The famous firm of Bing Brothers (Gebrüder Bing) was established in Nuremberg, Germany, in 1866, as a small distribution company for kitchenware and later toys by the brothers, Ignaz and Adolf Bing. Iganz had worked as a traveller in tinware and was aware of the marketing potential for this product. Business flourished and in 1869 the brothers decided to establish their own factory firm at Karolinenstrasse, employing 100 factory workers with more working at home. At the Bavarian State Commercial and Industrial Exposition of 1882 the firm exhibited the largest variety of goods with six thousand items listed in their catalogue including tin plate and sheet metal toys and household utensils.
Bing's first trains hit the market in the 1880s. When Märklin formalized several standards for track gauges in 1891, Bing adopted them, and added O gauge by 1895 and gauge III (2.5 inches), causing confusion as Marklin Gauge III became Bing gauge IV (3 inches). In the early 1920s, under the auspices of Bassett-Lowke, Bing introduced a still-smaller gauge, half that of '0' at 0.625 inch, which it called OO. However, Bing's OO gauge at 4 mm scale became a British standard, larger than the 3.5 mm scale on the same gauge of track favoured elsewhere.
In the early 1890s other finishing workshops were opened as well as a factory for enamelled toys at Grünhain, in Saxony, though the warehouses and administrative officers were in a main building in Nuremberg. In 1895 the firm became a limited company with Ignaz as chairman of the board. The firm was among the first in Germany to recognise the importance of good worker-management relationships and there were trade-union representatives in all their factories. The Bing brothers themselves were not involved in toy design and their interest and skill was purely administrative. Ideas for toys not only came from their inventive designers but also the shop-floor employees as well.
In 1900 the Bing brothers were said to have become the world’s largest manufacturer of toys with a range of mechanical tin toys cars, toy railways, elaborate ocean liners, dolls and their accessories, soft toys, as well as optical and kinetic toys. Production increased and toys were exported around the world. Despite the cost of shipping, Bing could undercut the local toy producers because of their skill in manufacturing and the low wages demanded by their workers. The firm’s export success, of which they could boast that their toys could be bought anywhere in the civilised world from Sudan to Alaska, was dependent on huge warehouses set up in various countries where repairs and spare parts were locally available.
The firm produced virtually every toy available to children at the time from toy steam engines, trains and cars to doll's kitchens and the finest porcelain dishes. By 1906 the firm had showrooms in Hamburg and Berlin as well as London, Paris, Milan and Amsterdam. While the toys made by Bing were both strong and durable, it was their willingness to manufacture items especially for sale in particular countries which sets them apart. They printed different names on their boats and designed toy versions of particular full-size vehicles recently introduced in various countries.
By 1912 the firm’s catalogue and price list was 550 pages long necessitating three lithography shops and four printers to produce. By this time the firm employed 2700 workers and huge factory premises had been established in Nuremberg.
The "Nuremberg Style" of manufacturing toys on steel sheets with lithographed designs that were stamped out of the metal, formed, and assembled using tabs and slots, was perfected by Bing. This manufacturing method remained in widespread use well into the 1950s, long after Bing had disappeared.
Bing produced numerous items for export which were then sold either under its own name or for other companies. Bing produced trains styled for the British market for Bassett-Lowke and A. W. Gamage, and it produced trains for the North American market, which it exported and marketed on its own. Early in the 20th century, Bing jockeyed for market share with the Ives Manufacturing Company, who did not surpass Bing in sales for good until 1910. Throughout their histories, the two companies would frequently copy one another's designs. In some instances, the two companies even used the same catalog number on their competing products. Due to cheap German labor and low shipping and duty costs, Bing was often able to undercut the prices of its U.S. competitors. By 1914, Bing had 5,000 employees. By comparison, Märklin employed 600.
World War I forced Bing out of the export market at its peak. In 1916, Ives and the A. C. Gilbert Company formed the Toy Manufacturers Association and lobbied to protect the growing U.S. toy manufacturing industry, which had grown in the absence of foreign competition. As a result, tariffs on German toys rose from 35 percent to 70 percent. Additionally, German wages rose after the war, as did shipping costs and inflation. This created an unfavorable climate for German exports. Additionally, Lionel Corporation's advertising that criticized the manufacturing methods of its competitors' trains, targeted mainly at Ives, also hurt Bing's image because Bing's methods were so similar. Bing struggled to sell through its old inventory and misjudged demand. When the market evaporated for its 1 gauge trains, it re-gauged some models to O gauge, where they looked oversized, and other models to Lionel's Standard gauge, where they looked undersized. Yet by 1921, Bing had re-established itself in the U.S. market, largely through sales through catalog retailer Sears, Roebuck & Co. However, by 1925, Lionel was also selling through Sears, and Bing quickly found itself squeezed out of the market. Bing attempted to compensate by increasing its presence in Canada, where it competed with mixed success with American Flyer.
Ignatz Bing died in 1918 and in 1919 his son, Stefan Bing, became Director-General of the company. The value of the German Mark fell in the late 1920s, causing German toys, though of high quality, to be sold cheaply in foreign markets, a move that became catastrophic for some Nuremberg companies, including Bing. In 1927 Stephan Bing left the firm due to serious differences of opinion with the supervisory board. The Bing family then severed their family connection with the firm although it did keep trading using the Bing name. Initially going to work with another Nuremberg-based toy firm, the Bings, who were Jewish, soon fled to England because of the rise of Adolf Hitler. The firm continued to suffer during the stock market crash of 1929 which affected demand and halted the creation of new lines. The decisive event was the bankruptcy of the Bing sale firm, Concentra, in 1929, requiring the original firm to meet its debts. The company began to falter and in 1932, with too much stock and few buyers, and a reduction in toy exports by two-thirds, the company ceased toy production and went into liquidation. The Bing empire was split up among a diverse group of firms including rival Nuremberg toy manufacturers Karl Bub, who purchased much of the firm’s tooling and took over the Bing train production and Fleischmann who took the toy boats.
Trademarks for Bing toys made between 1900 and 1906 bear the letter, GBN (Gebrüder Bing, Nuremberg), from 1906 until 1919 the trains featured the GBN logo enclosed in a circle while from 1919 to 1923 the circle was replaced with a square. From 1923 a sidways ‘B’ next to a ‘W’ standing for Bing Werk (Bing Works) was used.
Stephan Bing helped to start the British company Trix. Other Bing executives started the similarly-named company Trix Express.
Bing items can be identified and dated by its trademark. Items bearing the letters "GBN" (for "Gebrüder Bing Nürnberg" — "Brothers Bing Nuremberg") in a diamond date before 1923, while items bearing a sideways "B" next to a "W" (for "Bing Works") date from 1924 to 1932.
Miller, Judith and Martin (eds), “Miller’s Toys & Games Antiques Checklist”, Reed International Books Limited, London, 1995.
Richardson, Mike and Sue, “wheels:Christie’s Presents the Magical World of Automotive Toys”, Chronicle Books, San Francisco, 1999.
Franzke, Jürgen, (ed). “Tinplate Toys from Schuco, Bing, & other companies”, Schiffer Publishing Ltd, Atglen, PA, USA, 1995
King, Constance Eileen, “The Encyclopedia of Toys”, Quarto Publishing Ltd, London, 1978.
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