Dear Helaine and Joe: My parents bought this sand pail for my younger brother in 1956. The outside and bottom are in good condition, but there is some rust on the inside and on the outside around the bottom. How old do you think this toy is and how much is it worth?        

Dear Helaine and Joe: My parents bought this sand pail for my younger brother in 1956. The outside and bottom are in good condition, but there is some rust on the inside and on the outside around the bottom. How old do you think this toy is and how much is it worth?         


Thank you, C.J., Palm Beach, Fla.         


Dear C.J.: It is indisputable that toys are meant to be played with, and this means that these cherished playthings tend to get damaged. The information in the letter seems to minimize the extent of the rust and damage on this piece, but the pictures reveal a much different story.         


The pictures show that the inside of this piece is rusted from top to bottom and the handle appears to be rusted as well. The outside appears to be in a little better shape, but it still has succumbed here and there to the unsightly ravages of sand and water.      


In the 1840s, tinsmiths in Meriden, Conn., began using sheets of tin to make toys. These were rather durable and the industry grew rapidly, with factories specializing in tin toys popping up not only in Connecticut but in New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania as well.       


By the 1870s, American factories were producing more than 40 million tin toys a year and demand was growing. In the late 19th century, it became possible to run sheets of metal through a lithographic press, which printed on various bright colors and a variety of images.         


The first lithographed tin toys date to about 1895, but we should emphasize that the metal used to make these items was not actually "tin" (a silvery metal that does not rust easily), but sheet steel -- a metal that rusts quite easily. The toys were then formed using presses and dies, and the sheets were joined together either with tabs or with rolled seams that were more watertight.         


The growing economy of the late 19th and early 20th centuries plus developments in transportation made leisure trips to the seashore or lakeside a popular activity for many American families. This increased the demand for beach toys, including sand pails such as the one in today's question, which were often sold with sand shovels.         


The lithographed "tin" sand pails were often decorated with appealing and colorful representations of children at play, animals, bicycles, steamships and, a bit later, airplanes and motorcars. By the 1930s and '40s, famous cartoon characters such as Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck and Snow White became prevalent themes for decorating sand pails.         


Sand pails are very collectible because they bring back fond memories of childhood and have cheerful, colorful images that are graphically interesting. They are also of interest to pop-culture collectors who love the cartoon images.         


With very few exceptions, makers of sand pails did not date their products, so we have to rely on the images to give us a clue as to how old a particular sand pail might be. If the pail was not new when given to C.J.'s brother in 1956, the images suggest this piece might be as early as the late 1930s or '40s.         


Sand pails in great condition and with famous images can bring up to $1,000. Unfortunately, the one in today's question is so rusted and the image of "Mary Had a Little Lamb" so ordinary that this pail is likely worth only $60 to $80 at retail.           


Helaine Fendelman and Joe Rosson are the authors of  "Price It Yourself" (HarperResource, $19.95). Contact them at Treasures in Your Attic, P.O. Box 18350, Knoxville, TN 37928. Email them at treasures@knology.net.