter 2….

I selected a "sprinkling" of toys from each of the toy categories:


The first image that attracted my attention in the auto section of Chuck's excellent website was this tractor. The photo clearly shows you how Hess integrated the complex wind-up Dynamobil movement into the toy. This particular toy was probably made much later in the history of the Hess company.


Trains were always popular toys. Before electricity was invented and before electricity became commonplace, toys would be powered with wind-up mechanisms, or in the case of Hess toys by the Dynamobil.


It's always great to have the original box that came with an original toy. I like how "simple"
 the box and label are, compared with today's all-encompassing and complete coverage 
on all 6 sides of any box.

You can see how the flywheel is integrated into the body of the ship but is clearly visible.
What's noteworthy is the what Chuck wrote in the description that he had researched - that Hess also manufactured and even marketed toys for the Carette toy company and perhaps other manufacturers as well!

Figural and Miscellaneous

There were also some toys that were totally different from the regular trains, autos, and ships. 


 This is a favourite category of toy for me. I've seen similar toys like this but made as steam engines with water as the source of power (miniature boilers), and small fuel pose to heat the water. 

In the case of Hess's Dynamobil, his power source was safer. On the left side  of the toy below,you can see a grooved small wheel. A cord would go around the groove  of the "powerhouse", and then attach to a wheel of any of a variety of machines that were modelled after real machines.

 Below the Dynamobil are 4 samples of accompanying toys that would 
work in combination with the power source.

I especially like the mice. I could easily see people's cats chasing the toy or playing a joke on someone with very dim lighting and see their reaction to a mouse in the house.


This category is "Cannons". I doubt if these toys had the Dynamobil power source. However, cannons were very popular at the time, and so were also manufactured by Hess. When I wrote about these cannons in upcomping posts, I'll try to find out how they shot  out projectiles and what actually  was the "ammo".

For myself, finding Chuck  Ehlers and his excellent website is a "real discovery".
After 3 1/2 years of searching for new toys, I find a whole new world of toys made by a company that I write ever so briefly in a larger part of a post.

In the upcoming posts, I'll expand on Chuck's fine collection of toys.

What I found amazing and also "funny" is that Chuck is quite modest. He mentioned that he was still searching for Hess toys to add to his collection. I didn't think there were any more (when you venture over to his site) , but I've been known to make mistakes when I write. 

 I'm sure when I research out the Hess company, it will probably be similar to the George Carette or Bing companies or perhaps smaller. I have a 1912 Bing Toy Catalogue of 441 pages, and a George Carette 1911 Trade Catalogue with 1905 and 1914 supplements with about 300 pages. 

I have to thank Chuck, I think, because he's given me "encouragement" to continue my quest for searching and writing about old and antique toys. 

I'm 66 years "young". 

I'm thinking right now, that I should have started 40 years ago!

Thanks for dropping by and as always
have a great part of the day or night
wherever you may be,

toys and

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