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Waltzing Couple distributet as a Moko Toy 1905
Kohnstam Furth, Germany 1875 - 1959 (Became part of Lesney)
Other names: Lesney Founder: Moses Kohnstam Specialty:
European distributor of German-made toys, under the Moko trademark. J. Kohnstam Ltd. Was established in London in early 1920 and helped launch Lesney Products.

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This tinplate clockwork ‘Waltzing Couple’ was made by Gϋnthermann and distributed as a Moko toy
between 1905 and the early 1910s…
MoKo: The first 80 Years…1875 to 1955
Most reader’s will know about the link that was formed by Richard Kohnstam and the Lesney duo,
Jack Odell and Leslie Smith during the early 1950s…have a look at a regular wheel box circa 1953 and
you will see that its contents was a Moko-Lesney toy…

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Who or what was Moko and why the connection with Matchbox? The most concise article on Moko
remains the one published in Collecting Matchbox Diecast Toys – the First 40 Years written by Kevin
McGimpsey and Stewart Orr in 1988. Thanks are extended to Hans and Marco Ludwig for allowing
me to show some of their wonderful toys…

The fact that the names Moko Lesney appeared on the packaging meant nothing to most people and
the majority of the customers who bought the models probably never gave the matter a second

The Moses Kohnstam era

Moko was actually the trademark of an old established firm of toy merchants M. Kohnstam & Co.
and was derived from the first two letters of the two names of the founder Moses Kohnstam.

He is thought to have originally come from Czechoslovakia. He was a kindly man who possessed
shrewd business acumen. Moses Kohnstam, who lived in Germany, noted with interest the steady
increase in the number of toy manufacturers as a result of the healthy expansion in worldwide
trading being experienced by Germany towards the end of the 19th century. Germany was beginning
to supply the world with many goods; toys represented a significant portion of this trade and there
was a good future for any enterprising businessman.

Moses Kohnstam decided not to become a manufacturer but to start in business as a wholesaler of
toys in the small town of Fuerth, (also spelt FÏ‹rth) close to the city of Nuremberg in Bavaria, where
most of the country's toy business was centred. He had reasoned correctly as it transpired that many
of the smaller firms coming into being would need someone to take care of the distribution side of
their business. The great majority of Germany's toy manufacturers had set up in and around

There were many good reasons for this, the main one being that there was an excellent
concentration of skilled workers available in the area which could be of great use in the production
of tin plate toys. Nuremberg had been for many years the home of the clock-making industry and of
manufacturers of other small items, including musical instruments. The clock-makers, in particular,
were suffering from a serious decline in trade as a result of the importation of cheap watch
mechanisms from America and the work - not entirely dissimilar - offered by the new toy factories
was very welcome.

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Kohnstam distributed a range of brass metal table lighters and look-a- like watches, compasses and

The future looked good and the production of clockwork powered tinplate toys, aided by the
opening of conveniently situated tin mines in Bavaria was to continue successfully right up to the
world trade depression of the 1920s. Business was good for Moses Kohnstam, too, as his firm could
offer the busy industrialists the combined services of advertising, wholesaling, packaging, and
distribution throughout Europe, leaving them to concentrate on production. Under the trade-name
Moko the firm became a toy factor of some importance.

On the left, a horse racing game
On the right, this Railway Time Keeper doubled up as a waterproof match holder

The business commenced in 1875 and eventually Moses Kohnstam had storage space at his offices in
Nuremberg plus all the necessary facilities to distribute toys from several of the leading
manufacturers. These toys were sometimes sold under the actual makers' name, whilst others
would be offered bearing the Moko label, with Kohnstam receiving commission from the
manufacturers on every toy sold.

As part of his work in developing the scope of his business outside Germany, Moses Kohnstam often
visited Britain where there was a great demand for toys from Germany although local manufacturers
were not too happy about the flood of German manufactured goods which were pouring into the
country, just as Japanese imports were later to do in the 1960s.

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This Austin 7 Van advertises the Moko stand at the 1954 Harrogate Toy Fair…
In 1880, Moses Kohnstam was a co-founder of the Manchester Toy Week, which became a regular
event and was welcomed by toy wholesalers from the North of England and its inauguration created
what is regarded as the forerunner of the present day Harrogate Toy Fair held every January.

