Georg Köhler (Nürnberg), Jumping Monkfish, 1955-1965.

Dreams in Tin, When Software was a Key-Loaded Spring

Penguins, from left, J. Chein & Co., Unites States, c 1940, Joustra, France, c. 1940, Great Britain, c. 1950, Joustra, France, c 1950.

J. Chein & Co., United States, c. 1960.

Duck, Unknown.


Kunsthal Rotterdam
Westzeedijk 341
+ 31 (0)10-44 00 300
Wound-Up Little Animals
December 15, 2012-March 3, 2013

Who remembers them? Those traditional wind-up tin toys that went click-click-clicking over floors or tables by themselves once you had wound them up with a key. In collaboration with the neighbouring Natuurhistorisch Museum Rotterdam, the Kunsthal Rotterdam presents Wound-Up Little Animals, an exhibition that takes a light-hearted look at the mechanical animal kingdom. Over 200 mechanical creatures ranging from penguins to crocodiles and from beetles to dragonflies can be admired at two locations; land and air creatures at the Natuurhistorisch Museum, and water creatures at the Kunsthal. Never before have so many wind-up creatures been brought together.

The tin toy industry Animals provided the inspiration for the first mechanical toys in the late 19th century; after all, planes and cars had not yet been invented and were therefore not part of the everyday street scene. It was the time of industrial revolution and emerging mass production, and toy manufacturers managed to produce small, high-quality technical toys and sell them on an international scale. Both children and adults were captivated by the exotic and multi-coloured species of creature that were the first wind-up tin toy animals. The tin toy industry developed most rapidly in Germany thanks to manufacturers such as Issmayer, Ernst Paul Lehmann and Schuco. Between approximately 1950 and 1960, Germany grew to become the stronghold of this industry. Years of success followed, but eventually the wind-up toys had to make way for their plastic successors and the little technical miracles became genuine collector's items.

The mechanical water world‘We are very proud of this exceptional collaboration between the Natuurhistorisch Museum and the Kunsthal', said Kunsthal curator Charlotte van Lingen. Curator Kees Moeliker of the Natuurhistorisch Museum is also enthusiastic: ‘We have included the wind-up creatures in our new biodiversity exhibition, placing them between their stuffed and pinned contemporaries to illustrate just how lifelike they are.' At the Kunsthal, the tin water creatures are exhibited in between ten staged photographs, and children can make their own water creatures in a specially equipped craft corner. Visitors to the exhibition can imagine themselves to be in a huge aquarium. The water creatures hang in front of the auditorium window from where the land and air creatures, made at the Natuurhistorisch Museum, can be seen on the other side. Visitors find themselves in one great world of wind-up animals.

The collection has been assembled and photographed by Sebastian Köpcke and Volker Weinhold, Berlin.


Angel Fish, Shanghai, China, c. 1950.