Author Archives: Paul

The Timeless Magic of FAO Schwarz: Journey Into an Iconic Toy Store

For over 160 years, FAO Schwarz has captivated the hearts of children and adults alike with its enchanting toy stores. From its humble beginnings in Baltimore to its current status as a beloved global brand, FAO Schwarz has evolved while maintaining its essence. In this blog post, we’ll delve into the rich history of this iconic toy store and explore its transformation over the years.

Early Years (1869-1920)

German immigrant Frederick August Otto Schwarz founded FAO Schwarz in Baltimore in 1869. Initially a small toy store, it quickly gained popularity for its unique and diverse offerings. By the early 1900s, Schwarz expanded to New York City, opening a flagship store on Broadway. The store’s early success stemmed from its focus on quality, innovation, and customer experience.

The Schwarz name, however, did not just stop with FAO – the son Gustav also founded several toy stores (GA Schwarz) with the following addresses compiled from various advertising cards over the decades:

1006 Chestnut St., Philadelphia
42 E. Fourteenth St., New York
497 & 499 Washington St., Boston
211 W. Baltimore St., Baltimore

G. A. Schwarz, Toy and Fancy Emporium, 1006 Chestnut St., Philada., circa 1864/1866 – New York Public Library Digital Collection

The Golden Age (1920-1960)

During the mid-20th century, FAO Schwarz solidified its position as a premier toy destination. Its flagship store became a tourist attraction, featuring elaborate window displays and in-store demonstrations. The store introduced iconic toys like the yo-yo and Erector Sets, cementing its reputation for offering more than just toys – it offered experiences.

Expansion and Challenges (1960-2000)

FAO Schwarz expanded across the United States, opening stores in major cities. However, the rise of big-box retailers and online competition posed significant challenges. Adapting to these changes, the company embraced e-commerce and diversified its product lines.

Modern Era (2000-Present)

In 2009, FAO Schwarz closed its flagship store due to rising rents. Many feared the end of an era, but the brand’s resilience prevailed. In 2018, a new flagship store opened in Manhattan, blending traditional charm with modern elements. The brand has expanded globally, maintaining storefronts in pop-up stores, airports, and large retail locations. They also have an online store with exclusive FAO-branded toys for sale.

Special Invitation Cards and Advertisements for FAO Schwarz

Circa 1880 FAO Schwarz advertisement. Importer of German, French, and English toys.

FAO Schwarz Labels on Marklin Toys

An FAO Schwarz label on a Marklin 00 HS 700 box dating ca. 1936/37
Marklin Gauge 1 freight car with special FAO Schwarz stamping on canvas sold by Bertoia Auctions.
Marklin Gauge 1 “red cab” loco reportedly sold by FAO Schwarz. FAO likely special ordered thees from Marklin. Several variations are known to exist.
FAO Schwarz starburst logo sticker found on an early Marklin set box lid
George Brown wagon made for G.A. Schwarz around 1880.
Circa 1910 Marklin car Gauge 1 stamped with FAO Schwarz.

FAO Showrooms

Playthings magazine November, 1910. Large Marklin boats can be seen on the top displays.

TW 800 B: Rescued from Ruin and Now Running!

The Marklin TW 800 locomotive is certainly one of the more peculiar locomotives from Marklin. The model, based on the German DRG Class SVT 877, was also produced in O Gauge (even as a 3-piece model) under model numbers like the 20V electric TW 66 12940 and the TW 970 in clockwork. In a previous article on the TW 800, we explored the different versions and variations from Marklin. In this article we’ll dive deep into the daunting restoration of one of these models.

The particular locomotive we’ll be covering in this article is the TW 800 B (for Blau, or blue in German) that was discovered in the original box with even with the corrugated wrapper! The locomotive was found with several other locomotives from the 1948-1950 period including an early CCS 800 (either first or second version). The locomotive, however, was in a very poor condition – with substantial warping to the housings and frames. And after the handling of the USPS across the country, the housings deteriorated even more – with one housing breaking into dozens of pieces.

Marklin TW 800 as found in the box – after suffering even more damage during shipping
All parts laid out – broken into many pieces – but mostly complete

A quick analysis of the parts, however, showed that (nearly) all necessary pieces were present to rebuild the locomotive. Each crack also fit neatly back into place and all the breaks were very clean – meaning that piecing the locomotive back together could be possible. Missing parts like the window struts were reconstructed using metal backings for strength, 3D printed parts for shape, and epoxy putty to blend it together. The overall goal of the project after all, was to restore the locomotive to running condition, have it be presentable, and maintain as many original parts as possible.

TW 800 body with 3D printed window parts
Both front housings restored. One was completely damaged into dozens of pieces and assembled back together.

After repairing both bodies there was still a fair amount of warping to them. The warping would be impossible fix without breaking and re-setting pieces in different locations which would not be worth the effort. This, however, also disallowed the possibility of using replica or even new original frames because they would not fit after the housings had expanded and contracted in some areas. Instead, 3D printed supports were used to span the areas where the metal had completely eroded away. The printed supports were secured to the original metal at existing screw locations where the motors mounted to the frame. This provided a way to provide strength to the frames while still using the original parts that have the appropriate weight.

3D printed supports used to connect the original frames

After the structural components of the housings and frames were mostly secure, it was time to move onto the motors. One more ran immediately very well and had almost no problems except for some loose wheels. The other motor, however, suffered from more zincpest. Salvaged original parts were borrowed from another locomotive from the same collection that had very bad damage but good motor parts. After assembling the parts together, a test run showed that the weight and balance of the locomotive was decent, but there were frequent derailments. The video below shows one test run in which the locomotive did not derail. A temporary while was used to provide power to the motors, since the ground was interrupted by a broken part.

All possible causes of derailments happened on this locomotive which makes it a very good teaching lesson on what causes derailments:

  • Improper balance – the very end pieces which had broken off were not present which meant that the motors were weighted heavily on one side but not the other. This throws the motor off balance.
  • One wheel set when refitted was not pressed on enough, meaning the distance between the wheels was too great, so the wheel was easily jumping off the track.
  • One wheel flange was chipped off, meaning the wheel could slide off the rail. This was repaired and prevented future derailments.
  • And finally, the rear motor did not have enough room to turn inside the frame, so it rubbed against the frame, which also caused derailments because the motor truck was not free to move.

After these adjustments were made, the locomotive ran perfectly!

Marklin War Toys: The Boer War Armored Train Panzerzug (Part 2)

Continuing on our series of Marklin toys and trains reflecting history, and specifically the history of war, we explore the Marklin armored trains (or Panzerzug). The “Panzerkanonenwagen” (from 1904: “Panzer-Geschützwagen”) was available individually from 1900 to early 1909 under the number 1853 / I. The train was available in gauges O, I, and II and in a completely different form under the Marklin Liliput trains, in 26mm gauge as a boxed set.

An example of a Gauge 1 armored canon car (Panzer-Geschützwagen) with detailed hand-painting, lining, working cap guns triggered by side levers. Source: eBay Item 323999319441 from December 2019.
Example of the same canon car (Panzer-Geschützwagen) but for Gauge 2 (Spur II). The sign states 1901-07 but research shows the car might have actually been available until 1909. Notice the similar 3-canon arrangement but much larger size, and the front structure with a polygonal design instead of flat angled armor like the smaller gauges.

From a cursory look at available models shown in collections, museums, and books, it appears that the I gauge variation of the armored train set was most commonly sold, whereas the O Gauge and Gauge II versions are more seldom seen. It may seem counterintuitive that the smaller O Gauge version was not the most commonly sold, given its smaller size and lower price tag. But we must remember that O gauge became popularized really in the late 1920s and 1930s. Prior to that, and especially at the turn of the Century when this armored train was sold – these were purchased by the wealthy and so price was not as much of a factor. If they already had a 1 Gauge layout – they would buy the 1 Gauge model, and not go for the slightly less expensive O Gauge.

Armored train offered in the 1909 main catalog in Gauge O, I, and II under the clockwork section, page 16. The catalog notes that the train travels forward and reverse, and has automatic-firing gun wagons. The separate car include tin infantry soldiers that fire from the slots in the armored car.

Reproductions of the armored train

The armored train from Marklin certainly enthralls collectors from both a historical perspective and the incredible detail of the firing cannons and the intricacy of the hundreds of rivets across the entire train. As such, several makers have produced fine reproductions of the train set.

Schmitz replica panzerzug in Gauge O, electric. Source: eBay seller antikpavillon

What’s interesting about the Schmitz replica is the incredible attention to the original. Schmitz managed to almost fully replicate the Marklin cap guns which is quite an engineering feat and likely required many tests and lots of time in the machine shop. The painting is also quite realistic and the variation of color across the wagons also makes the trainset look older. Schmitz went with more of a brown/green tint to the painting whereas Marklin seemed to either have two variations of blue and gray, or variations in how the trains were stored over the past 100 years simply changed the aging of the lacquer, which can easily completely alter the color of a piece. That’s likely also what makes a complete Panzerzug with matching color so much more rare – when you piece together a train the lacquer between each car likely will differ between each one.

References and Sources

3D Printing Model Railroad Buildings: Marklin Villa Edition

The Marklin Villa has always been a “dream item” for Marklin collectors. For those that don’t know the legend of this wonderful piece, it’s worth first reading the wonderful article on Tischbahn (in the German language). As a quick summary, the Marklin Villa was never a full-production model or shown for sale in any catalog. Legend goes that it was made by Marklin employees for training in how to work with tinplate. But if you look at the incredible construction of these pieces, you might think otherwise.

The Villa is characteristic of other tin stations and buildings that Marklin made during the 1930s and even earlier. Everything is formed, stamped, shaped, and hand-soldered together. Edges that need reinforcing such as along the roof edges are “hemmed” wherein about 4mm of tin is folded over to double up the thickness and provide extra strength and makes the edge smooth.

The Villa has shown up several times in the past few decades on the auction block and also in the private market. It is believe that in addition to being featured on show layouts and displays, it was an item for export to England. It’s not surprising a few have shown up in England and the style of the Villa is rather characteristic of English architecture, but equally could be modeled after a German Villa too.

Can we reproduce the Marklin Villa?

Several noble hobbyists have made reproductions of the villa and done incredible work. Windows are cut and filed by hand and even after the parts are made, the soldering can take hours. The intricate details and geometric design of the roof is very difficult to model and recreate perfectly.

No doubt such a rare and sought after item deserves to be replicated and enjoyed by those who cannot afford to buy an original. And even for those that can afford it, one cannot simply just buy one any day of the week!

3D printing the Villa

After seeing the success of some modern 3D printers we thought it would be fun to try and tastefully recreate the model in plastic. Yes, it’s not made out of the original 0.35mm tinplate – but after all isn’t it the charming design and fine hand-painting that makes this item special and not the fact that it’s made out of metal? 3D printing offers a wonderful trade-off of quicker production time and also being able to accurately recreate the model over and over. Click here if you are interested to see other 3d models based off of Marklin toys.

The first step when producing a new item is finding an accurate example to get measurements from and build a 3D CAD model. Luckily several photos online with known measurements helped immensely. A fellow collector in Germany with an original example also shared the exact dimensions of his model for mm accuracy in the final build. Because our reproduction is made out of plastic and could never be confused with metal, we are building to the exact specifications. If we were building it out of metal, we would likely add some “signatures” to the model so that it could never be passed off as an “original.”

Many many hours of CAD modeling later we have a fairly accurate 3D model of the Villa. Some detail parts like the chimney tops, roofs, and door overhangs are left off and will be added as metal detail parts later.

