What is Jeffrey Levy really like? The owner of London’s Mint & Boxed is young—only 33 years old—very rich, and about to open an exclusive gallery on New York’s Madison Avenue in the area known as “museum mile”. He is a devoted family man and his little time away from work is spent with his wife and his young son.
I have met Mr. Levy on a few occasions and would have to agree with his publicist who described him as the quintessential gentleman art collector. Indeed, Jeffrey’s view of fine toys as an art form and an investment have proven true. His business philosophy is basically simple—to sell the very finest toys, “Mint & Boxed.” There has always been a certain type of collector for whom a toy in pristine condition holds immeasurable value. This is the audience the Mint & Boxed caters to.
“I have always loved toys and could see their potential as a fine art form. When I first became interested, this particular hobby was all over the place and in needed someone to bring order and credibility, which I like to think I have done,” says Jeffrey.
In seven years he has parlayed a sizeable inheritance (he’s not telling how much) into the world’s most prestigious toy business, so much so that a toy from Mint & Boxed requires no other provenance. Twice a year Mint & Boxed issues a beautiful full color catalog that has become “the wish book” for collectors. This year’s Summer 1990 catalog included among its offerings a 1895 Marklin diorama landscape with a fort and clockwork gauge O circular railway. Exquisitely hand-painted, it features a water reservoir housed beneath the tin fort. This feeds a fountain at the edge of the lake, a flag indicating the water level. Selling price is £85,000. Happily there are toys for discriminating collectors with smaller pocketbooks. One might consider a Bandai (Japanese) model of a Triumph TR 3 in mint condition with its original box for £650, or the charming flotilla of tiny German gunboats dating from 1890 to 1900 that is priced at £6,700. A large portion of the catalog is devoted to die-cast toys such as Dinky and Corgi, these appealing primarily to the European market. “I still enjoy catering to the less expensive toy market as I have never forgotten the roots of the business,” says Jeffrey.
Concerning the investment potential of toys, Jeffrey told us, “Although toys across the whole range have seen a very significant increase in recent years, I think the finest tinplate automotive toys and boats have experienced the biggest rise in value. Perhaps the best investments for the collector lie in early tinplate toys from the classic German manufacturers such as Marklin and Bing.”
Jeffrey declined to furnish us with any details of his wealthiest clients but he did state that the turnaround time on the expensive European tinplate toys is from three to twelve months. A large percentage of his business is conducted by mail order as a result of his catalogs. His reputation has established his fairness and he has clients the world over who rely on his judgment.
Jeffrey recently made headlines with the purchase of Alexander Acevedo’s (the owner of New York’s Alexander Gallery) toy collection. Comprising over 1,000 toys, the retail value is estimated to be in excess of $15 million. The collection will be offered at their London location as well as the new three-story gallery to open in New York this September. Plans are also underway for a hardcover toy “art” book for world-wide distribution.
According to Vern Chamberlain who will run the New York gallery as Vice President of U.S. operations, they expect the U.S. market to be quite different from the European toy market. Approximately 90% of the New York gallery will contain tin toys, the remaining 10% will probably be cast iron. “With our extensive investment and acquisition of the best known collection of early American hand-painted tin toys, we will generate interest and appreciation worldwide. In addition, the sophistication of the European tin toy will become more apparent in the U.S. We expect to bring the burgeoning field of antique toy collection to a broad new audience that will include not only collectors, but interior designers, architects, museum and corporate curators.”
Vern and his family moved from his home in Canada to a large, c. 1795 colonial home in Connecticut. He has been associated with Jeffrey for some time, in fact, setting the world record for Mint & Boxed on the 1885 Marklin “Jmperator” River boat at $200,000. Vern describes himself as a workaholic with total involvement in the toy world, his greatest pleasure being traveling throughout the world searching for antique toys. A collector himself, Vern wisely buys in an unrelated area, American and Canadian advertising.
A new face at Mint & Boxed, but now new to serious collectors, is Eric Alberta, formerly the head of the Christie’s East toy Department. Eric turned around that auction house’s flagging collectibles department, making it a serious contender for the nation’s best. As of June 22, Eric has been serving as the North America General Manager for Mint & Boxed.
At the time of this writing, plans have not been finalized for the gallery’s autumn opening September 13. Two New York public relations firms are coordinating the festivities for the exclusive “invitation only” party.
While Mint & Boxed is certainly not the first toy gallery to set up shop on Madison Avenue, their presence will undoubtedly be the most visible. True to form, Jeffrey Levy does nothing in a small way. The new, U.S. Mint & Boxed, headquarters for toy connoisseurs, is nearly upon us. The question is: will toy collecting ever be the same?