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Hess Trains


Hess early floor train loco 10 inches long x 3.5 inches wide Hess is considered to be the earliest known German toy maker of any significance, with production starting in 1826 in the famous toy manufacturing town of Nürnberg. Very little information is available about the beginnings of this company. Research shows that the first toy trains made were unveiled in the 1850's in the form of trackless push/pull models made of pressed steel. Hess also made toy automobiles, boats, roller toys, and military model toys. These toys were typically either friction/flywheel powered or clockwork powered.

Hess 300 series tinplate lithographed loco & tender The founder was Matheus Hess, his son, Johann Leonhart Hess, took over the firm in 1886 after his father's death. Johann Hess died in 1934 and the factory was subsequently closed. This company has no connection with the Amerada Hess Corporation which made toys from the mid-1960's. The initials JLH, either individually or in a monogram, found on a penny toy signifies that the maker was Johann Leonhart Hess.

Hess penny toy transition; paper litho on tender, tin litho on passenger, spirit on loco + box At the turn of the century, the Hess trains were made of tinplate and the methods used for manufacture were the same stamping, cutting and bending, and hand assembly by the use of bending tags, that is still the standard practice for cheap tin toys made today. The early trains had cast metal wheels, later versions used stamped tinplate wheels. Early toys were simply spirit varnished or hand painted. Hess pioneered the use of lithography in tin toy production and by the turn of the century almost all of their toys were lithographed. The use of lithography meant that toys no longer had to be laboriously hand painted, instead they could have a printed finish that was cheaper but that, if care was taken with the printing and graphics, could actually look far superior to hand painted toys. Small, crude trains were also produced by Hess, mainly in a very small scale and either flywheel or clockwork powered, or unpowered. Hess Central London Railway #23 Passenger car, circa 1900 In the 1870's, several firms including Issmayer, Hess and Lehmann had developed miniature but strong, clockwork mechanisms, which could be mass-produced inexpensively. Other German toy train makers of the era such as Märklin and its competitors produced expensive highly detailed scale train models, the lower end of the market was largely left to manufacturers like Issmayer and Hess, whose train designs were very toy-like and whimsical.

Hess also did subcontract work for other manufacturers such as Carette, Issmayer and Bing. The Hess #575 locomotive can be found in eight different variations - from flywheel drive and 2 inch wheels, with clockwork, with cowcatcher, to a last simple version. This locomotive had a very long life beginning in the late 1800's / early 1900's and was produced until the company ceased production in 1934. It was also produced for Bing, Issmayer, Carette, Schumann and others including an apparently French version marked "Marke Sonne".

Hess 575 series Tinplate Lithographed Pullman Passenger cars, #10 Baggage Car and One Piece #575 Tinplate Locomotive and Tender Floor Train

Hess 300 Series Freight Cars - lumber wagon, #50 tipping gondola, #120 gondola, #1040 petroleum tanker, and 2 boxcars

Hess 300 series locomotive and tender in DSB Livery Danske Statsbaner or Danish State Railways

Link to Chuck Ehlers' Hess Tin Toys website.

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