The Antique Toy Archive

Playing with riches

The lucrative market for old toys is growing
The Sunday Times, 18 February 1990.
By Ian Dunning

TINPLATE TRAMS, diecast cars, teddies and other toys are continuing to improve their investment potential.

Toy Collecting is a pleasurable pursuit and antique and junk shops usually have some interesting items. Antique markets such as Grays, in Davies Mews behind London’s Bond Street station, are good hunting grounds.

Jeffrey Levy

The connoisseur will probably seek out the work of the great 19th-century German toymakers, including Hess, Märklin, Bing, Gunthermann, Lehmann, and Carette.

A dealer at the top end of the metal toy business in Britain is Mint & Boxed

of London. The firm was; formed in 1983 by Jeffrey Levy. Wanting to add to his own childhood collection of diecast toys, he advertised for others and was surprised at the number of replies offering to buy rather than sell. He decided that he had the nucleus of a business and took the plunge.

His first year’s turnover was £300,000. This year, to June 1990, it will exceed £10m. Levy has agents in all European countries seeking out unusual and exotic toys. He recently sold a 1902 Märklin model of the Kaiser’s yacht for £95,000. And a Märklin train-set onced owned by the son of Tsar Nicholas II was sold to an American collector for £150,000.

Mint & Boxed produces two catalogues a year. Their circulation of 25,000 indicates the strength of the top end of the market.

Since the company was formed, every transaction has been put on computer. This help in the search for items for collectors, and often leads to a “very generous offer” being made for an item purchased from Mint & Boxed a few years earlier.

Because toys are so ephemeral, bashed or torn to bits in the playroom, even the most blatantly tacky mass-produced products soon become collectables.

Less than 10 years ago, it was possible to buy a decent old teddy-bear for a few pounds – even those made by Steiff, the well-known German maker. Than, helped by a growing market in America, and media exposure of the bear Aloysius in the television version of Brideshead Revisited, Bears took off.

Sotheby’s first auction of teddy-bears took place in 1982. The top price realised was £360. Last September, Sotheby’s sold a two-tone 1920 Steiff teddy to an American for £55,000 and set a world record.

The latest collectors’ fad is for novelty toys from the past 40 years, such as the Noddy cars which are believed to be the first “character” diecast vehicles. In the 1960s, Corgi entered the field with James Bond’s Aston Martin DB5. DINKY produced Lady Penelope’s car from 1960s television series Thunderbirds, followed by Chitty Chitty Bang Bang in 1968, and a Pink Panther car in 1972.

Many of these items will be coming under hammer on March 12 at Sotheby’s branch at Billingshurst, West Sussex. Estimates for lots start at £150.

Bonhams (Lots Road, Chelsea) is holding its annual spring sale of toys and dolls on March 9, which includes DINKY and Corgi toys, teddy bears, dolls with bisque heads and train-sets as well as games and puzzles. Phillips West Two (London) has a sale of dolls and toys this Wednesday, and another sale of toys on February 28. Christie’s South Kensington, has a toy sale on March 22.

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