|Written by Paul D. Race for and|
What is Tinplate? - Long before the age of plastics and stainless steel, sheet steel was used for making containers, toys, and many other objects used in most American and European homes between the mid-1700s and mid-1900s. To slow the steel's corrosion, a layer of molten tin was applied to both sides while the material was still in sheet form. Then stamping plants or tinsmiths would fabricate the "tinplate" into its final form, soldering pieces together when necessary.
One of the largest consumers of tinplate has been the canning industry, although tinplate had hundreds of other uses just a century ago. Many popular tinplate toys of the 1800s, especially banks, are collectible today. When toy trains began to be mass-produced, it is no surprise that tinplate was widely used for them as well.
Initially, many tinplate trains and accessories used three-dimensional stamping to add detail. However, a few factories discovered that lithograpy, a kind of printing that uses etched stone, could add color and detail at the same time, without having to have the rivets physically milled into the stamp. Later, companies like Marx, trying to hold down costs, discovered that you could use the same basic "stamp" (or shape) to manufacture a dozen different items, just by changing the artwork.
Companies that made toy buildings to go with toy trains discovered this even earlier - so a number of companies made several buildings from the same "stamp" just by changing the graphics.
Note: Companies like Lionel used tinplate to make their track until fairly recently. So model railroaders call almost any toy trains that were built to run on tinplate track "Tinplate," even if the train's bodies are made of plastic. But we are using the word "tinplate" in its earlier meaning, to describe trains and accessories that are actually made from sheet steel that has been coated with tin, and stamped into shape.
Tinplate Reproductions as a Hobby - for years, folks who admired the old tinplate trains and accessories have been not only collecting, but also making their own, trying to use materials similar to those used by the original manufacturers.
In early 2009, project designer Howard Lamey began dabbling with making his own tinplate train cars, modeled after the O gauge Marx lithographed cars of the 1930s and '40s. One principle he discovered was that many Marx cars had exactly the same body - they just had different lithography. In fact, some folks were providing "wraps", labels that could be cut and glued to old Marx bodies that were damaged too much to restore.
Howard's experiences reminded me of something I had thought about long ago and done nothing about - the notion of using modern computer graphics to create reproductions of the lithographed-style buildings that accompanied many tinplate railroads over the years.
So I collected as many photographs as I could find of early 1900s-era stations and other structures. I had always liked the American Flyer Hyde Park Station, on which our first joint project was based. While I was creating the graphics for that project, Howard created the Watchman's Shanty project on his own, and we both liked the results so much that we decided that we had to make it a series.
Our "Tribute to Tin" Projects So FarOur "Tribute to Tinplate™" series pays honor to the tinplate villages and trains that surrounded so many Christmas trees in the early 1900s. Examples include: