|By Larry LeMasters
It has been said, “Where there&rsquo’s tea, there&rsquo’s hope!” Doctor Henry Winzeler may not have been thinking this when he started the Ohio Art Company in 1908, but millions of children found comfort and hope in the tea parties they have attended using one of Winzeler&rsquo’s toy tea sets.
Winzeler, a dentist who sold his dental business and borrowed $300 from friends to open a toy company, founded Ohio Art Company in Archbold, Ohio. Winzeler rented a vacant music hall, employed 15 women, and began making metal picture frames and novelty items that sold in retail Five & Dime stores across America. Later, Winzeler installed metal lithography equipment and began making wood-grained metal picture frames. But the company found its niche when, in 1917, it began manufacturing tin toys, such as climbing monkeys and windmills. Shortly following the end of World War I, Ohio Art Company began producing colorful and whimsical tea sets.
Prior to World War I, Germany owned the toy markets in America, but import of German toys halted during the war, and Ohio Art Company quickly capitalized on the open toy markets. Its first metal toy was a 13-inch high, galvanized metal windmill.
While Ohio Art Company has had many interesting and successful toys over the years, including Etch A Sketch, metal lithograph toys, especially tea sets, remained its bread-and-butter toy for nearly 100 years. In fact, Ohio Art Company sold its Etch A Sketch brand in 2016 so that it could refocus on what it does best —produce small toys for children.
Following the company&rsquo’s move to Bryan, Ohio, circa 1920, Ohio Art Company manufactured 20,000 metal picture frames daily. Picture frame sales for Ohio Art peaked with its “Cupid Awake” and “Cupid Asleep” frame with more than 50 million sets sold before 1950.
Ohio Art produced metal lithograph shovels, sand pails, drums, globes, checker sets, and dollhouses, but its most enduring toy has always been tea sets.
One of Ohio Art Company&rsquo’s earliest tea sets is its 17-piece Humpty Dumpty set from the 1930s. This set was designed by Fern Bisel Peat (a well-known children&rsquo’s book illustrator in the 1930s and &rsquo’40s) and is valued at $125 on today&rsquo’s secondary market, making it an exceptional value for tea set collectors.
Another 1930s Ohio Art tea set worth looking for is its seven-piece Red Riding Hood set that sells for about $120 today.
One of the reasons for collector&rsquo’s continuing love affair with Ohio Art tea sets was the company&rsquo’s penchant for hiring talented children artists and its talent for capitalizing on various Disney characters, who were depicted on tea sets.
Beginning around 1940, Disney characters, such as Donald Duck and Pinocchio helped Ohio Art tea sets become hugely popular toys for nearly 30 years. The Donald Duck tin lithographed tea party set, produced in 1939 in a 20-piece boxed set, is an excellent example of Disney&rsquo’s influence on playtime. This tea set, like all Disney tea sets, was produced for Disney by Ohio Art Company. This set, which cost around $2 when new, is highly collectible today and generally sells for around $500.
Two tea sets that add depth to an Ohio Art tea set collection are the 1941 William Tell tin litho set, the last one produced before World War II, and the 1945 Girls as Kittens tea set, the first one produced after World War II. Together, these sets symbolize the loss of innocence and an attempt at normalcy, sadly reminding collectors of the lost years of war.
In 1953, Howie Winzeler, Henry&rsquo’s son, became president of Ohio Art Company, leading the company through the changing times of the 1950s when toy production shifted from metal to plastic and Baby Boomers clamored for toys. And while some Ohio Art Company plastic tea sets are considered rare and collectible (Ohio Art&rsquo’s Charlie Brown and Snoopy plastic tea set from the 1970s is valued at $475) most collectors seek the vintage tin tea sets of the 1930s -1950s.