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Toy Collecting Internet Research Strategies

Internet research techniques are the same whether you are looking for information about antique toys, when gardenias bloom, or how to make pizza crust. The key is creative thinking, and hopefully my stories will inform your own search.

By Cybele Elaine Werts

In my recent wanderings on eBay I purchased a toy “coin changer” made in 1971. It’s quite rare and charming to boot, but I admit I hadn’t the faintest idea what a coin changer was. I did a little internet research and found out that the coin changer was developed in the early 1900’s as a way to change one coin to another, like a quarter to five nickels. Vending machines only took exact change, and would not take dollar bills until 1964, a revolutionary technology in itself. Other versions of the coin changer acted as primitive cash registers or simply bank coin access machines which saved bank clerks from having to count money out by hand.

Having this kind of background gave my coin changer a “provenance” of the time period, if not for the actual toy itself. According to Webster’s online dictionary a provenance refers to where something originated or was nurtured in its early existence. I often utilize a wider definition of the word having to do with the total history of the item itself, and the history of the time and technology surrounding the item. Broadly speaking, the history of the coin changer explains why Dac made a toy coin changer in 1971, but you would not find one today, except maybe in a laundromat. As there is no other information to be found about Dac, the buck (so to speak) stops there.

As you may have figured out, I collect toy cash registers, and I’m particularly interested in items that are historically significant. In this article, I’m going to look at some of the ways I researched the toys in my collection. You may be thinking, “so what, I don’t collect toy cash registers!” The thing is that research techniques are the same whether you are looking for information about antique toys, when gardenias bloom, or how to make pizza crust. The key is creative thinking, and hopefully my stories will inform your own search.

Good Old Internet Research

The most convenient and rather voluminous source of material is the internet, and in fact 90% of my information is found there. There are a number of articles on specific search engine techniques listed in the references, so I won’t go into that. They important thing is to try a number of different search engines like Google and Yahoo because they use different ways of searching information, and each will return different results. Keep a sense of healthy skepticism about what you read. Just because it’s in print, or on the internet, doesn’t mean it has credibility. Also don’t give up after just one page of links. Look on the second third, and even further down in the lists and you might find some things you might have missed otherwise.

Organizations that Specialize in your Area of Interest

National Cash Register (NCR) 100th Anniversary Commemorative Bank (1984)
National Cash Register was the premier cash register maker for most of the century. On the back of the bank it says "NCR U Established April 21, 1937." This refers to the date that seven NCR employees formed a credit union with $70 capital. Presumably this bank was created at that time for the credit union, and made as a second edition in 1984 for the 100th anniversary of NCR. (This presumption is an example of the speculation that I discuss later in this article.) Today that credit union is the Universal 1 Credit Union based in Dayton, Ohio and which operates 19 offices and has $275 Million in assets!

How I found this information:
Through my Google search, I located the Montgomery County Historical Society who keeps an archives for the National Cash Register Corporation. Their archivist, Jeff Opt, told me that NCR’s 100th anniversary was in 1984, and that the “NCR U” referred to the credit union. I then did another Google search for that credit union and found their recent press release detailing their current assets and more.


Buddy L Toy Cash Register (1938)
The pressed steel Buddy-L cash registers were in the 1938 and 1939 Buddy-L catalogs. It was called a recording tape cash register and the catalog description reads: "A new one! The cash register actually registers the amount and completes the juvenile sale by furnishing a printed tape of the amount with the words, 'Thank You,' on it. A perfect plaything for the children playing store, and dandy to use with our #861 Motor Market. With this cash register we furnish paper play money of various denominations."

This toy was likely patterned off of a real cash register similar to the Danish Class 100 Department Store Cash Register from the late 1920's and 1930's. The way it works is that you set the amount to be registered with the levers, then turn the crank on the right side. This would cause the sale to be rung up and the cash drawer opened.

How I found this information:
I purchased this toy from Laura at www.BuddyKToys.com, who specialize in Buddy toys, most of which are actually pressed steel transportation toys like trucks and trains. She very generously sent me the information from the original Buddy toy catalogue. Then I sent the photo of the Buddy L to my buddy Jeff Opt, the archivist at the Montgomery County Historical Society and asked him if he could explain the odd design. He sent me photos and information on the Danish Class 100 cash register which is clearly the toy’s real life counterpart. Specialists just love to share shop talk!

Discussion Groups & Listservs

American Flyer (1930’s)
This item was made by the same people who made classic American Flyer Trains. American Flyer Trains were first manufactured by the American Flyer Manufacturing Company in Chicago, Illinois. In the late 1930's the American Flyer line was bought by the A.C. Gilbert, Company of New Haven, Connecticut, headed by A.C. Gilbert the inventor of Erector sets and many other toys. At the end of World War II, Gilbert resumed train and toy production. The Wrather, Corporation acquired it in the early 60's and closed it down in 1966. The American Flyer name, along with all the tools and dies, were sold to Lionel.

How I found this Information:
I did a Google search and found the American Flyer Trains website ( http://www.rfgco.com/history/ ). I also joined the American Flyer discussion group and asked the members if they could confirm that this American Flyer register was the same company brand. They confirmed that this toy was a rare tangent off of the American Flyer train toys which are the mainstay of the company and even sent me photos of the toy money that came with the original toy.

Price Guides

Arcade Mesh Bank (1910)
This little bank was made by Arcade 1910 to 1925 and can be found in the Moore Penny Bank Book, which explains why it has so far always sold for over $100.

