Tantet & Manon: Une Fabrique de Jouets extraordinaires

During my ever continuing search for playthings with a high degree of aesthetic value I, already long ago, found out that beauty has many faces. Thank goodness I am an eclectic by birth and in my passion for originality do not accept none other guidance than beauty, design, technique and artistry. And I do not care whether it is called folk art, art, archaeology or old and antique toys, but it should satisfy one of the above mentioned criterions or a combination thereof. The following toymaker from Paris (France) however meets all these demands: “Tantet, Manon et Berton” (1879-1902) is the name (photo 1).

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Photo 1: Tantet & Manon catalogue page

Louis J. Manon has hardly reached maturity by name when he, being in the possession of a patent for a Rattle toy, settles in the Third District in Paris, near Du Temple. Here, with A. Berton as his associate, he starts in 1879 a small tin toy factory. Nearly one year later Pierre A. Tantet joins the management and from this time on all toys from this factory are marked with the three initials of the management team: “T.M.B”. The tin toys from this factory show a wide variety. Carriages and vehicles, trains and pulltoy animals. Most of them invented and designed by Tantet & Manon.

However the great success hoped for by the partners stayed away. This may be the reason that Berton became more and more a silent partner. His name finally fades away. The toy factory Tantet & Manon is from that moment in 1887 known under this name but not registered. From now on the tin toys are marked with T & M. And finally, on introduction of this label better times dawn…..!

Caused by an epochmaking innovation in the drive mechanism of Tin Toys  T& M transform at once from an average small Toy Factory into a very attractive and innovative Company. They make nice and smart Toys. The invention of the “Crémaillère” (a toothed rack) is, as any good invention, of a great simplicity. To let their toys move T & M  made, instead of a spring/cog wheel mechanism, use of a leaden fly wheel (a system by Foucault from 1851) at which the outer shaft ends pressed on the wheels of the toy. So far nothing new! Subsequently they fitted a coarse-toothed cog wheel at one side on the shaft aside the fly wheel and with this appears the invented “Crémaillère”.

This is a toothed rack with a length of about 8″-14″ (20-35 cm). This rack is inserted into the driving mechanism of the toy, guided through a rectangled duct over the cog wheel. When the rack is withdrawn from the toy the fly wheel will be driven and….look!!… the cat with the mouse will go out for a ride.

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Photo 2:  Mouse riding a cat, 1887

The simplicity of the invention makes it possible for them to put their toys in motion without too high costs of production. (refer to the patent drawings and pictures). For Tantet & Manon this resulted in a competitionfree market as long as this could last in that Age of Inventions.

“Chemin de Fer à Crémaillère”, under this title T & M sells every Toy Train. They made different trains, not only floor trains but also for on a railway, using rails with a specially designed coupling, an invention by engineer Decauville. Therefore this resulted in the name “Decauville Train”.

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Photo 3: Train Crémaillere in original box, 1887

In 1889 T & M launches a very nice model: “Train du Plaisir”, a Locomotive followed by three open panorama cars with passengers, with tin curtains at one side (refer to the patent drawings). Absolutely a milestone in the complete works of T & M.

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Photo 4: patent drawing Train Plaisier, 1889


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Photo 5: Train Crémaillere

And of course I must not neglect to mention that, shortly before, they made a thrilling racing game with a train and a station, a complex design of an amazing beauty as nearly all of  T & M’s toy designs (refer to the catalogue illustration with a.o. the “Catastrophe Train”).

And finally, just as with all nice things, objects and toy factories,  there also comes and end at the existence of Tantet & Manon. After 23 years, in 1902, they are swallowed by a big toy maker: JEP, which stands for Jouet Et Paris.  This company buys out all small toy makers in those years to give response to the competition in those days from a.o. Germany. You know to what this leads…… indeed!…to a cheaper production of a less interesting substitute of all there was before.  “Au Revoir !”… Tantet & Manon.

How are Tantet & Manon toys doing on the international market now? Is there any availability or offer?  Well…..no!  I guess that occasionally parts or fragments of T & M Trains are sold on auctions, but when this concerns cars of the “Train du Plaisir” the prices reach the order of a few thousand dollar  each. The Animals are certainly affordable, just as the Trains, but only in The Netherlands. The reason therefore is that when the “Crémaillère” is missing people suspect the mechanics to be incomplete “because the spring motor is not present”.

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Photo 6: a crawling dog

Photos: Arthur Verdoorn


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