The allure of old toys can’t be overstated. Nowadays, toys reek of cheaply-made plastic. They are not built to last. They are built to last as little as possible so that parents are forced to buy new ones every now and then. It doesn’t help that kids today have unlimited playing choices. Since our brains are wired to seek novelty, it’s hard to get a kid focused on a few sturdy toys rather than buying a billion use-and-forget ones.

But old toys are still there, as solid as ever. Whether you’re a parent looking for something better for your kid (also more environmentally friendly), an adult who wants to relive your childhood, or a collecting fiend, old toys are something you should consider.

Tonka toys produced some of the longest-lasting, sturdiest toys for kids. They started their operations in 1946, but toys were only a side product back then. Eventually, their toys’ popularity made them switch full time to producing models. The fact that they started as a garden equipment company definitely helped – their models are extremely accurate.

People still appreciate these toys. Be it because of their history, their build quality, or simply their value as collectibles, plenty of people are willing to buy and sell vintage Tonka toys. Particularly, these are the kind of toys you can give a kid who likes tossing things around. They will not break, unlike many modern ones.

In this article, you are going to learn the ins and outs of Tonka toys – especially their history and value as collectibles. We will focus on the 1970s, as that’s when the company’s popularity peaked.

Let’s get started with the company’s history.

The History of Tonka toys

The History of Tonka toys

The Tonka company didn’t start out as Tonka company. Back in 1946 it was called Mound Metalcraft, and their focus was building garden equipment and tie racks. They did produce toys back then, but it was more of a side project.

From Mound Metalcraft to Tonka Corporation

With time, toys took over the business. The company saw that people were more interested in their trucks than in anything else. Eventually, in 1955, it dropped everything to focus on toys. And the choice proved to be a winning idea. That’s also when they switched from Mound Metalcraft to Tonka Corporation. The name “Tonka” comes from Lake Minnetonka, over which Tonka’s facility stood. Tonka means “big” in Dakota Sioux, the language of the indigenous population that lived in the area.

The company saw huge growth up to the 1970s, when progress started stalling. The main issue was the reorganizing of the company’s structure. While calling it “lean” sounds anachronistic, Tonka did indeed have a lean approach to production from its foundation until the 70s. But then, it decided to reform its internal structure to look more like one of a big company. If you’ve ever worked with a big corporation, you know how that turns out. Infinite bureaucracy, plunged productivity, and a sense of wasting lots of money on things that don’t matter.

The Steady Decline

The next few decades didn’t pan out that well, though the company did recover a bit from the 70s restructuring. A few lucky projects like the licensing of Bandai’s Japanese toy robots (called GoBots) managed to keep the company afloat. But there was still a lack of a coherent vision.

The 80s saw Tonka trying all sorts of strategies to boost sales and correct track. The company bought Kenner Parker Toys in 1987 to boost its product offering and offset the original company’s up-and-down sales.

This is also the time when Tonka’s overseas divisions saw high growth. That made the Kenner acquisition feel less daunting on the company’s finance (it had borrowed over 600 million dollars for the purchase). But it all came crashing down a few years later.

The End of Tonka Corporation

1990 was an awful year for Tonka. Their market share took a nosedive with the release of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The toy was so successful it effectively cannibalized Tonka’s market share. People started buying more Mutant Ninja Turtles, which made them buy less Tonka toys.

The huge loan the corporation took to buy Parker was still looming over its head. The situation was starting to get desperate. And desperate it got. In 1991, the owners found themselves forced to sell the company to Hasbro – the largest toy maker in the U.S. – for around 490 million dollars. That marked the end of the Tonka corporation.

But it wasn’t the end of Tonka toys. Hasbro has kept producing Tonka’s toys ever since 1991. You can buy new toys right now on Amazon or in any big retailer store like Walmart.

Now that you know the full history of Tonka toys, let’s see how you can evaluate one.

Evaluating Tonka Toys

Evaluating Tonka Toys

Tonka toys have a set of characteristics that makes them somewhat unique in the world of collecting. First off, since these are kids’ toys, finding one in mint conditions is almost impossible. Kids wanted to play with their toys, and nobody bought them with the idea of eventually selling them.

Second off, toys as collectibles are hard to appraise, as they are often not that old and obviously don’t have the same value as antiques. Still, there are some gems out there, and you can even buy one for your kids – Tonka toys are sturdy and will stand any abuse a kid can come up with.

