John’s Model Steam Engine Museum

Bing

Carette

Doll

Falk

Krauss Mohr

Marklin

Ernst Plank

Schoenner

Locomotives

Jensen

British Steam

Everything else

Updates:A very rare Plank 806 beam engine. Curious little Falk perpendicular cylinder horizontal. Small Doll overtype.

Note to ebay sellers and buyers.

History

Model steam engines enjoyed a popularity starting in the 1880's, and extended into the 1960's. These models really were not a child's toy, any more than an elaborate model train is a child's toy today. Expensive, ornate, and complex to operate, they were more of an art form, practiced for a brief period, and now virtually extinct.

Beyond mechanical sculpture, these steam engines also served as a primary information resource. Mechanical models played a greater role in the emerging industrial revolution, than they do today. They were the 19th century counterpart of film and video. In a period of time that saw dramatic change in how our civilization was powered, but no motion pictures to illustrate the complex workings of the new engines, models were a primary instructional and reference material. If you wanted to see it in action, a model was the only way, and the public was hungry for knowledge of the machines that were transforming their lives. This was the Victorian era, when anything was possible, even having a functional model of a power generating plant on your desk before you had electrical power in your house. Machines were transforming the world, and everyone but everyone wanted to be in on it.

Upwards of five million model steam engines were made during this time. Most of the finest live steam engines were made in the Nuremberg area of Germany, which had become one of the centers of precision machinery manufacturing. In this locale could be found everything mechanical, from the first pocket watch; the Nuremburg Egg, to the precision drafing instruments with which engineers were designing even greater creations. Throughout the 1800’s, Nuremburg was famous for the very elaborate mechanical clockwork models, and this talent reached its peak with the live steam models, and the toys that they powered. In Bavaria, there resided the finest metalworkers in Germany, who were in general the finest metalworkers in the world. This was no coincidence, Nuremburg is located in one of the richest mineral deposits in all of Europe, and had a ready supply of the various metals. Precision machinery was invented there, and refined to a point of excellence.

Eight major manufacturers of model steam engines conducted business in the Nuremburg area: Bing, Carette, Doll, Falk, Krauss Mohr, Marklin, Plank and Schoenner. There were a number of minor manufacturers as well; Bischoff, Eberl, Hess, Heubeck, Issmayer, Neumeyer, and Scholler to name a few, but none approached the major builders in either volume or variety. Fleischmann also turned out a line of steam engines during this time, but their products were much simpler than those of the Nuremburg masters. There were two major builders of elaborate steam models in France: Rossignol and Radiguet, but current prices have precluded adding examples to this collection. The trade was not limited to Germany and France: Mamod, Bowman, Burnac and others in the UK, and Jensen, Empire, Ind-X, and Weeden in the US also produced modest steam models. None matched the elegance, the variety, or the precision of the Nuremburg makers.

If there were a 'golden age' of live steam models, it would be in the 1890-1930 time frame. Around 1900, production soared, as did diversity, and continued until the early 1930s. Even in the post WW1 era, when Germany was bankrupt in the wake of the Versailles treaty, elaborate models were still in high demand. The Nuremburg makers were one of the few bright economic successes in an otherwise dismal situation.

It was not to last. Schoenner had ceased active production by 1905, though formal purchase by Falk was not completed until 1912. Carette, still a French citizen, was deported from Germany in 1917, his company taken by Karl Bub. The worst was yet to come. As the Nuremburg makers rode the post WW1 boom to success, so they followed the subsequent Depression to failure. Germany was particularly hard hit, and precision model makers were the first casualties. Only those companies that had diversified survived, and those who specialized in elaborate models: Doll, Plank, Falk, Krauss Mohr, and Bing, fell one by one.