Find the 3D printer we used on eBay:

3D Model of the Villa in Fusion360

Next we separate the model into printable components. Naturally we will print the roof separately. The first print split each wall into a separate piece to be printed flat. This required adding “supports” to the model to account for the two front arched windows. This print design was later found to be not as optimal and the second print was done as all one piece and completely vertical with no supports! The fine .02mm resolution of the printing and careful adjustment of print settings allowed the print to turn out very well despite not having an support structure printed.

3D print of Villa with no supports – print time about 2hrs at fine detail resolution

Construction and painting

While the initial printing setup, which included supports that had to be removed after printing, had many drawbacks in terms of print quality and post-processing time, the later vertical printing design was much faster and higher quality. In this version, the back wall is also not printed and instead a tinplate sheet was cut and bent to fit and glued to the plastic. This both added weight and some more realism with the metal.

The roof was also printed as a separate part and the chimney top detail pieces were also made to fit and glued. After full assembly, some weights were added to the inside of the roof to again give the feeling of metal instead of plastic. After full assembly, the building is primed with several coats of primer in order to cover the print lines as much as possible and build up a smooth layer of paint.

Painting was done with a mix of acrylic and oil paints. Acrylic paint provides fast drying times while oil provides superior blending and color mixing capabilities. In most cases the final coat of paint is always oil because it has a better overall finish that acrylic.

The last step is shellacing the entire piece with a thick coat in order to seal all the paint and provide a nice gloss coat. At this step as well some weathering and aging is done to give the appearance of almost 100 years of age.

Version 1 of the painted Villa next to Version 2 on the right with higher resolution and finer lines. In the background some future English Marklin projects!

Marklin Villa variations

Over the years we’ve identified several different variations of the villa – in both construction and painting. The one we have reproduced here is the “symmetric” version with two chimneys in the back. The more commonly seen version has one chimney on the side and one in the front in the center.

The version that we modeled this Villa after was symmetric, and had an interesting beige color seem and so we reproduced that painting schema as seen in the photo below. The model for this was sold once at a Christie’s toy auction.

Marklin Villa symmetric beige variation sold at Christie’s lot 197
Both of the main color schemes of the Marklin Villa. With an R 700 LMS on the sidetrack to complete the British scene.
Two assembled, unpainted kits on the left and the two finished versions on the right.

Marklin War Toys: Submarines and Battleships (Part 1)

Marklin toys and trains are not only pieces of art, with their fine hand-painting and craftsmanship, but also reflect the rich history during which they were created. Unfortunately, since Marklin was a German toy maker, war plagued its history. The golden age of tin toys took shape simultaneously with the events leading up to World War 1. Shortly following, and as some historians would argue was merely an extension of the previous war, World War 2 broke out under the Nazi regime of the Third Reich. While we are not so much interested in the wars themselves when discussing toys its important to remember the context and history as they shape the toys that Marklin produced during this time. We will recall from our article about the history of Marklin, that the firm started out producing toys primarily for girls: dolls, accessories, and kitchen setups among other hand-crafted tin toys.

The addition of “war toys” likely expanded with the acquisition of the firm Ludwig Lutz by Marklin in 1891. Certainly Lutz was already producing an array of sailboats, small ships, castles, and other more elaborate (for the time) tin toys. In the catalog 1895 (the earliest one we have discovered), we can see some of the first Kriegsdampfer or “war steamers” and Kreigschiffe or “war ships.” The first one we will examine is ship number 1092 which is listed as a Schraubendampfer which literally translates to “screw steamer” likely describing the propulsion by screws or propellers, as opposed to side or stern wheel ship. The description states the boat is 76cm long, has turning shell turrets, 13 canons, an attack crew, and two life boats. The catalog description also states that each boat comes with a ship stand with wheels so children could realistically glide the boats along the floor when not in the water.