By 1894 Moses Kohnstam was represented by offices in London, at 24 Milton Street EC (later EC2],
as well as in Fuerth, Milan, and Brussels. The firm's catalogues were packed with play-things of every
kind and included a vast range of toys and novelties; mouth organs, accordions and concertinas. The
consumers were eager to buy the cheap goods churned out by the continually improving mass-
production methods. Moses Kohnstam handled all classes of toys; right down to the humble tinplate
Penny Toy once sold by pavement traders and nowadays eagerly sought after by enthusiastic
collectors. The firm marketed the products of many prominent German manufacturers, including the
tinplate marvels offered by that most revered firm of German toymakers, Gebruder Marklin. The
source of some of Kohnstam's toys is not certain and many of the suppliers have not been identified,
but it is known that he received goods from such toy makers as S. GÏ‹nthermann (trademark S.G.),
Georg Mangold (trademark GAMA), Oebruder Einfalt (trademark Technofix), Adolf Schumann
(trademark A.S.) and Richards (trademark Rico).

The Flying Police Squad Car features a battery operated searchlight and was made by Richards of
Bavaria in the 1920s. A great touch is having its original Moko price label still attached…

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This classic clockwork flying toy could have been made by the likes of Lehmann…

In the 1920s and 1930s M. Kohnstam & Co. had the agencies and importers all over Europe. Here we
can see that their Belgian distributor was E. Villain & Co.

Dolls (poupees) form a large part of the Moko range in the 1920s. Top left is the clockwork Limousine
with a piston popping engine…shown in its three colour schemes in the next photograph…

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These 3 tinplate clockwork Limousines made by the Georg Mangold firm for J. Kohnstam retailed in
the U.K. at 2s. 9d (13p). One rather clever feature was the moving pistons. The Moko trade mark can
be seen on the radiator. By far, the pale blue variant is the rarest, then the pale grey…

Between the 1920s and 1930s the Moko catalogue pictured a wealth of toys and, besides an

amazing variety of tinplate playthings, there appeared boxes of lead soldiers, toy telephones, dolls'
house furniture, air rifles, miniature gardening sets, dolls' bathrooms (with electric light and running
water), toy theatres, soldier outfits for children, sparking novelties, small musical boxes, toy
gramophones, toy horse-drawn carts made from wood, rocking horses, pedal cars, toy castles, toy
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A selection of Gem Magic Lantern slides…
stoves, dolls' tea sets, miniature shops, composition miniature animals, Noah's Arks, dolls' furniture,
pewter altar ornaments, wooden sailing boats, celluloid novelty toys, novelty filled Christmas
Stockings, electric motors, pull-along soft animals, cinematographs, dolls of all sizes, toy typewriters,
toy sewing machines, lithographed figural show cards for shop window display, and even animated
novelty figures for shop windows. The terrific selection of tinplate in the Moko trade this time
included a of clockwork animated figures, many carpet toys, fire engines, aeroplanes, airships,
merry-go-rounds, toy locomotives (both clockwork and steam powered), toy boats, railway stations,
stationary steam engines with animated accessories, trams, and tin plate cars.

Many of the Moko wares shown were from well known German toy makers such as the Georg Levy
(Gama) Double Billiard Player toy; the Tipp & Co. Santa Claus car and the flywheel s by J. L. Hess.
The wholesaling of dolls and cuddly toys began around 1909 when Moses Kohnstam registered the
trademark Cupid (No. 312593) to be used to define a certain range of dolls being marketed. The
registration of a patent of a design of a baby’s bottle followed in 1910. Known as ‘Mother's Darling',
the bottle was supplied in two separate distribution in Britain and in Germany. The British version
featured a flag bearing the Moko name and the legend: ‘quiet and good, requires no nursing
attention or food'.
The J. Kohnstam era from 1914…
Moses Kohnstam died in 1912 at the age of 72 leaving three sons Julius, Willi and Emil. Business
came to a standstill with the outbreak of hostilities in 1914 and the London office was taken over by
the British Government for use as a Lord Roberts Memorial Workshop. M. Kohnstam & Co. was
wound up in the same year.

Julius had gone to England in 1890 and founded the London branch office. In 1912, immediately
after the death of his father, Julius opened a doll factory under the name Keen & Son in part of the
Milton Street premises, using imported German-made heads. One of the dolls produced was known
as 'Vera'. His supply of toys came from the head office in Fuerth and were mainly marked Moko. In
1920, he established a doll and toy manufacturing business under the name of James Garfield & Co.
which lasted until 1927.

