Story: Tiffany Burgess | Styling: Mandy Keener |
When pondering prized collections, items owned by children under the age of 10 don’t usually come to mind. However, in most cases, children were the first to enjoy the simple, vivid beauty of vintage spinning tops. Widely manufactured from the 1930s through the 50s, the cheerful whistling or humming tops brought smiles to the faces of children who were growing up as the nation experienced both world wars and the era of the Great Depression.
The small tin structures usually range from 13 to 24 centimeters in width and are most easily recognizable for a kaleidoscope-like scheme of rich colors, notes Sally Lieblong, owner of Arkansas Peddlers Antique Mall in Greenbrier, who admires the colorful toys so much she’s amassed and displays a significant collection. Many of the tops, including the metal ones without designs, give a playful whistle when they’re set in motion. These solid metal tops were precursors to the colorful styles of the mid 20th century.
Dan Troxel, manager of Antique Showroom in Hot Springs, recalls the popularity of tops with Disney characters such as Mickey and Minnie, as well as more broad-based subjects, including cowboys, clowns and ladybugs. He also notes the popularity of space-themed versions in the 1950s when space exploration began to be a possibility.
Troxel, a toy collector since the late 1980s, notes most of the toy tops were produced in the United States. Chein Playthings, a company based in New Jersey and later New York, was responsible for many of the broad-appeal designs seen today, while Fritz Bueschel, a manufacturer also based in the Northeast, produced most of the Disney-themed versions. Both companies used lithographed tin to create the toys, which gives them a unique artistic appeal. “They truly are pieces of art and a lot of time went into crafting these initially,” notes Troxel.
Today, tin tops can be worth anywhere from $15 to $500, depending on their condition. “Since kids were the original owners, there’s often a lot of wear and tear on these tops. Many of them have dents and dings from the time children spent playing with them,” says Troxel. However, the outward signs of a well-loved toy could never hinder the cheery spirit the spinning tops embody.
“As many of the people who played with these as children began to grow older, the appreciation for their beauty declined,” notes Troxel. However, he admits that in a time when video games and electronics are often the center of child’s play, it can be heartwarming to reflect on a simpler day when the whirling colors and happy sounds of a tin top provided countless hours of fun.
Toying with the idea of a collection? Put your own spin on tops with these fun display ideas
Decorate a Room
The vivid colors and cheerful design patterns make these vintage tops a perfect addition to a child’s bedroom or a family playroom. Place a few on a solid, neutral-colored shelf that’s out of children’s reach to add punch to the space.
Create a Focal Point
Group three or five colorful metal tops in a casual glass cabinet or on a shelf to create a fun focal point. Place your display in a living room or common area for a great conversation starter at your next gathering.
Make it a Party
Hosting a birthday or summer’s end party? A spinning top collection can make festive, no-fret table décor. Use stacked plates or cake stands to create varying levels for a centerpiece or simply scatter them along the table’s center.