Years ago at an estate sale in St. Louis’ Central West End, I bought a number of Tootsietoy vehicles. When I got home, I noticed some had only the word “toy,” a number, description, and “Made in USA” inside. That was weird. These weren’t Tootsietoys. They were Londontoy.
I almost didn’t get them. Someone beat me to them. “Look at the lead cars. Aren’t they interesting?” a teenage boy said in a Mid-Atlantic accent. At least one of the more exclusive schools around here must still teach kids to talk like William F. Buckley Jr.
“They’re very interesting. To those who collect,” said his father pretentiously in the same accent. Then he shooed him into the next room.
That’s why it pays to listen to other people at estate sales. Because they were interesting to me. I wanted them for my train layout. I swooped in before someone else could beat me to them. And they weren’t lead. They’re diecast. So there.
“London” refers to London, Ontario. The Canadian city south of Detroit. Webster Brothers Ltd. of London produced diecast toy cars, buses, trucks, and a Hawker Hurricane airplane (aeroplane?) from the 1940s until about 1950. The smaller vehicles measured about 3 inches and had open bottoms like Tootsietoys. The larger vehicles measured 5-6 inches and had closed bottoms.
They look like Tootsietoys but they aren’t.
Oddly, Webster Bros. used pressed paper wheels for a time, which didn’t hold up to rough play very well. Later they switched to wooden, rubber, or metal wheels.
Unlike in the United States, Canada produced toys during World War II. Webster Bros. painted its vehicles green and put military markings on them to make them into military-themed toys.
Londontoys had simple paint jobs. But unlike Tootsietoys, Londontoys often sported decals. Some also had wind-up motors.
The Leslie-Henry Company of Wilkes-Barre, Penn., much better known for cap guns, produced Londontoys in the United States under license. That’s where mine came from. Leslie Henry obscured the word “London” when casting its version so identifying them isn’t easy. It was the number on my two Londontoys that tipped me off to their real identity. The numbers and the descriptions are identical to their Canadian-made counterparts.
Identification and rarity
O’Brien’s Collecting Toy Cars and Trucks covers Londontoy and includes a checklist. Londontoy vehicles were part of an exhibit at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto and Museum London in London, Ontario.
Restoring Londontoy vehicles
Restoring old toys can be enjoyable and it isn’t difficult. But keep in mind you can easily devalue them by doing so. Try to get some idea what you have before you restore one. As you can see from my photos, I’ve left mine as-is.
If you know you have something relatively common and want to make it look nice, restoring them is just like restoring Tootsietoy vehicles.