Julius had also formed a new company, J. Kohnstam & Co. Ltd., incorporated on 31 December 1923.
This was the business that was to have a direct link with Lesney some two decades later. Typical
clockwork novelty toys imported into England by J. Kohnstam & Co. Ltd., included the teetering
Penguin Waiter who tried his best to balance a bottle of soda-water on a tray as he wobbled along,
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and the toy clockwork tinplate elephants produced by Blomer & Schuler…the inspiration behind the
Lesney Jumbo Elephant toy in the 1950s.

In 1933, Julius established a doll making company in Aylesbury, in Buckinghamshire, under the name
Dollies Ltd., in a bid not only to expand business, but to build a financially secure base for the rest of
the Kohnstam family still living in Nazi Germany. Willi and Emil stayed in Germany until 1933, at
which time the Fuerth office was closed down because of the political situation. Emil left for England
to join his brother in 1934, leaving Willi behind.

Jack Odell a co-founder of Lesney Products vividly recalls Richard Kohnstam explaining how his
family had managed to escape from Germany in the 1930s. Odell, "Emil came to England in 1934
when the problems started in Nuremberg in Germany ... The Jewish people had been thrown out of
Poland ... many of them were toy makers and they all ended up in Germany. They soon realised that
they were going to get thrown out of Germany also, so their community leaders chose several
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leading business men to go to England one of them was Emil, and under the guise of the doll factory
opened up by his brother Julius, Emil established himself in England as a toy importer. Companies in
Germany began to send him millions of toys for distribution in England and they were all bought by
him from his suppliers at half price! Part of the profit he put into the bank and so built up large
accounts. That money then bought property in London to help house many of the German Jews who
fled Germany in 1937 and 1938."

In 1935, Julius died at the age of 62 and Emil took over the running the business. Julius's only son
Richard began to form his own business in 1938 but with the war looming up he stayed with Emil at
J. Kohnstam & Co. Ltd. The business survived World War II with some difficulty but managed to stay
in existence by making and marketing simple games.

The Richard Kohnstam era…
Richard Kohnstam served in the Royal Artillery during the war and became a glider instructor, later
working in intelligence. When peace returned he gave up the idea of setting up on his own and
decided to concentrate on the marketing and distribution of diecast toys with his Uncle Emil. Emil
and Richard registered the trademark Moko in England in 1949. Richard was well-educated and he
could speak several languages fluently. He never lost the common touch.

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One of his often cited beliefs was: "The success of a product in the toy market is directly
proportional to the amount of pleasure the consumer receives, i.e. play value." Another was,
"People are more important than products and if the people behind the product are good, then the
rest will follow."

Richard's instinct was such that if he was to tell a manufacturer that he had got it wrong, there was
never an argument!

In 1946 to further expand his business interests Richard Kohnstam contacted several of the many toy
manufacturers who had set up business in the north of London, such as Charbens and Benbros. He
became interested in the new firm of Lesney Products who had commenced business in 1947.
Lesney had decided to make toys and turned to Emil and Richard Kohnstam, who at this time were
located at Clerkenwell Road in the City of London, for help and advice.

Odell, "One of the people that I used to work for in industrial castings before I made toys was
Charbens. Charles Reid and Dickey Kohnstam knew each other before the war . . . he was selling
their stuff and my name was mentioned to Kohnstam." Richard Kohnstam, because of his
background, had developed strong commercial links in Europe. He would annually visit the toy fairs
in Germany, France and Italy. At the Nuremberg Toy Fair, for example, he would have a tent
containing a huge range of toys from several British toy manufacturers, and would accept orders
from the European wholesalers. Thus began the famous Moko Lesney connection and an
understanding was reached whereby Lesney would manufacture the toys whilst Moko in the main -
(there were other rival toy factors who had good working relationships with Lesney) - would carry
out almost all the packaging, advertising, distribution, and selling of the new range. It was also
agreed that, when Kohnstam bought toys from Lesney to sell abroad, he would pay Lesney within
seven to ten days thus ensuring a good cash flow for Lesney.

