Two years ago, Jeffrey Levy, who is British but lived in Spain for the last 16 years until making Aliya three years ago, opened an antique toy store/gallery in Tel Aviv.
Levy has been in the antique toy business for 42 years. His shop, which displays old toys and collectibles dating from the mid-19th to mid-20th centuries, is situated in a new shopping mall on Arlosoroff Street.
As he specializes in transport items it was only natural he would choose a large blown-up photograph of a Victorian railway station as a wallpaper. Guided by interior designer Yaron Yiftach, he chose an old sepia photograph which he feels contrasts well with the colourful toys on display and gives depth to the gallery.
Photo: Uriel Messa
“When I started collecting, people thought I was mad or immature,” says Levy, “Nowadays it is taken much more seriously with the realization that there is money in antique toys.”
For Levy, toys represent a mirror to a particular epoch, giving a clue to social attitudes of the time and what were the political driving forces and what were the political driving forces of the period. Among his collection are American toys of the period which he describes as “native.”
“They were intended to stimulate children but are also full of charm, while European toys of the same period are less crude and more serious.”
He points out the out-of-scale horse drawn wagon and the boat with the funnel which is too big as examples of the crude American toys of the time.
One of the items on display – one which he doesn’t really ever want to part with – is an airplane model, made by the Jewish firm Orobr brothers before the war.
“Toy manufacturing in those days was 90% in Jewish hands,” explains Levy, “In the small towns in Germany they had been tinsmiths making pots and pans, and this easily developed into toy-making.”
With the rise of the Nazis, the Orobr family had to vacate the factory and leave.
“As an act of defiance in the last few weeks, they changed the litho-printing on the plane to include a Star of David on the fuselage and wings,” says Levy. “About 20 of these were made and it is almost poetic justice that a toy produced in such circumstances now assumes pride of place in a gallery in Tel Aviv in the homeland of the Jewish people. I have to say I really don’t want to sell it.”
Railway enthusiasts will find a German-made toy railway from the early 20th century in the gallery, complete with signals, bridges and tunnels.
“You don’t need a big space for this,” emphasizes Levy. “It can all fit on a shelf.”
Every piece was hand-made and parts can be purchased separately.
For the less technically minded there is a large selection of wooden farm animals made in Bavaria.
“These are in beautiful condition with bright colors – Although of course the lead content (in the paint) was very high in those days,” he says.
One of his very rare items is a boat designed to be pulled along or float on water.
“Not many of these survived as they were corroded by the water,” explains Levy. “This one is in wonderful condition, with guns, mast and rigging all in place – it had obviously never been in water,”
For Levy, antique toys are a serious matter.
“These are intrinsic works of art in their own right,” he says. “They have survived the test of time and represent a window into Western society of the epoch in which they were made.”