c.1925 Borgfeldt, "Nifty" Press Lever Ferris Wheel

c.1925 Borgfeldt,

Over the years there have been several specific toys that I've never been able to find; at least not in high grade condition. One of them is Borgfeldt's "Nifty" tin litho Ferris wheel. 

Although it was Chein's earliest tin litho Ferris Wheel toy, the company was in effect, only the subcontracted manufacturer. They had produced the toy for Borgfeldt who sold it under their "Nifty" trademark. In less than a decade however, Chein became both manufacturer and seller substituting a clockwork mechanism for the chain drive and radically altering the lithography. It was successfully marketed in several versions for the next 30+ years. In effect, this made the Borgfeldt "Nifty" wheel not only different in terms of lithography and action, but it also become THE earliest and most difficult version to find. 

I've seen probably less than six Borgfeldt "Nifty" Ferris Wheels and that includes several that were incomplete; but, this example by far grades the highest. It's condition is Excellent and it works beautifully. It's all original, complete, and hasn't any repairs. I've never seen a box for this toy, nor do I know if one was actually produced. 

At first glance it may look like Chein's classic Hercules Ferris Wheel toy, but there are many significant differences. I've shown side by side comparisons below of the Nifty toy versus Chein's c.1933 and c.1958 versions. In addition, Chein also produced a Disney version, as well as a 4-spoke model. It's interesting that the size between versions are identical. This was due to, of course, use of the same metal stamping machine by Chein for all versions of the toy. 

The most dramatic difference is in the way it works. It's actually chain driven; similar to a bicycle wheel. The spring wound motor is cocked by pressing down on the large lever located near the base. As it rotates it simultaneously produces a repetitive musical plinking sound using a simple 6-note scale. This was dropped in later Chein versions which had a ringing bell in the center hub.

And then there's the lithography. The only similarity between the Nifty and Chein toys are the images of the children on the sides of the cars. Everything else including the car interiors and front and rear panels are different. Of course the most noticeable difference is the smiling, winking face in the center hub. No other version has it. The trademark name "Nifty" appears just below the face. Chein's toy used their "Hercules" trademark. 

Chein however did include their logo which was one of their earliest. It's lithoed onto the lower right corner of the short lever panel (see below). On subsequent versions it appears on the wide panel upper right girder near the base. 

The lithographed images around the base are also different, but at the same time also similar. Chein copied the basic graphic concept, but distinctly modified the appearance (see below). In general the Nifty toy is much more detailed and includes many more children and animals. An African-American kid was also included. The price for tickets is noted.  The shorter side panels were lithographed with a 5 cent entry into the freak show and included the names of the three exterior participants; "ng(?) Tom", "Tiny", and "Jocko" (the Monkey Boy). Chein subsequently dropped the names.

And of course the colors were significantly changed. Only the Ferris Wheel rings remained the same color. Most notable is the base which is solid lime green. Chein's versions are all mosaic yellows and reds.

The J. Chein Collectors Guide written by Jaffe does not include a photograph or mention the existence of this toy. It does however explain the relationship between Borgfeldt and Chein. Many thanks to Mr. Jaffe whose photographs of the Chein varieties I used to compare with the "Nifty" wheel.

Size: 16½" tall. 11" diameter wheel.

Sold: Feb. 2012

Price Sold: $ 2096


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Subject: c.1925 Borgfeldt, "Nifty" Press Lever Ferris Wheel

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