By the mid 1950s J. Kohnstam & Co. Ltd., had also marketed several non-Lesney diecast toys,
including a diecast Drummer Soldier with a clockwork mechanism, a revolving Fairground Carousel, a
Crawler Bulldozer, a Crawler Tractor, a Crane, a Hayrick; and a large scale model of a Ruston Bucyrus

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One of the more valuable non-Lesney Moko toys was a superb space toy which was part of the
'Konstrukta Range’ which was similar to a Meccano construction set.

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There was no Moko involvement in the very early Lesney toys, such as the Aveling Barford Diesel
Road Roller, the Crawler, Bulldozer, the Crawler Tractor, the Soap Box Racer, and the Cement Mixer.
J. Kohnstam & Co. Ltd., however, acquired tile rights from A. Gilson to manufacture a Muffin Junior

Puppet, and Lesney were given the project), Jumbo the Elephant, the Prime Mover, Bulldozer and
the Small Coronation Coach were also Lesney toys of the early 1950s that had a Moko involvement.

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Whilst he was associated with Lesney, Richard Kohnstam continued to involve himself with other
British toy-making firms and was responsible for the launch of another character toy, Prudence the
Kitten. Amongst other Moko toys were the Farmette series and in 1955 a figure of a girl on a

The involvement with Lesney led to the "Matchbox" Series of 1953, the Major Packs of 1957 and the
Gift Sets from both ranges. It was agreed that the name Moko would be placed alongside the name
Lesney on the boxes. This enabled Moko to promote the models more confidently.

Leslie Smith, a co-founder of Lesney Products remembered Richard Kohnstam recalling his early days
in Germany to Jack Odell when Moko used to distribute little wooden dolls in matchboxes as a
novelty range of toys. This memory cemented the idea already thought of by Jack Odell of packing
the diecast miniatures into cartons designed to resemble matchboxes. Unbeknown to Smith and
Odell, Emil and Richard Kohnstam registered the trademark "Matchbox" in late 1954. This did not
please the Lesney owners when this registration was discovered.

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In 1958 Emil Kohnstam died at the age of 77, and by following year, 1959, Lesney bought out Richard
and with it, the full title to the name "Matchbox", long with the sales rights and the design
registrations. By 1961, the Moko name no longer appeared on Lesney’s cartons.

It appears that Richard Kohnstam had intended to retire from business in 1959. But he must have
decided against this as he almost immediately set himself up in a hobby import business trading as
Richard Kohnstam Ltd with the registered trademark ‘Riko’. His business was established at White
Lion Street, Islington and he immediately secured the agencies of two of Germany's leading toy
manufacturers, Marklin and Faller.

Railway Modeller March 1963: "We were interested to see on the excellent stand of Richard
Kohnstam Ltd., a wide range of continental imports, with particular emphasis on the famous range
of Marklin, Faller and Bursch products."

In 1968 he was asked by the Japanese toy making firm of Tamiya, who had taken a small stand at
the Nuremberg Toy Fair, if he would spearhead their business in Europe. He tackled the job in his
usual energetic manner - just as he had done so when working with Lesney - by filling his car boot
with samples and driving off to the Continent. His method was to select a target city, book a hotel
room, and set out his wares to display to all the likely customers he could round up in the area. He
was the ideal person for the requirements of Tamiya, knowing the business so well, and having the
necessary excellent command of foreign languages. He later bought the business of Colonel Stewart
Beattie with its well-known chain of shops that specialised in model and hobby products.

Richard Kohnstam died in 1985, the last of a line of specialist toy wholesalers. He had obviously
inherited the drive and expertise of his grandfather. There was no doubt that old Moses would have
been proud of his grandson, especially for the leading part he had played in putting the famous
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"Matchbox" Series on the path to success. Much of the history of the company's successful days
reflected the marketing guidance he had provided. He had relieved Lesney of the chores of
packaging, distribution, and advertising which allowed them to spend more money on developing
moulds for their essential new products. He had presented the firm with the idea of 'Jumbo the
Elephant', a direct copy of the popular toy from Blomer & Schuler, and was also responsible for their
creation of the popular television character toy of 'Muffin the Mule'. He had marketed for them the
extremely successful miniature 'Coronation Coach' which sold over one million pieces and, using the
well respected name of Moko, had been highly successful in the marketing of the "Matchbox" ranges
in general. He had also helped to develop the idea of matchbox style boxes in which to present the
Company's models and the use of the name "Matchbox" itself, an idea which certainly appealed to
the members of the public!

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