Bing invested heavily in an ill advised US division, the Bing Corporation of NY, headed up by a family member, John Bing. The financial losses from this contributed to their collapse. In at least four cases, Bing, Falk, Plank, and Doll, anti-Semitism of the 1930’s led to or hastened their demise, as the owners were Jewish. A most ungrateful fate, as those companies had kept thousands of people employed during the German depression of the 1920's. Plank sold out to Schaller, who bought their factory largely to get the optics from their magic lantern line. Fleischmann ended up with Doll, and produced Doll labeled engines as late as 1949. I have recently acquired what appears to be a post war Doll engine. Falk also sold out to Schaller. Marklin and Fleischmann survived on their model trains, but the rest disappeared.

After the end of WW2, the German toy industry was, like everything else in Germany, pretty much demolished. Fleischmann got a boost from the Marshall Plan. In the US Zone, the 'tin toys for tinned food' program was devised, whereby the toymakers got their factories operational, and sent the entire year's production to the US, in return for food supplies. This program is the reason that some older Fleischmann engines with 'Made in Germany US Zone' printed on the bottom, can be found in the US. The British took a somewhat different view, probably influenced by the large piles of rubble in their cities, and the large number of fresh graves nearby. British steam blossomed for a brief period, in the late 1940's and 1950's, but the engines rarely made it outside of the UK. Mamod and SEL were the major makers, with a host of smaller marques as well. Sadly, this mini boom was just in time to see the steam model lose it's popularity, and Mamod was the only UK manufacturer to survive. (not counting Stuart, who still thrives to this day)

By 1960, the model steam engine had become virtually extinct, kept in production only by Jensen, Mamod, Fleischmann, Marklin, and a latecomer to the market: Wilhelm Schroder, or Wilesco. While Wilesco dates back to 1912, their early business was kitchen utensils. They didn't begin producing their own steam engines until around 1950. Prior to this, they produced steam engine parts under subcontract to Fleischmann in the 1930's. While model steam engines were still being made in quantity in the 1960’s, the elaborate artwork had given way to austerity, in deference to the declining market. By the 1970's, Marklin and Fleischmann had dropped out, leaving only Jensen, Mamod, and Wilesco as major makers of steam models. In the post WW2 era, steam had been supplanted by the internal combustion engine, gas turbine, and nuclear reactor as the power source of the future, while motion pictures and television replaced models as a primary teaching and reference tool. And so, the interest in expensive mechanical renderings of the last century's motive power also became extinct.

All that remains are the fossils of an earlier era, elegant remnants of an elegant time.

Restoration notes...

And an introduction…

I should rectify a rude habit of mine, inviting the world into my little museum and not showing the courtesy to introduce myself. I am John O’Rear, a software developer by trade, and amateur historian by passion. You can contact me at johno@iglou.com, though I don’t guarantee a speedy reply – work and my farm keep me busy. I can also be seen on ebay as johnlovesoldstuff. I live somewhere in an old hardwood forest in the state of Kentucky, country of USA.

To tell the truth, my interest in model steam engines dates back to when I was but a wee lad, watching the old Addams Family TV show.  I had fits every time Charles and Pugsley blew the track in front of the little live steam locomotive. How could they tear up that beautiful engine? (I have since reviewed videos of the old shows - it appears the locomotive was a Marklin. It's enough to make you weep...) Later, I was given a Wilesco D10, and had all sorts of fun finding fuel to run it – wood, coal chips, anything that would burn. Alas, that engine did not survive, but the interest did. Some years ago, I had an urge to get a steam model, so I obtained another Wilesco, a D16, from the then young ebay. While searching for that Wilesco, I noticed a number of older (and much more expensive) models. Curiosity led me to investigate further and discover the rich history behind the scientific models of the early 20th century, and the pinnacle of mechanical model as art form, the Nuremburg steam engines. More than anything, I was amazed at the diversity of design, and the sheer artwork put into the finer models. At this time, this collection contains around 140 Nuremburg models, with perhaps five duplicates. And it isn’t even close to representing the full range of models made.  I’ve had many hours of satisfaction, finding old models in poor condition and bringing them back to life.

Steam Notes

Safety notes and old steam models

The evolution of steam power

Current production

Links

Restoration notes

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