The Iconic Toy Monkey With Cymbals: Where It All Began

Updated January 5, 2022
1950's retro Cymbal-Playing Monkey

From Curious George to Donkey Kong, kid's entertainment has been rife with both humorous and frightening primate characters over the years. One of the first of these monkeys to really cause a lasting stir was the infamous monkey with cymbals and red eyes that would follow you across a room. The toy that brought joy and a barrel of laughs to tons of mid-century kiddies with a is now considered a collectible by toy enthusiasts and vintage lovers alike.

The First Cymbal Playing Monkey Shakes Up the Market

Introduced in the 1950s by the Japanese toy company Daishin C-K, the Musical Jolly Chimp became a huge success. The first of its kind, this eye-catching animatronic monkey could clap its cymbal-holding hands, move its lips, and pop its eyes out of its head all with the turn of a key. In the following years since its release, several toy manufacturers produced variations of the fun loving little chimp. Although the subsequent monkeys made by each different company wore distinct clothing and had different facial features, all of them clanged their cymbals to their young owner's delight.

The Musical Jolly Chimps, and most of the furry little monkeys that followed under different names, are more than percussion playing musicians. Just tap one on the head while it is banging its cymbals and watch as the mechanical monkey's eyes bulge out as he bares his teeth while screeching like a very angry monkey. In a few seconds, the chimp settles down and happily returns to his cymbal playing. However, with the distance and a lack of nostalgia for a childhood spent playing with these monkeys, many younger people believe, with just one look at this happy looking vintage toy, that it might just be the creepiest toy ever made.

Vintage mechanical monkey toy with cymbals

The Various Cymbal Playing Monkeys That Followed

Following closely behind the popularity of the Musical Jolly Chimp, other Japanese toy manufacturers such as Kuramochi Shoten and the Yano ManToy Company, as well as companies in the United States and Hong Kong, quickly began to produce their own versions of the beloved toy. There were both battery operated monkeys and wind up ones, with some designs created to sway to and fro as they happily banged their cymbals and with other, more modern versions, showing off other flip-flop moves that could capture a child's attention.

These vintage toys, although incredibly similar to each other, are known by a few different names depending on the manufacturer and time period they were released in. Several of the more popular ones include the following.

Charley Chimp

A modern iteration of the classic musical monkey is Charley the Chimp. Although the outfit that Charley the Chimp's wearing is different than the Musical Jolly Chimp's ensemble, this contemporary toy is a close replica. Configured with an incredibly similar set of moves and sounds, this toy is a go-to if you want to feel of the original but can't find one in working condition.

Magic Monkey

A newer version of the classic primate by Westminster Inc., Magic Monkey plays his cymbals while he scoots along the floor. Complete with chimp noises, this plastic faced battery operated monkey is available at various locations online, such as StockCalifornia.com.

Pepi the Tumbling Monkey With Cymbals

A contemporary of the original Musical Jolly Chimp, this cymbal playing monkey toy was created by Yano Man Toys in the 1960s. Entitled Pepi the Tumbling Monkey, this monkey plays his cymbals while doing his acrobatic feats and is quite difficult to find in good conditions online.

Clockwork Musical Monkey With Clashing Cymbals

Often sold as part of a set of three musical monkeys, these cute little wind-ups play their instruments as they sway from side to side. Made by the Clockwork Company, the toys are made of tin and feature fake fur with plastic faces, and really exude that mid-century visual appeal.

Wind-Up Circus Monkey

Not all of these monkey toys that banged cymbals to their own beat were realistically designed. In fact, this unmarked wind-up monkey from the 1950s is dressed in a circus-themed attire and has fur that's bright red.

Z Wind Ups Monkey With Cymbals Toy

A stream-lined modern take of this notorious collectible vintage toy, this translucent monkey is a small wind-up toy that marches along while playing his cymbals. A quick place to purchase this toy is at California Creations.

Where to Find a Monkey Playing Cymbals Toy Online

Vintage toys, like these cymbal playing monkeys, are readily available at consignment stores and online auction websites. Thanks to their low-prices and novelty appeal, these toys can come and go pretty frequently, so it's important to check back with whatever venue you're looking into to see if any are available. Two of the best places to visit online for these childhood favorites are eBay and Etsy.

  • eBay - Ebay is filled to the brim with all sorts of vintage toys that sellers have recently uncovered in their parent's attics or their own haphazardly packed childhood boxes. You can find these momentos for a range of prices, particularly depending on what condition you're looking to find one in, but with their constantly changing inventory, there's a high chance that you'll find what you're looking for in no time.
  • Etsy - Etsy is another seller-based ecommerce platform that is known for its vast collection of vintage goods. With thousands of sellers all featuring their own carefully curated content, there's an endless amount of inventory for you to comb through. Pro tip - sometimes you have to get crafty with the keywords you use to search for items with since their website isn't as optimized as others are for keyword search. So, if you're not finding what you're looking for, try describing it in a different way and see what comes up.
    Antique toy monkey with cymbals

A Toy to Go Bananas Over

You don't have to be a dedicated toy collector to go bananas over these iconic vintage cymbal playing monkeys. Admittedly, some may be creepier looking than others, but they all embody that yesteryear nostalgia that makes them a perfect gift for the older adults in your life.

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The Iconic Toy Monkey With Cymbals: Where It All Began