Toy animals have been made out of a great many different things. The earliest would have been stone, wood or carved bone, and later they were made of ceramics. In modern times animals made of ceramic or stone are usually considered collectibles rather than toys to be played with. In the last 200 years many other materials have made their appearance.
Wood has been in use as a material for toys since ancient times. Carved animals were common during the 19th Century into the early 20th, as can be seen with many older Noah's Ark sets. The region of Erzgebirge in Germany is so well known for these carved animal toys that Erzgebirge is often used as the generic name for any such figure. Wood is still in use and is often seen as a more natural material that appeals to parents wishing to avoid the chemicals used in paints and plastics.
For companies that have used wood to make toy animals see the Category:Wood
Closely associated with wood is of course Paper. With the advent of less expensive color printing in the 19th century it became possible to make printed animals for use as toys. This could be done in a number of ways. One of the first was simply printing on a large sheet of paper and then the animal is cut out or play. When these have tabs that are folded so the figure can stand upright on it's own it is called a Stand Up. This method is commonly known to people from it's use in making paper dolls. This can be done on various weights of paper, and there were companies that produced booklets of heavier weight paper filled with people, animals, and accessories to be cut or punched out and played with. Sometimes animals were printed on a very heavy paper stock like solid core cardboard. When these were sold as toys in sets they usually included some sort of stand to hold the figure upright. Earlier stands are commonly made of wood, and occasionally metal, with the later ones of plastic. Both new booklets and heavy card animals can still be found sometimes today. This is a type that can easily be made at home and instructions can be found online.
For companies that have used paper or card to make animals see the Category:Paper
Composition is any material that was made by mixing natural fibers or materials with a binding agent. Many different companies have used this sort of material pressed into molds to create their toy animals. Example composition materials are wood flour, starch, whiting and water - used by Molded Products, and wood flour, white clay and glue - used by Elastolin. Each company had it's own formula and working methods. Often a wire armature was used in the center of the figure to provide support for legs and tails. Because composition is made with natural fibers it can contract or expand as it absorbs or loses moisture. This can cause cracking of the material, especially on figures with wire armatures. It also can lead to paint chipping and loss. Because of this the condition of a figure greatly effects it's perceived value. The rarer a figure is the more cracks and paint loss is considered acceptable for it to retain value. Another name sometimes seen is Sirocco, used to refer to a composition item that is stained and made to look like carved wood. Paper-Mache is considered a composition material as well since it's made of paper (a wood product) with glue and water.
For companies that have used composition to make toy animals see the Category:Composition
Plaster is an unusual material for toys but at least one company has used it. It is more commonly seen as a material in Nativity Creche sets and most plaster animals probably come from there. Plaster is a molded material made from gypsum also known as Plaster of Paris.
For companies that have used composition to make toy animals see the Category:Plaster
Rubber is a natural material, being a natural latex coming from tree sap. See Wikipedia:Natural Rubber for more information about where it comes from. A few companies used this material to make animals during the 1930s and into the 1940s. This was the exact same material as was used to make automotive tires at the time. It had the advantage of being bendable and difficult to break. It was typically covered with a lacquer paint layer on the outer surface. Over time it hardens up, which is where the term Hard Rubber comes from. If it has not been stored in optimal conditions it tends to warp during the hardening process leaving some animals no longer able to stand.
For companies that have used hard rubber to make toy animals see the Category:Hard Rubber
Metal has been in regular use for toy animals for over 200 years. Toy soldiers were created first but animals came along quickly after as companies tried to diversify their markets with civilian figures. Metal is a broad term encompassing figure made with smelted ores. The first mass produced soldiers made of metal are from the 1730s. When animals actually appeared is uncertain, but definitely by the 19th century. These earliest ones were made by pouring an alloy of tin and lead into a mold made from pieces of slate. This method is often called by the German name Zinnfiguren. The resulting figures are fairly flat in appearance and the style is also commonly called Flats. Because of the ease of melting this metal it was possible to make them at home, so a few companies sold molds for home use. The Zinnfiguren style is still in production today. Over time the materials available for making molds changed and eventually more fully rounded figures became common.
