Tonka Employee Service and Customer Performance Awards

Tonka recognized customer and employee achievements with various awards. These awards were sort of a pat on the back for a job well done. As these limited production items are unearthed, they will be added to this section of the website along with any history of the award.

The Volkswagen Beetle would be a great find. An article in the September 1988 issue of American Toy Trucker magazine written by Tonka historian Lloyd Laumann says, "...We manufactured and distributed 86 of these gold plated toys. Eighty gold plated VW's were presented to our top 80 customers. Six gold plated VW's were presented to six of our executives. Each authentic gold plated Tonka is mounted on a walnut base with an engraved plaque with the name of either a company or individual engraved on a gold plated name plate."


1966 Customer Performance Award
1966 Customer Performance Award
1968 Customer Performance Award
1968 Customer Performance Award
Only 4 were made. From the Micah James Collection


1979 Customer Performance Award
1979 Customer Performance Award
From the Micah James Collection
1979 Service Employment Award
Rejected 1979 Customer Performance Award Van
The example above sold on eBay for $132 in early July 2014

In 1979, Tonka manufactured 100 stainless steel Mini series vans that were awarded to Tonka's top 100 customers. Unique graphics were applied and the vans were mounted on a wood base with a silver toned name plate. A special paper tag was attached to the van denoting the unique use of stainless steel. Tonka used the tooling for the model #2002 van from the Van and Camper Set but instead of using typical cold rolled steel, Tonka used 24 gauge stainless. References indicate that the first production run of 122 van wraps was rejected because excessive drag marks did not meet Tonka's quality standards. The steel stamping die was designed to work with the properties of cold rolled steel, not stainless. The two steels don't form the same way. After adjustments were made to the stamping die, a second production run was successful in producing the quantity required to assemble the vans for the performance award.

Featured above left is one of the 1979 Customer Performance Awards. Tonka didn't toss the 122 rejected stainless van wraps. They were assembled and packaged in 1979 model #1950 Custom Van packaging, including a male TONKA PLAY PEOPLE figure and stored in Tonka's historical archives. The van above right, appears to have been one of the archived vans. References note the tag was not included with the rejected vans but the example indicates otherwise. In mid July 2014, another stainless steel van in its tattered box, no male figure, sold for only $25 on eBay.

Historical references indicate "the toy used for this special was the No. 1950 custom van." While the graphics on the stainless van are very similar to the graphics found on the 1978 model #1950 Custom Van (example #1 and #2 below) the van wrap used on the 1978 and 1979 model #1950 only has the driver's and passenger's side windows. The stainless van wrap used for the award has a second pair of windows, like the van used in the model #2002 Van and Camper Set (example #3).

If you blinked, you may have missed this variation (example #4) of a black model #1950 Custom Van that was listed on eBay in early 2014. The graphics are the same as used on the stainless steel performance award. Oversight or was Tonka just using up excess inventory from the stainless van?


1978 Model #1950 Silver Van
1978 Model #1950 Silver Van
Example #1
1978 Model #1950 Black Van
1978 Model #1950 Black Van
Example #2
1978 Model #2002 Green Van
1978 Model #2002 Green Van
Example #3
1978 Model #1950 Black Van Variation
1978 Model #1950 Black Van Variation Example #4

A note on the historical archives: The archives are no more. After the Mound factory closed in 1983, Tonka continued to maintain their corporate offices in Mound, including the historical archives. Sometime prior to the 1991 Hasbro buyout, toys in the archives found new homes. Active Tonka corporate personnel and some retired, were given first dibs on toys. Many of the toys that did not find homes in Minnesota were shipped to the factory in El Paso, Texas. There, the toys were sold through the company store to employees and the general public.

1979 Service Employment Award
1979 Service Employment Award
From the Micah James Collection


1972 Customer Performance Award
1972 Customer Performance Award
1976 Customer Performance Award
1976 Customer Performance Award


Award? Made of Brass
Award? Brass? Gold Plated? Gold Washed? Help Identify
1974 Marble Paper Weight
1974 Marble Paper Weight

The white Italian marble paperweight was distributed at Toy Fair in New York City in 1974. Only 300 were manufactured.



Pewter Candle Holders Service Award
Employee Retirement Gift Pewter Candle Holders
Tonka Logo On Pewter Candle Holders
Tonka Logo On Candle Holder
Chrome Plated Grader Retirement Gift
Employee Service Award "Chrome" Plated Grader.

Images And History Courtesy Mitchell Elvebak

The pewter candle holder (actually a matching pair) and the "chrome" look grader were awarded to retiring employee Alice Reilein in the early 1980's. The current owner purchased the items at an estate auction in 2012. The word "chrome" is loosely used to describe the chrome like look on the grader. The process actually used is called vacuum metalizing. Specific to the grader, silver metalizing. The metalizing process can be used on metal and plastic. It's the same process Tonka specified to be used for the bright silver like finish on the 1990 25th Anniversary Mighty Dump. The grader is mounted on a stained wood base. Missing is a plaque that was adhered to the base with Alice's name proudly displayed.

The pewter candle stick holders were made by Steiff and are part of their prestigious Williamsburg collection. Adhered to the top of each candle stick holder is a gold tone Tonka Logo.


5 Year Employee Service Award
5 Year Employee Service Award
10 Year Employee Service Award
10 Year Employee Service Award
15 Year Employee Service Award
15 Year Employee Service Award


25 Year Employee Service Award Front
25 Year Employee Service Award
Bulova Quartz Accutron Watch
25 Year Employee Service Award Back
25 Year Employee Service Award
Engraved to Francis (Frank) Whittaker 1958-1983

The employee service awards just above are thought to have been issued beginning in the mid 1960's. The single blue colored stone (sapphire) represents 5 years of service and the twin blue sapphires represent 10 years of service. The clear stone (diamond) flanked by two sapphires represents 15 years of service. Necklaces were awarded to female employees for 5, 10 and 15 years of service. Necklaces courtesy Darin Swiggett. A lapel pin or tie tac was awarded to male employees with 5 and 10 years of service and the pocket knife for 15 years. The Gerber pocket knife featured above sold on eBay for $115 USD in mid April 2014. It is not known at this time if 20 years of service was recognized though the odds are very good. For 25 years of service, a gold engraved wrist watch was awarded to male and female employees. The example featured is still owned (as of July 2014) by the original recipient, Francis (Frank) Whittaker.


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