Here’s how to evaluate a Tonka toy:

  1. Determine the toy’s age: This is by far the most important step. There are a few ways to determine a toy’s age. The first one is the toy’s logo. Tonka used 5 different logos throughout its history. Simply match the logo of the toy with the years it was used. If the logo is missing, look at the toy’s serial number. You will find it stamped on the toy’s frame. You can then use this serial number to look up when the toy was manufactured. In case of an illegible serial number, your last bet is inspecting the toy’s design. The front grill of the truck will look differently based on when it was made. For example, a square-shaped fender and a flatter hood indicate a truck made after 1958.

Editor’s note: Take this loader as an example. The logo on the box tells us that this toy was produced between 1970-1973, as that’s when that logo was used by the Tonka corporation.

  1. Gauge the toy’s condition: Toys follow a grading chart similar of most other collectibles. Examine the various parts and components of the toy and decide on a grade. Chipped paint, scratches, or broken parts will impact the toy’s value. Similarly, if one or more parts are missing, you’ll rate the item as having lower condition. If all its parts and components are present and look good, you can assign it a higher rating. Last, if there are any obvious repairs or repainting, the toy’s value drops.
  2. Rarity: The mother of all factors affecting a toy’s rarity. Rarer toys are worth more than common ones. However, it’s hard to determine how rare a Tonka toy is, since they were super popular and also very sturdy. Most Tonka toys are quite common, so don’t expect to have to shell out mountains of cash for one.
  3. Authenticity: Look for makers’ marks, patent numbers and country-of-origin marks to spot fakes.

Once you’re comfortable with giving a ballpark estimate of the value of a Tonka truck, it’s time to buy one.

Buying 1970s Tonka Toys

Buying 1970s Tonka Toys

Buying a 70s Tonka toys is easier than you think. As mentioned earlier, these toys are very sturdy, and most of them survived to the current days. It also helps that the 70s were only 50 years ago – the older a toy, the more likely time took its toll.

Still, there are a few things to consider before buying one. Here they are.

Where to Buy 1970s Tonka Toys

There are 3 main places where you can buy a Tonka toy:

  • Online marketplaces like eBay and Craigslist
  • Vintage toy shops
  • Flea markets & yard sales

Online marketplaces are an excellent starting point for your research. Their main strength is in the variety of options and prices at your disposal. They are good both for people strapped for cash and wealthy collectors. The main issue with perusing one is the risk of getting scammed. Some sellers include bad pics. Others use fake ones. A few don’t bother with any pic. In these cases, we recommend avoiding buying the piece altogether.

Vintage toy shops specialize in selling…vintage toys. This means that they usually have good knowledge of their products, as well as quite a few of them. However, this also means they will cost more than online marketplaces. But if you want to buy something in particular and you need it fast, this may be the best option for you.

Flea markets & yard sales are great if you are looking for a bargain (or simply because you like rummaging around – it can be fun). However, they are the most unreliable option. You never know what you will find there and whether it is complete or not. Or if you will find anything at all.

The next step is budgeting for your purchase.

Most Valuable 1970s Tonka Toys (Rare Ones)

Tonka toys built in the 1970s show consistent prices across the board. Most will be in the $20-$150 range, depending on their condition.

For example, here’s a Jeepster Convertible Sedan from 1970 that sold for $49.99. There are a few scratches, and the hood has seen better days. There are also signs of wear on the car’s floor. If Jeepsters aren’t your thing, here’s a cool Red Metal Dune Buggy that you can buy for $38.03. Yes, the wear and tear are evident, and the hood sticker is half ripped. Still, it’s a solid buy if you want something different from the typical Tonka trucks.

Speaking of trucks, and getting closer to the higher price range, check out this Mighty Diesel Yellow 54240. It can become yours for $129. There are minor scratches all around, but the toy has been conserved pretty well, which is why it can command a decent price.

Of course, there are exceptions like this 1971 Hydraulic Dump Truck No. 3902 that sold for a whopping $743. Another example is this Cyanamid Farm Supply Pick-Up Truck that sold for $585. Though some would argue that Cyanamid aren’t really “Tonkas”, they were definitely made by the same company that produced Tonka toys.

