Blasts from the Past: 5 Antique Toys that Defined an Era

Toys always prove to be popular items at antique auction houses, whether it’s because of seasoned toy collectors looking for rare finds or buyers driven by nostalgia. So, as we prepare for this Sunday’s special toy sale at Featonby’s, we thought it fitting to delve into the history of some of our most iconic toys and explore how each defined an era. From action figurines and antique porcelain dolls to vintage toy cars and trains, we’re looking at iconic toys that have proven to make a long-lasting impression on the nation.

vintage army toy

1) Vintage dolls

Rising to popularity in the 1800s, china and porcelain dolls still prove to be a desirable collector’s toy and can often be picked up at auction for a reasonable price. In the early days of production, dolls were made as children’s toys with painted hair, but styles changed over the years with more ‘life-like’ features becoming the norm – which included real hair, defined facial features and glass eyes.

Nowadays, these delicate and pretty dolls are collectibles rather than toys but, as one of the most popular collectible items for toy aficionados, they definitely made an impact on the toy world we know today. While modern dolls are made from more child-friendly and robust materials, the 18th-century models are much more memorable – and that might be why they’re so coveted by collectors.

2) Model toy cars

Made to scale, miniature models of cars have been a mainstay of the toy market for the past century and remain a go-to choice for many kids today. With their history intertwined with the rise of real automobiles in the 1930s, the original miniature versions of cars, trucks and buses were cast from iron or constructed from tin.

At the time, innovative toy makers like Dinky Toys and Matchbox fuelled children’s imagination and fascination with affordable toy cars that were both robust and durable – but, in the 21st century, these retro toys are now prized collectibles. Naturally, the earlier and rarer models are the most sought-after, especially if they come in their original packaging, but there’s still plenty of value in later models, too.

3) Model train sets

Model train set

Of a similar ilk, miniature model trains are also a long-standing collectible item that many toy collectors and train enthusiasts love to get their hands on. Originally made from lead with no moving parts, toy trains were revolutionised by German toymakers Märklin who produced some of the first train sets, along with the introduction of electric motors that allowed them to run on tracks by themselves. Built with durability in mind, toy trains have physically withstood the test of time and rough play, but from the popularity of new models it’s clear this concept has influenced generations all the way from the late 19th century to now. This makes old-school toy locomotives a great find at an antique auction house.

4) Miniature army figures

Popular trends are often spawned from what’s happening around us, and the outbreak of World War I certainly had an impact on toy production as toy soldiers, tanks and army boats landed in shops across the country. With children of all ages reenacting battles in their bedrooms at this time, these antique toys were a sombre reflection of the global climate at the time. But despite their simplicity, you’ll still find them for sale in many auctions today.

5) Disney memorabilia

With some of the most iconic children’s animated characters in the world, Disney memorabilia never seems to go out of favour. As one of the first to produce cartoon character merchandise in the late 1920s, Disney started a revolution in the toy industry that has snowballed into the multi-billion dollar industry we know today. Whether you’re in search of some of the early Mickey Mouse merchandise or other vintage Disney toys from the 50s and 60s, they’re a true treasure that generally retain and increase their value as this huge company continues to hold its place as a household name.

If you’re inspired by these influential antique toys from the past, then why not come and see what’s on offer at our special toy auction this Sunday 11th April? As a reputable auction house in the North East, we have plenty of fantastic items on offer to take you back to fond childhood memories.

View the lots right here to place an early bid, join us at the Featonby’s auction house in North Shields on Sunday or bid live at

Got a question? Get in touch with the team at 0191 252 2601.

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