Marklin “War Ship” 1092 from 1895 catalog

Though we could not find the exact prototype this model was based on, we did find a ship from the same era that closely resembles some of the features seen on this ship. The SMS Hertha was a cruiser of the Victoria Louise class, built for Kaiserliche Marine, or German Imperial Navy, in the 1890s.  The SMS Hertha was launched by the AG Vulcan shipyard in April 1897, and later commissioned into the Kaiserliche Marine in July 1898. The ship was primarily used for coastal defense. With a top speed of 19 knots and a battery of two 21 cm guns and eight 15 cm guns, the vessel was both quick in the water and carried enough firepower to defend German coastlines.

SMS Hertha of the German Imperial Navy, 1890s

The 1895 catalog featured approximately 10 different war ships, the longest of which was 105cm. The war ships were slightly outnumbered by other non-military ships including wheel-steamers, salon ships, and yachts. No submarines could be found in the catalog yet, likely because they were not yet used in wartime. Submarines were certainly around during the time. The Brandtaucher, arguably the first German submarine, sank to the bottom of Kiel harbor on 1 February 1851 during a test dive lead by its 3-man crew.

By the next major catalog in 1905, several advancements came to the range of Marklin war ships. First, the range of Torpedo Boats was introduced – for both clockwork and steam propulsion. Most models were fitted with a slide valve cylinder, a steam whistle, safety valve, a torpedo tube, search light, and air-pressure-steering system which the catalog states is fitted for every boat.


The air-pressure steering was certainly an innovation for Marklin. The steering system came with a hand pump and a connecting rubber hose. Additional hoses and union fittings could extend the hose up to 20 meters to allow for remote steering of the boats. The catalog states that this system allows for not only better imitation of the real boats, but also convenience in that the boats no longer get lost in the water because they can be remotely steered back to shore. Surely setting a steam boat off in a straight line across a large lake could be disastrous without this steering system!

Marklin air-steering system with hand pump and rubber hose

Germany was the first country to employ submarines in war for the purpose of disrupting shipping supply lines and merchant ships. Its strategy was highly effective during WW1 and WW2.

Wittelsbach-Klasse Large Dreadnought Battleships

Starting with the 1907 additional catalog we can see a very large pre-dreadnought battleship appear in the product offering. Additionally electric operation came onto the market via dry-cell battery operation. These electric operation boats (which also include electric lighting) are very sought after today and fetch much higher prices than their steam and clockwork counterparts. The largest of these dreadnoughts is 117cm long.

The clockwork version of the largest ship has a reported runtime of 1.25 hrs while the electric version boats a total runtime of around 6 hours – and that includes the two headlights burning during operation!

U-Boat Submarines Glide onto the Market

It’s not until after WW1 that we see the classic fully submersible submarine enter into the product range. Prior submarine-style boats were actually torpedo boats and only partially submerged.

Related to submarines – the U Boat 139 sank the Lusitania, a British liner, on May 7, 1915 off the southern coast of Ireland. About 1,150 men, women and children, perished – 114 of which were Americans.

Somewhat ironically Marklin also produced a variation of a passenger ship with the ship name Lusitania. Ships of all kinds could be requested with special names – we’ve seen boats in America with ship names like America, New Jersey, Boston, etc. and so a special-order name is not out of the ordinary. However, the name Lusitania carries extra significance because of its history and the fact that it was made by a German firm like Marklin, whose motherland was responsible for sinking the British ship. One can wonder who ordered the ship – was it a German naval officer who wanted the ship as a war prize? or a British or American family wishing to remember this tragic memory? Unfortunately the provenance of the piece is unknown – other than that it was sold twice by Sotheby’s over the past few decades. The possibility that the ship name was added later is certainly not out of the question and could have been performed by a highly skilled restoration artist.

Marklin passenger ship Lusitania electric (dry cell) powered. Source.

Sadly as the 1920s came to a close so did Marklin’s production of boats, submarines and ships of all kinds. As Marklin’s offering catered toward a more broad base of toy enthusiasts and not just the rich or royalty, their product offering needed to become more accessible in terms of both space and budget. The introduction of 00 scale in 1935 also shifted focus back heavily on toys. The production of boats ended much sooner than the large gauges trains did, which were last produced in 1954 with O Gauge trains.

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