February 2, 2020 – by Doug Breithaupt
It all started in 1911. Every toy car in our combined collections can trace their history back to this date and a single model. The Dowst Manufacturing Company was based in Chicago, IL, and produced a variety of items including buttons, cuff links and toys. They found the toys to be particularly lucrative and their miniature die-cast vehicles and other toys were given the name Tootsietoy. The name originated with the granddaughter of one of the Dowst brothers who was called ‘Toots’. The name became a brand and went on to eclipse the company name, much as Matchbox later eclipsed Lesney. Through a succession of mergers, the Tootsietoy brand became the property of the Strombecker Corporation in 1961. The brand is now owned by J. Lloyd International, Inc. and still based in Chicago.
A small vehicle, just over two inches in length, was simple identified as a Limousine. The casting is a simple body shell with no base, interior or windows. The silver metal wheels roll on crimped axles. The casting was produced in two halves that were sealed and then painted. The Limousine came in a variety of colors and was produced for over ten years. After searching for several years, I found the example you see here. The Tootsietoy Limousine is accepted as being the first small-scale die-cast toy car.
Tootsietoy models continued to use this same basic body shell design over the next four decades. A variety of scales were used over the years with larger scale cars and trucks closer to the size of a Dinky model gaining popularity. In the 1940’s and ’50’s, models in the three-inch range were produced. Metal wheels were replaced with rubber tires and then with those made of hard plastic. Some of the smaller Tootsietoy models from this era are quite rare and valuable with the Nash/Hudson Metropolitan being one of the most desirable.
In 1960, Tootsietoy added to their basic design offerings to produce a three-model range of contemporary American cars called the HO Series. No doubt influenced by the success of Matchbox, these three Tootsietoy castings included a separate base and hard plastic wheels. Thinner axles allowed these cars to roll better. A 1960 Ford Starliner Convertible included an interior and front windshield as part of the cast. A trailer hitch is also included. All three cars came with a trailer that included a boat or midget race car. All three models were based on larger 4″ cars in the Tootsietoy senior line.
A 1960 AMC Rambler Wagon was also offered. It came in green with a cream roof. The trailer hitch is again provided. There is no interior nor are there windows. Like the Ford, the base also forms the front grill, lights and bumper. This remains the only example of this 1960 Rambler Wagon in small-scale.
The third model is a recent addition to my collection. It is a 1960 Cadillac Sedan de Ville. Like the Rambler, it is painted in a two-tone blue with white top. Again, there are no windows or an interior. The 1960 Cadillac models have been completely overlooked in small-scale with the exception of this Tootsietoy. Overshadowed by the iconic 1959 Cadillac and its rocket fins, the 1960 models are all but forgotten. Having owned both 1959 and 1960 Cadillacs, I consider the 1960 designs to be better, if less dramatic.
Even by toy car standards in 1960, these three models are quite crude. While I do not know how well they sold, I expect that kids and parents found them lacking in comparison to toy cars offered by Matchbox and others. These three models are not easy to find today, perhaps due to lower production, and I was very pleased to add the missing Cadillac to complete the series. Most telling, Tootsietoy did not continue with these two piece castings but returned to their longstanding single body shell designs.
Over the next several decades they offered a variety of small-scale contemporary and vintage vehicles. While my collection is far from complete, I have tried to add some of the more interesting examples over the years. These smaller models are know as Tootsietoy Midgets. Prices are seldom very high, especially if there is considerable play-wear. Some of my roughest Tootsietoys have been thrift shop finds in bags of six or eight for $1.
Several Tootsietoy models are particular favorites because they represent real cars I have owned, like the 1960 Cadillac. Another of those is the 1966 Oldsmobile Toronado. This green version is a bit rough but still has most of the original paint.
Tootsietoy also did the Toronado’s sister car, the 1967 Cadillac Eldorado. These two front wheel drive cars drew a great deal of interest in the 1960’s. The Eldorado has been given a curious half vinyl roof, a feature never offered on the real cars where only a full vinyl roof option was available.
The first generation VW Golf or Rabbit, as it was sold in the U.S., was produced by Tootsietoy. It joined other European models from Tootsietoy including Mercedes-Benz and Fiat. The rear windows are solid, giving this car a mini panel van look. The base identifies the model as a VW Rabbit.
A final example is the Jaguar ‘D’ type by Tootsietoy. As a child, this became my budget Batmobile as it had a fin and came in Batman purple. I had no idea it was a famous racing car that won Le Mans three times.
As the Tootsietoy brand moved into the 1990’s, they attempted to compete more directly in the toy car market with vehicles in the Hardbody line that included interiors and windows. I’ll save that story for another day. While many collectors may avoid these simple Midget models, they have been an important part of the die-cast toy car saga. Tootsietoy deserves recognition for their contribution and the 1911 Limousine that started it all.
Collector’s Guide to Tootsietoys, Third Edition, David E. Richter, 2004.
Encyclopedia of Small-Scale Diecast Motor Vehicle Manufacturers, Sahakangas, Weber and Foster, 2006.