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1903 Josef Falk Toy Steam Engine

Unearthing Treasures (Part I)

At the turn of the twentieth century, life was very different from what it is today, and children’s toys were no exception. Morris Mitchum produced the original Teddy Bear, and cousins Binney and Smith began manufacturing an eight pack of crayons under the brand ‘Crayola’. The box sold for a nickel and contained black, brown, blue, red, violet, orange, yellow, and green.

The steam era was well advanced, and progress made by its now commonplace use, extended through into the area of toys. Many a family especially in the more well to do societies, would have purchased a steam engine to partly educate, and partly entertain their children.

These steam engines were crafted individually and produced with the workmanship similar to that of a watchmaker, so it was with great excitement that elocal discovered that one had surfaced in the barn of a local engine enthusiast late last month.

Permitted to take photos of the engine, we embarked on a research mission to find out more about this treasure from days gone by and discovered it was a German toy steam engine crafted by a engine maker in 1903 named Josef Falk.

Falk began as an employee of Georges Carette. He started his own company in 1895 in Nuremberg, Germany and went on to produce many steam engines, including some spectacular large overtypes before buying out Schoenner's steam engine line in 1912.

This particular model toy engine consists of a vertical engine run by a vertical boiler over a firebox. It has been intricately designed to mimic a full-scale steam engine and would have allowed every boy or girl who owned one to be their own engineer. A heating source would be used in the firebox, and according to our research this could have been a lit fuse fuelled by denatured alcohol, before later using electricity. This would have heated the water to produce the steam pressure that ran the engine. The young engineer could then use a variety of attachments such as windmills, pumps or grinders that would be powered by the engine. The Pukekohe engine has all of its parts still working smoothly and are in surprisingly good condition for its 117 years young.

After WWI, Falk became closely allied with Bing, producing a few steam engines with the combination JF/BW label.

In his 1930 catalogs, there were over 130 steam engines and over 150 operating models. Like most manufacturers, machines were offered in different sizes, with the equipment (additional fittings etc.) increasing with the size of the machine. As one of the last manufacturers, he offered a hot air motor. In the succession of Schoenner, Falk also produced Storchenbein locomotives of the range 1 to III, as well as steam boats. It is certain that Falk took over some of the tools of Schoenner. Many Falk steam engines are largely unchanged former Schoenner machines.

Unfortunately, The arrival of WWII put an end to the toy production and we are now left to hunt out, discover, restore and admire the sheer brilliance of a time gone by.

Have you discovered a historical gem in your basement, garage, shed, property or farm? Do you need to find out about it? Drop us an email to office@elocal.co.nz and we will investigate it for you and feature it in an episode of ‘Unearthing Treasures’.

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elocal Digital Edition – October 2020 (#235)

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October 2020 (#235)

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