How I found this information:
One of the eBay sellers had looked up the item in the Moore Penny Bank Book, so I simply utilized their research. Now wasn’t that easy? Unfortunately, Price Guides are often no longer valid because eBay created an international market which has lowered prices in many categories and raised them in others. In addition, they do not take in account different geographical areas or condition. Antiques Roadshow host Chris Jussel says on their website that, "Most price guides are, at best, a starting point, they're not based on solid research. They're based on anecdotal evidence. Many of them use auction records, which only tell you what two people are willing to bid on one item on a particular day." Appraisers are also limited in these same ways. So in a way, what something is worth might just be what you can sell it for. Despite this, good background information can and will increase the value of an item. For example, I bought the 1984 Petite toy cash register because it is the first toy I’m aware of with a credit card mechanism. That makes it worth a lot to me, although perhaps little or nothing to other toy collectors. The fact that I researched this item adds to its future value should I decide to sell it individually or in my collection as a whole.


Kamkap Musical and Toppie Toy Cash Registers
I’m describing these together because they are related in a backhanded sort of way. Top Value Yellow Stamps were popular in the 1950's & 1960's, not unlike "Green" Stamps. Their house brand toy cash register features their mascot Toppie the elephant.

The Kamkap Musical register is circa 1950's and plays the song Mairzy Doats. This particular one is extremely rare, but the red and silver standards can be fairly easily procured. You can see the silver standard version in this 1955 Top Value Yellow Stamps catalogue.

How I found this information:
I haven’t been able to find a Top Value Stamps catalogue with the Toppie register in it, but I have read a number of listings that explained the connection.

I found the Kamkap register (simpler version) in the Top Value Catalogue, which someone had posted pages of on eBay. I’ve also accessed catalogues by e-mailing the sellers of the actual Top Value catalogues from the 1950’s and asked them if certain items were included.

The Kamkap tune is fairly complex and it was only after extensive debate among my colleagues at work that my friend Vicki identified it as Mairzy Doats. (a Google search will turn up an audio version of this you can listen to). The fact that I’ve not heard of this popular song, but my colleague who is some ten years older than me has, tells us something about when the song, and the register was popular. That is, in the 1950’s when she was growing up, not in the 1960’s when I was. 

Ancillary Documents

Glass Cash Register Candy Dish (1913)
This item is the single most expensive cash register collectible I have seen. Actual value is $500 to $600 as listed in Collectors Guide to Candy Containers by Deszo, Poirier, and Poirier. I have seen this sell on eBay for well over $400!

How I found this Information:
While surfing eBay I also located (not at the same time) a reproduction of the original patent for the glass candy dish plus remaining patent text and drawing pages describing this invention in detail. Some of the information included said: “Specification for Design. Patented Dec. 30, 1913.
To all whom it may concern: Be it known that I, Edward J. Rowland, a citizen of the United States, residing at Indiana, in the county of Indiana and State of Pennsylvania, have invented a new, original, and ornamental Design for Toy Candy-Boxes, of which the following is a specification, reference being had to the accompanying drawing, forming part thereof. The figure is a perspective view of a toy candy box showing my new design. I claim : The ornamental design for a toy candy box as shown. Edward J. Rowland. Witnesses: E. R. Sutton, H. W. Thomas. Copies of this patent may be obtained for five cents each, by addressing the " Commissioner of Patents, Washington, D. C."

This amazing little document told me a number of things about the candy dish, including the date, inventor’s name, location and more. What a find!

Extrapolate and Speculate

One of the things I find really fun is extrapolating and speculating about the history behind the items in my collection. Because research options are limited, I often have to find creative ways to figure something out. For example, I found a set of Wolverine Sunny Suzy toys including a cash register, phone, and iron. I wanted to date these items but I wasn’t able to find any information about them specifically. I noticed that the phone was a handset type, and also had bells on the top. So I did a little research on the history of the telephone (lots of websites on this!) and found some phones from the 1930’s that looked like this toy. I discovered that in 1927 the 'French' phone, with the transmitter and receiver in a single handset, was developed by the Bell System and released on a widespread basis. Right around this time in 1928 Wolverine began the "Sunny Suzy" line of toys. Based on this relationship, I estimated the date of the toys to be in the very late 1920's or 1930's. Later versions of the iron include an electric cord and actually warm up, although presumably not hot enough to burn. The key thing here is to be conservative with your speculation and not make any historical leaps.

Another way to look at an item is to think about the context you’re seeing it in. The Sunny Suzy iron is an example of this because the toy iron was clearly the type you’d heat on a stove, not electric. Lark Mason, an expert in Asian art, explained this approach on Antiques Roadshow that,. "I look across a room and if I see a shape that's the wrong shape for what it's purported to be, I'll get closer and look at the design, and then flip it over and look at the clay. I'll put all those things together to place it to a particular culture, manufacturer, and a time in history. From that, I'm able to come up with whether an item is what it's supposed to be and how much it's worth." Clearly this is only something you can do with a great deal of experience in a particular area, but it is an option. In thinking about if the item makes sense for what it is supposed to be, we can often make sense of what it really is.

As you can see, you could have put in “oatmeal raison cookie recipe” or “collaborative teaching teams” or skiing at Stowe” and you could have used these same techniques for your own research.


Read my article: Toy Cash Registers in the 20th Century

Webster’s Online Dictionary

Fishing for Information? Try Better Bait
By Lisa Guernsey

Don’t get Buried under a Mountain of Research
By Danielle Carnahan and Michele Fitzpatrick
Spring 2003, Vol 24 No. 2, National Staff Development Council magazine

Quotes From Antiques Roadshow website:


© Cybele Elaine Werts


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