See the Category:Zinnfiguren for companies that have made animals in this style.
With the more rounded style figures it became possible to not only cast in solid metal but also to cast figures hollow. Hollow Casting involves adding enough metal to the mold to create the figure while leaving the center hollow. This is referred to as Slush Casting where the material is poured into the mold and allowed to cool until a shell of material forms in the mold. The remaining liquid is then poured out to leave a hollow shell. This reduced the amount of metal necessary to make a figure and made it possible to create larger hollow figures at the same cost as smaller solid ones. Most companies making metal figures during the 20th century have used hollow casting, often in combination with solid casting for smaller figures. It was first used in an industrial way for figures by Britains. The metal used for this is often commonly referred to as Lead, though it is normally not the soft pure lead. Other mixes of metals were used, with most companies probably having their own particular mix. For this reason metal figures of this type are more properly referred to as White Metal. The metals that often make up a white metal alloy are antimony, tin, lead, cadmium, bismuth, and zinc. These are all considered toxic and are not recommended these days for use by children. Figures made of white metal alloys are now considered to be for adult collectors only.
Die Casting is a metal casting process that is characterized by forcing molten metal under high pressure into a mold cavity. The mold cavity is created using two hardened tool steel dies which have been machined into shape. Solid cast white metal figures were made this way, but it could also be used for other metals. Iron is one metal that has been used to make animals via the die-casting process. It is uncommon but was used by the Grey Iron Company in the US. Aluminum is another metal that has been used in die-casting by a few different firms to make animals.
See the Category:Aluminum for companies that have used that metal.
Companies that have used white metal for hollow or die-casting can be found in the Category:Metal.
A plastic material is any of a wide range of synthetic or semi-synthetic organic solids that are moldable. Plastics are typically organic polymers of high molecular mass, but they often contain other substances. They are usually synthetic, most commonly derived from petrochemicals, but many are partially natural. For more detail on the chemical part see the Wikipedia:Plastic page. In toy animal collecting the plastic types are generally organized into classes by the tactile experience.
Celluloid is the oldest type of what we think of as plastic, dating back to 1862. It's made from a mix of nitrocellulose and camphor, plus dyes and other agents. Various animals were made in this material, typically hollow molded. Most commonly these are from Japanese and USA makers. Celluloid is both fragile and flammable though, so it was quickly overtaken by other plastics as they developed. It has a particular texture and smell that is different from later hard plastics. The next major plastic was Bakelite, a type of hard plastic that is more stable and resistant. It doesn't seem to have been used by any major toy companies for animals. Perhaps because white metal continued to be less expensive to manufacture.
Any toy animal that is made from a plastic material that is brittle and hard falls into the Hard Plastic category. The actual formations vary with old types like Tenite and newer types like polystyrene both falling into this group. The fingernail test is the best way to quickly tell if an animal can be considered a hard or soft plastic. Hard plastic has no give when pressed with a fingernail. It does not bend and a fingernail pressed hard does not go into the surface or make a mark. Good examples are Starlux, earlier Beton or Kaiyodo.
If the animal has little to no bend or flexibility, yet you can press your fingernail into the surface and/or leave a mark then it can be considered a Soft Plastic. Most Marx production was in soft plastic as well as modern companies like Schleich, Papo, and Bullyland.
Vinyl is the term used to describe plastic animals that are rubbery and can be bent then return back to their original shape. A number of companies have used vinyl for some or all production for a period of time. Auburn Rubber Company made many vinyl animals, Schleich Minis are in a vinyl, and early Marx animals were also made in vinyl. Some older types, like those made by Marx, harden up over time. They can appear like soft plastic or even hard if you are not aware of their original form.
Since these are really based on an individual value judgement not everyone is going to necessarily agree. It is pretty common for sellers to call their old animals hard plastic when really it would be considered a soft plastic by a collector, or to call a vinyl animal rubber not realizing the difference between vinyl and hard rubber as defined above.
See the Category:Plastic for companies that have used some variety of plastic to make animals.
These terms have been defined here and are used throughout the wiki in as consistent a manner as possible.