Picture the scene. Your Danish partner’s grandfather has died, and you’ve gamely volunteered to help clean out their loft. It’s dark and damp and so far all you’ve found are old clothes and a pile of Billed Bladets from 1984. But something told you that this forage might be worth your while – after all, isn’t that always the way on ‘Trash in the Attic’?
And then, in the final corner, all your dreams come true. In a cardboard box, carefully wrapped in bubblewrap, are close to a hundred toy vehicles, all in their original boxes. You shine your torch and see the name ‘Tekno’, which you repeat four times for good effect. You thought Danish toys began and ended with Lego. You were wrong and you’ve just stumbled across a goldmine. Forget trash, this is a treasure trove.
The Tekno scale model toy company began life in 1935 as a brand name of Dansk Legetøjs Industri (Danish Toy Industry). The latter was founded in 1928 by Danish plumber Andreas Siegumfeldt, who began by making toys in his basement in the Vanløse district of Copenhagen. Under the Tekno name, the company started to produce tinplate cars, fire engines, and other vehicles. When Tekno was confronted with the wartime tinplate ban in 1940, the maker nimbly switched to manufacturing wooden toys.
Tekno commenced production of its celebrated diecast models in the postwar period. The lingering tin shortage (and the scarcity of other metals as well) after the war led to Tekno turning to a zinc-based alloy for diecast manufacture. The alloy, which was made up of zinc, aluminium, magnesium and copper, was called zamac − an acronym of the metals. These early diecast toys included a number of Dodge and Ford lorries, emergency vehicles and aircraft.
Tekno grew and formed a partnership with another Danish toymaker, H Lange, in 1949. A year later, the company created an export division, Tekno Svenska AB, and began shipping its models to the Netherlands, Germany, the US and the UK. As the company completely wound down its production of tinplate toys in the mid-1950s, the export of its diecast toys flourished. Tekno’s models of Volkswagen vans in various fleets proved especially popular.
Toymaker Kirk Production bought H Lange in 1960, and the success of Tekno’s model autos continued to grow. The 1960s was the golden age of diecast toys and models, during which British makers such as Corgi, Dinky, and Matchbox became famous the world over. Tekno’s sales peaked at over one million models per year during this decade. Approximately two-thirds of these sales were made up of exports.
Siegumfeldt, Tekno’s founder, died in 1969, and within a year, Kirk Production had begun producing the models under its own brand name. There followed a period of uncertainty in which the company was beset by financial problems, leading to it becoming insolvent in 1972. Vanmin BV, a Dutch importer of Tekno goods, then bought the Danish company.
By 1974, the company had been renamed Tekno Toys BV and relocated to Delft in the Netherlands. Its target customers were no longer children but adult collectors, and the models were more detailed as a result. To underline its focus, it dropped the ‘Toys’ from its name in 1989, and today Tekno Holland, as it is often called to differentiate it from the original Danish Tekno, is owned by the Van Buuren company and headquartered in Maasland.
Danish Tekno models unsurprisingly continue to be highly sought-after by collectors of classic diecast (see Factfile 2 for a list of classic models). These Tekno pieces, especially those in mint condition and in their original boxes, command high valuations from bidders through such houses as Vectis Auctions Ltd in England. For an idea of the current health of the Danish Tekno market, in Factfile 1 are the results of a very recent Vectis Tekno model vehicle auction of a Swiss collection (all of the models were in mint condition and in their original boxes).
It can be a serious business (and an investment) collecting these Danish jewels. However, some items in this auction closed for more modest sums, such as a shiny red No. 724 Opel Kadett in glorious condition, which sold for only 560kr. Models that don’t have their original packaging, and/or are in less than mint condition, are generally pretty affordable. And it is worth bearing in mind, both as a buyer and a seller, that models in poor condition also have a price, as there are many collectors looking for items they can lovingly restore.
Creating a collection of original Tekno models is a way to commemorate and preserve Danish workmanship. A collection such as this also honours periods of classic motoring, and the golden age of diecast toys when Tekno was a major Danish exporter, with its models famed and beloved amongst children and adults around the world.
Factfile 1 | Recent results of a Tekno vehicle auction
-No. 720 Opel Rekord: 1,773kr
-No. 723 Mercedes Benz 180: 1,680kr
-No. 810 Volvo Amazon: 2,425kr
-No. 822 Volvo PV544: 1,307kr
-No. 823 Ford Taunus 17M: 1,773kr
-No. 825 Volvo P1800: 1,587kr
-No. 827 Saab 96: 1,680kr
-No. 828 Volkswagen 1500: 1,400kr
-No. 830 Volvo Amazon Estate: 2,053kr
-No. 926 Jaguar E-Type: 1,120kr
-No. 934 Toyota 2000GT: 1,213kr
-No. 405 Volkswagen Van: 2,613kr
-No. 406 Volkswagen Pick-Up: 3,733kr
-No. 415 Ford Taunus Van: 3,173kr
Factfile 2 | Classic Tekno models
-The Volvo Viking lorry as a tanker truck, auto transporter, low loader, dairy truck, removals van, timber carrier, tipper and more.
-The Volvo Express lorry, both articulated and standard, ranging from fire engines to refrigerated trucks to dropside lorries and fresh-produce trucks.
-The Volvo F88 and F89 transport lorries, plus various Volvo buses.
-Scania-Vabis cement trucks, covered dropside transport lorries and tankers.
-The Scania CR-76 bus, some of which have labels advertising BP or Jolly Cola.
-Scandinavian auto models include the Saab 93 and 96, the Volvo PV544, Amazon, Amazon estate car, the P1800 (remember the car Roger Moore drove in ‘The Saint'?), the 144, and 164.
-Other auto models include NSU, Alfa Romeo, Austin, Mercedes, Opel, MG, Ford, Jaguar and others.
-Vespa scooters, some with sidecars, as well as Indian and Harley Davidson motorbikes.
-Airliner models, such as a Caravelle in Swissair or SAS livery, the DC-7C propeller airliner, jet fighters including the F-100 Super Sabre, and WWII bombers and fighters.
-A range of 1:87th scale plastic autos, dollhouse furniture, figures and games.
-Building sets akin to those of Meccano. Marketed as Ingeniørsæt, or ‘Engineering Set’, they feature green flatiron pieces, orange pulleys and wheels, and brass nuts and bolts. Some sets come with electric motors and batteries to provide power to various creations that could be constructed from the set.