Exceptions also exist in the lower price range. Take this couple of Jeepster Convertible Sedans from the 1970s that sell for only $16.99. As the announcement says, they are up for sale for parts or restoration. And you can easily see why by looking at the pictures. These bad boys have been through a lot.

If you want to get your very own 1970s Tonka toys, we have prepared a few sales that will kickstart your collection for a good price.

Also Read: 1970 S Penny Value Guide (Most Expensive Rare One Sold for $24,150)

1970s Tonka Toys for Sale

Here are a few of the best Tonka toys you can buy today.

  • Starting with our list, here’s a Baja orange Jeep Dune Buggy. For just $27.99, you can get a model of the legendary off-road vehicle that was popular in the 1970s. The tear is very noticeable, but you know, that’s how a dune buggy would look like after it’s been out the sand dunes for a few months.
  • Next, take a look at this Cherokee Chief Metal Steel Wagoneer Jeep Truck, priced at $39.99. The paint is still in excellent condition, but the hood is not correctly in place. Plus, the roof rack is showing its age. Still, it’s a great piece if you want a jeep truck in your Tonka collection.
  • Rounding up our list, here’s a Dodge Pick Up Truck Bronze that sells for $105. Bronze toys are a bit of a rarity, since other metals are cheaper and easier to paint. But this one is really a beauty, with all the rubber tires in great shape and the hood still bolted tightly to the truck bed. And the tailgate still works. The piece isn’t without flaws though – the hood is heavily scratched, as is the roof. It’s a great piece that looks awesome on anyone’s Tonka toy collection shelf.

Oftentimes, people will buy these heavily scratched or broken pieces and repair them, or use them to recover spare parts for other toys.

Also Read:

Caring for and Restoring Your Tonka Toys

Want to keep your Tonka toys in top shape? Here’s a list of the most common issues owners run into, and how to deal with them:

  • Rust: Rust is a form of corrosion caused by iron/steel’s exposure to oxygen and moisture. It’s the typical red-orange dust that you find on gates outside. To remove it, gently scratch it away with sandpaper.
  • Broken parts: Despite their sturdiness, things are bound to break eventually. If, for example, your Tonka truck’s tailgate falls off, or a door gets out of its hinges, you can glue it back in with wood glue.
  • Scratched paint: This is the easiest and hardest thing to deal with. Easiest because you can simply repaint a scratched truck. Hardest because you’ll have to remove every last mark, lest it ruin the paint job.

There are other potential problems like sluggish steering, but for these a little bit of WD-40 is more than enough usually.

As far as storing your Tonka toys goes, as long as you’re keeping them in a cool and dry place, you’re fine. Don’t keep them in a basement, as the moisture will eat away at the metal.

FAQs about Tonka Toys

Does Tonka toys still exist?

Yes, it still exists as a subdivision of the toy giant Hasbro. You can still buy Tonka-flavored trucks, for example the Mini Tonka series is still quite popular among kids.

What are the most popular Tonka toys?

It depends on the era. In the 1950s and 1960s, it was trucks like dumpers and fire engines. In the 1970s, off-road vehicles were all the rage, thanks in no small part to movies like Mad Max and Smokey & the Bandit. In the 1990s, Tonka moved towards more militaristic vehicles like armored cars and tanks, in line with the post-Cold War era.

Where can you buy vintage Tonka toys?

Vintage Tonka toys are usually sold on online marketplace like Ebay or Etsy, or at vintage and antique toy collector’s fairs. You can also look for them at garage sales and flea markets, but your chances to find a good one there are very small.

Wrapping Up

Toys aren’t usually the first thing people think of when you mention collectibles. But Tonka toys have such a rich history and have been part of the mainstream toy culture for decades, which helps boost their popularity as collectibles.

The great news is that you don’t need to spend a lot of money to get yourself one of these toys. They are pretty affordable, even at the higher end of the price spectrum, especially if compared with other collectibles. Also, their sturdiness and relatively young age (the very first models are from the 50s), they are very easy to find just about anywhere.

So, if you’re looking to start or grow a toys collection, Tonka toys can’t be missing from it. Especially their toys from the 70s, when the company saw massive growth and created some of its most iconic designs. Plus, if you’re into DIY stuff, you can attempt to restore, or at least paint a Tonka toy. This is a luxury that you can’t afford with high-end antiques.

Whether you’re a collector, or you’re looking for a special gift for someone, Tonka toys are a great choice.

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