Spotlight on: French collectables company Compagnie Industrielle du Jouet (CIJ)

03 June 2011
imports_CCGB_cij_53981.jpg Spotlight on: French collectables company Compagnie Industrielle du Jouet (CIJ)
James Parr takes a closer look at the history of French collectables company Compagnie Industrielle du Jouet (CIJ). ...
Spotlight on: French collectables company Compagnie Industrielle du Jouet (CIJ) Images

If you’ve a liking for French collectables, then the products of CIJ might be worthy of study.

To be fair, Compagnie Industrielle du Jouet (to give it its full moniker), isn’t that well known outside of France.

CIJ actually began manufacturing back in the early 1900s but at that time its output did not embrace miniature vehicles. That was to come later, in the 1920s, by which time CIJ was producing tinplate toys in various scales, following interest from car manufacturer Citroen.

The company’s range included cars, as would be expected, but its portfolio also listed fire engines, lorries and, believe it or not, vehicles made from flour. I can’t recall any other maker utilising flour and plaster to appease small boys!

Between 1935 and 1938 CIJ produced several models in this medium, most noteworthy the Nervasport streamlined, closed cockpit racing car. Pick one up today (if you can find an example – prices are often high) and you wouldn’t know the difference for it, too, feels cold to the touch and is just as heavy as any diecast counterpart.

Such models were quite robust and the earliest examples were fitted with metal wheels with plastic and rubber being utilised later.

One of the delights of the range is that CIJ vehicles came in different sizes and materials. Aside from the flour cars (and not too many have survived, by the way), the aforementioned tinplate was supplemented in 1950 with Zamac models in the more familiar 1/43 scale. In fact, it is CIJ’s Zamac models that tend to be the most numerous today. For non-chemists, Zamac was an alloy of zinc, aluminium, magnesium and copper, thereby deriving its trade name. This range continued in production until the mid 1960s.

Along the way CIJ bought out JRD but the takeover was to have dire consequences for the enterprises: within a couple of years, around 1967, both the names would disappear. Funnily enough, the company’s wares were predominantly sold in Japan and France but one reason for the enterprise’s failure has been put down to distribution: they were not usually found in the better class of shops.

The 1/43 range has much in common with its peers of the period, such as Solido, Dinky Toys and Corgi, and the collector can hunt down different wheels, colour variations and other discrepancies. Additionally, some vehicles were clockwork powered. As might be expected, boxes are also desirable and can effectively double the value of a model. The last gasp of manufacture saw a confusing mixing of JRD and CIJ products and some collectors today delight in turning up hybrid vehicles with odd boxes.

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However, the breadth of the range is actually quite modest: in all, there are only around 90 different castings. Predictably, subject matter is focused on French car and truck companies, predominantly Renault, and there are cars, commercial vehicles, farm machinery and army transport items to collect.

PICTURED Wooden garage (sponsored by Renault?) acts as a backdrop for period tinplate vehicles.

Some thought went into the army vehicles, without doubt. One truck mounts a large calibre gun, which actually fires, while another has a huge rocket, again fully functioning. A radar lorry includes a swivelling platform, which operates courtesy of a crank. More interesting still is the mounted searchlight, which lights up thanks to concealed batteries; but it also doubles as a morse code signaller! Again, reflecting British toymakers’ wares, CIJ produced small scale passenger aircraft, notably the Caravelle, which can be found initially in boxes and, strangely, in marked plastic bags. A very desirable set to look out for, which seldom surfaces, is the model airport which comprises a jet, an Art Deco control tower and ancillary building together with a green vinyl mat upon which is drawn a runway complex. A complete outfit might fetch £500 or more. Indeed, anything remotely of a gift set nature is highly regarded and quite scarce: CIJ produced tele-guided vehicles and playmats, for instance, which very seldom come to market.

The company also manufactured garages, of several types, all in wood: these date back to before WWII. The majority bear Renault diamond logos and advertising and there is also a Fire Station to look out for.

As mentioned, diversity was the keyword for the company also produced a small range of Matchbox/Benbros style vehicles, which come encapsulated in little transparent plastic cylinders marked with the company’s logo. These small vehicles are beautifully modelled and wondrous to behold in their distinctive packaging: some 10 different models were manufactured in all.

However, if wooden toys are more to your taste, mention should be made of the company’s games and pull-along toys. This latter category included dogs, clowns, rabbits and ducks; it also made a child-sized wooden hay trailer.

Another example is a wooden apple tree and a boy: the latter model has a moveable arm which prods, with a stick, a mechanism on the tree which then allows an apple (actually a steel ball) to drop. The object is to catch the ball bearing before it falls out of the tree. Simple yet ingenious and a good example of how wooden toys can be highly entertaining.

Finally, the most famous of all of CIJ’s models has to be its large scale clockwork Alfa P2 racing car: getting on for a hundred years old now, this masterpiece still turns up, occasionally with a box.

*This article was first published in Diecast Collector's July issue. To see which issues of Diecast Collector are available to buy online, click here

*Diecast Collector is a monthly magazine which focuses on all types of diecast models from Dinky Toys to Oxford Diecast