Along with the three great American passions – baseball, hot dogs and apple pie – there should be a fourth: the automobile. Guess Puddles the Dog should be there too, but we’ll deal with that later. For auto enthusiasts with limited garage space and bank accounts, collecting model cars is often the best thing to do. And one of the more innovative model car companies that rarely gets its due is Schuco. Let’s look under the hood.
Founded in Nuremberg, Germany, in 1912 by businessman Heinrich Schreyer, the company sprang up just as the talk of war began. However, it was the dawn of the automobile age and entrepreneurs were on the hunt for new ideas. For decades Nuremberg has been the epicenter of the German toy industry, its workforce able to create all things in miniature in surprising detail. In less than a year, Schreyer, together with innovative tool maker Heinrich Muller, developed a fur-covered toy dog ââthat exhibited rudimentary movement of its legs. It was a modest success, but the response was enough for the company to quickly move on with Automato and Acrobato, two wind-up toys with revolutionary animation. The Acroto’s ability to do somersaults was so remarkable that Schuco applied for and obtained patents on the mechanical parts of the toy.
Throughout the 1920s, Schuco continued to introduce new objects, including animated monkeys and bears that today cost several hundred dollars each. However, their real breakthrough came in 1936 with the launch of two toy vehicles known as the Schuco Studio models. One, the “Wende-Auto” was a stunt car while the other was a more traditional Mercedes-Benz Silver Arrow, both with winding movements. Both were nicely finished with colorful paint jobs and tiny touches to wind their engines, and both found enthusiastic buyers. Building on their success, Schuco would become a dominant global player in the miniature die-cast car market over the next 40 years.
However, with the changing times, tastes changed and by the mid-1970s Schuco cars had been overtaken by more feature-rich models. After bankruptcy in 1976 and several changes of ownership thereafter, the firm was reconstituted in the 1990s and attempted to rediscover its past with a series of retro models. Production left Germany for other countries, but many of the attractive original features remained. Real rubber tires, oversized bumpers, and a rudimentary steering system can provide hours of stimulation for kids who are willing and able to get out of their computers. Today’s Schuco range includes cars, trucks, vans, motorcycles, airplanes and even tractors in scales ranging from 1:12 to 1: 600.
As for collectors, they are numerous, and prices have risen sharply in recent years. There are nearly 12,000 listings on eBay for Schuco products with prices ranging from a few dollars to several thousand. The cases are particularly popular, as are the early models in perfect condition with all their packaging and associated parts. Galleries like ours often have a variety of designs for under $ 50.
Unlike more static toys, these make excellent stocking stuffers capable of spinning across the kitchen floor at impressive speeds. If you’re not careful, your whole family could be spending Christmas morning terrorizing the cat with its new rolling stock. There are worse ways to start the day.
Mike Rivkin and his wife, Linda, are longtime residents of Rancho Mirage. For many years he was an award winning catalog publisher and author of seven books as well as countless articles. Now he is the owner of the Antique Galleries in Palm Springs. His antiques column appears on Saturdays in The Desert Sun. Want to send Mike a question about antiques? Send him a message at [email protected]