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.
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.
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.
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”.
Link to Chuck Ehlers' Hess Tin Toys website.