Twentieth Century Tinplate


We found this lovely toy steam engine in a local charity shop. It’s an early twentieth century tinplate miniature, or penny-toy. It was made in Germany, by the firm of JLH; That’s for, Johann Leonard Hess.

The locomotive came with three carriages and some trucks. There was also a TPO carriage. That is for travelling post-office; my favourite.

The  toys are made from thin steel sheeting that has been printed and folded to make the models. The colour printing is by chromo-litho.

The history of lithography is of how this printing process became, during the second half of the 19C, the main printing process of manufacturing and industrially scaled enterprise. Posters, point-of-sale advertising, labels, and packaging, were each produced using this process.

Printing on metal was pioneered by biscuit manufacturers. Their experiments led to the development of offset lithography. That’s where a roller picks up the design, from the printing plate, and transfers it onto the paper or tin. The addition of a roller did several things…it speeded up the whole process by turning the action of the press into a rotary movement.

Spinning is always much quicker than shifting left-to-right or whatever. Also, the roller kept the colour plates tidy. So, you could print for longer and at a higher speed…that was obviously more profitable.

The make-ready of colour separations was also improved. The addition of a roller meant that you no longer had to print in negative format. The machine went positive to negative, on the roller, and back to positive, on the metal or paper. That made life much easier and reduced costs again.


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