The Antique Toy Archive

Jeffrey Levy’s World of Toys

Antique and Collectors, Aug. 1987. By Jack Tempest

The last few years have witnessed a continuing appreciation of the value of old toys, especially the ones produced at the turn-of-the-century. These are today’s classical toys which are particularly south after by serious toy collectors from all over the world to fill the gaps in their ever increasing collections and, possibly, to revive nostalgic memories of long gone childhood days.

It is something of a miracle that so many of these bygone playthings have survived the years, avoiding the careless attentions of their original juvenile owners and, when they had outgrown their fullness, they equally devastating threat of the custom of spring cleaning – that annual house hold ritual which must have seen many a toy off on its final lap to the refuse destructor! Add to this the number of items which must have been destroyed by the ravages of two world wars – is it any wonder that these wonderful examples of bygone craftsmanship are held in such esteem in our modern world of plastics and micro-technology?

It is not just the turn-of-the-century tin toys which are collectables, there are examples from the 1930’s and the post-World War II years which are now sought after by collectors, diecast models as well as the ones made from tinplate. Collectors specialize in differing areas according to their tastes and interests and many, for example, are attracted by the wonderful tin toys which the Japanese produced in quantity in the 1950-70’s. Many of these are equally as well designed and produced as their pre-war counterparts from the best of the German toy manufacturers, such as the range of Japanese produced American-Style automobiles of that period, now hard to find and continually escalating in value.

One of the world’s leading dealers in these rare and desirable toys is Jeffrey Levy who operates his thriving international business from his showrooms in London. Because he realized the importance of old toys existing in pristine condition he decided to concentrate on trading only in perfect examples. Originally he was a collector of diecast models, the famous “Dinky toys” being his leading specialty. From collecting he moved into dealing and gradually built up a list of international contacts, relying on mail order to conduct much of his business. “Mint and boxed” is the collector’s description of the best possible example of a diecast model, one that exists in the perfect state it would have been on the day it was first purchased, and complete with its original carton. He chose the name “Mint & Boxed” for his business and dealt only in items of his quality for very special reason. Many mail order dealers issued lists of models in varying degrees of condition and the vendor’s description of, say, “slightly chipped”, may not agree with the distant purchaser’s idea of this particular classification. Jeffrey reasoned that the best approach to the problem would be to concentrate on nothing but the best quality – “Mint & Boxed” meant what it said, without any argument!

Four years ago Jeffrey Levy found it necessary to find accommodation for his rapidly increasing stock – by now he had become a seasoned world traveller attending toy fairs on the Continent of Europe and in the United States of America, where he has many clients. He also travelled widely to other countries in search of new stock and buying up collections. The premises he moved to in London Offered showroom, office, and warehouse facilities and is now operated by a staff of four who attend to the retail, mail order, and clerical aspects of the busy business. The showrooms are packed with a great and ever-changing variety of wonderful toys, all examples of the world’s finest tinplate and diecast models. Jeffrey nowadays adds an increasing number of choice tinplate items to a display which was once originally dominated by diecast pieces.

Though the diecast models still play an important part in the “Mint & Boxed” concern the firm is finding an ever-growing demand for tinplate toys, particularly the earlier products of the leading German toy manufacturers. The rising values of these rarities have attracted the attention of various commercial bodies, such as pension fund officials who recognized their investment potential. Museums, too, from different countries, come to “Mint & Boxed” for rare and elusive items to add to their collections and they are invariably able to find the particular example which they seek. If “Mint & Boxed” are not able to supply the piece, or, pieces, immediately then their extensive computerized filling system will help to locate a source somewhere in the world. Obviously, unlike in the normal retail trade, there is no possibility whatsoever of just sending off an order to a wholesale warehouse!

Jeffrey Levy is keen to uphold the highest of business principles and all items are sold on a money-back guarantee should the purchaser be dissatisfied in any way with the toy he receives. Thus the client is given the fullest confidence in the firm and the goods they so describe, particularly when making postal purchases. Jeffrey does prefer conducting business ‘face to face’ and believes strongly in personal contact with his clients but, with serious toy collectors being scattered world-wide, this is obviously not always a possibility. Whenever in the world the collector lives he, or she, can keep up-to-date with the selection of toys in stock through the comprehensive, colour illustrated, catalogue the firm publishes regularly.

Toy collecting is, today, quite a fashionable hobby which has achieved its popularly only relatively recently. In the 1930-40’s toys and dolls were not particularly collectable items generally and the wide interest in them came about with the nostalgia boom of the 1960’s when a changing world turned many of our everyday artefacts into threatened spices.

Chasing the ‘new antique’ became a popular pastime which began to attach monetary values to items which had, almost overnight, been promoted from ‘junk’ to ‘desirables’. With inflation at an all-time high in the U.K. many people realized that it was better to invest in the new collectables than put their money in a bank! It was much easier to unearth bargained in those days – thought they still are to be discovered. Some of these items levelled off in value and actually, for a number of reasons, have not proved to be the best of investments in the long term. With toys, the story is different and their investment potential is excellent – at least, that of the older classical toys in tiptop condition. Other toys tend to appreciate in value in a less steady manner, according, perhaps, to fashions in collecting – but even here the trend tends to be steadily upwards over the years.

There are no statistics around to let us know just how many toy collectors there are in the world but, judging by the great popularity of toy fairs which are very frequently held in the countries of the Western World, the figure must be considerable. Every weekend, in the U.K. alone, there are anything from five to ten swapmeets taking place on average in various parts of the country. Important international specialist fairs are held in cities such as London, New York, and Paris with both collectors and dealers travelling thousands of miles to attend!

At one time toys rarely appeared in the sales of the larger auction houses and, when they did that were usually listed amongst the ‘curiosity’ category. It was only around ten years ago that the London auction house of Sotheby’s, for instance, began to perceive the interest in old toys. AT their first toy specialist sales in those days their yearly results averaged £50,000. Today the figure has grown to an average of £250,000! The results of recent sales, with items such as a fine example of a Marklin toy battleship realizing £19,000, must show even higher figures!

Even more up-to-date toys are witnessing an escalation in value and Jeffrey Levy pointed out that a Dinky model of a lorry displaying an advertisement for “Weetabix”, which appeared on the market in the 1950’s for under a pound was now valued at around about £1,500. Of course, it would have to be catalogued as ‘mint and boxed’!

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