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Dating Modern Toys
By David Holcombe
If you are lucky enough to have the boxes your toy came in, the dating can be helped by ZIP Codes and bar codes. Here's how:

5 digit ZIP codes were first recommended to companies and people by the U.S. Post Office on July 1, 1963. By 1967 these codes were required of all bulk mailers. In 1983 the Post Office instituted ZIP + 4. So if your toy's manufacturer has a ZIP code of 5 digits, it dates between 1963 and 1983. If it has a 5 digit code followed by a 4 digit code, it dates from 1983 or later.

Along with the ZIP codes came the new abbreviations for states, which is another way of dating manufacturing as being later than 1963.

Earlier, between 1943 and 1963, the largest metropolitan centers of the U.S. used a mailing system of "postal zones." These postal zones can date major manufacturing centers, such as New York City, as being in that twenty year period. If your toy has a postal zone number following the state in the address, it dates between 1943 and 1963.

Another method of dating toys is the bar code method of pricing and inventory control. These longitudinal stripes of varying widths were patented in 1952, first commercially used by the railroads of the U.S. in 1967 and had their first mass commercial application in 1974. (That first bar code was on a 10 pack of Wrigley's Juicy Fruit chewing gum!) The use of bar codes grew much more quickly after 1981, for in that year the U.S. Department of Defense required bar codes on all products sold to the U.S. military.

So if your toy's box has a bar code on it, it dates after 1974 and probably after 1981.

See how helpful it is to have those boxes?

Here are a few more quick methods: A toy marked "Made in Occupied Japan" dates from the U.S. Army's years of occupation after World War II, being 1945 - 1952.

A toy (quite rare) marked "made in Nippon" was made in Japan between 1891 and 1921, a marking system more common in Japanese porcelain of that period. After 1921 Japanese production was marked "made in Japan."

Toys marked "Made in China" or "Made in the Peoples Republic of China" most commonly date after the U.S.-China Trade Agreement of 1979. A possible exception to this would be toys purchased in Canada or another country that had legal trade with China before 1979.

A final method is one that I learned from an acquaintance in the antique trade. How often have you heard, "This came to me from my great-grandmother"? The dealer's method was to look at the seller, cut his age by half, and then add twenty-five years for each generation. ( of 40 = 20, plus 25 (parent), plus 25 (grand parent), plus 25 (great-grandmother), for a total of 95 years. This dealer swears this method works!

Does anyone else have another dating method that is applicable to toys? I would really enjoy hearing about it.

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