If Britain is a nation of small shopkeepers then Hertfordshire’s Jeffrey Levy ought to be in line for the retailers’ Distinction of Merit… not to mention the Queen’s Award for Export. For Jeffrey Levy might have a small shop but his outlook on business in general and toy collecting in particular is very much on the grand scale, writes Martin Weiss.
It’s taken two and a half years for the entrepreneur extraordinaire to establish himself not so much as an antique and collectors toy dealer, but as a valuable institution on an international level: an image he had gained to a large extent with the assistance of extensive advertising campaigns both here in Great Britain and overseas, too, with particular emphasis on North America.
For with oceans of self-confidence and seemingly corresponding amounts of capital Jeffrey Levy sprung his retail business called ‘Mint & Boxed’ on the toy collecting world back in 1984 with a grand advertising launch budget. A master plan to educate the public at large look upon antique toys rather as if they might be priceless works of art and with the general aim of taking the market by the scruff of its neck and levitating it (no pun intended!) right to the top of the collecting league in general.
Even now insists Jeffrey, his one-man crusade has barely begun. “I intent to do for collectable and antique toys what Stanley Gibbons did for rare stamps and I intend to do this within the next five years and, in the process, become the acknowledged market leader in antique toys”.
“Furthermore I consider the future potential of antique toys to be enormous with phenomenal growth for many, many years to come, he added. Jeffrey Levy underscores this conviction with the announcement that not only genuine toy collectors buy from him but investment institutions as well. Pension and Investment Fund Managers, private banks and the like: organisation which, in general are not noted for knowingly backing slow horses.
And increasingly he went on important museums around the world are buying rare pieces from him “all of which is helping to enhance our reputation with those who demand perfection. Certainly we have no trouble getting our asking prices on. What are after all, very desirable collectable items.” He said.
In common with other antique toy traders at the top end of the market Jeffrey Levy continues to identify an extremely strong demand for classic toys (rare and early diecasts, German and other tinplate and pre-World War One trains to pinpoint three popular categories).
Noted in his shop recently, for example, was a Marklin Gauge I southern tank loco with 20 volt mechanism circa 1922 for £5,000; a Marklin Gauge I New York streetcar at £5,500; a Carson/Bassett-Lowke Five stem gauge 2½ inch complete with original 1913 delivery box at £12,750; a Triang large pressed steel double deck bus in Glasgow livery (usually London Transport) at £3,500 and, for the collector with no shortage of display room, a mint Austin pedal car from the early fifties in powder blue at £2,950.
And that’s not to mention literally hundreds of rare and very desirable Dinky Corgi. Spot On and other toys manufactured in more recent times, an enormous range of which is permanently on display for sale at Mint & Boxed in London.
“I feel that what I have achieved so far is to bring a discipline into the hobby that wasn’t there before, a discipline that it lacked. There are many people both in this country and aboard who are willing to invest large sums of money in antique toys and in this respect our own periodical catalogue has already come to be regarded by serious collectors as a kind of definitive price and valuation guide, a trend which goes to emphasise my position as market leader.” he added.
With turnover at Mint & Boxed now approaching the £2 million mark Jeffrey levy also points to the snowballing popularity of this quarterly catalogue subscription, which have quadrupled in the past 12 months.
Although originally aimed at the diecast collector Mint & Boxed has already diversified “by natural progression” into tinplate and, more recently, early toy trains… the latter move perhaps influenced by Jeffrey’s own personal interest in pre-World War One proprietary model locomotives. Although of much more recent origin a very attractive version of Britannia Pacific No. 7002 Geoffrey Chaucer in O-gauge by Bassett-Lowke was noted for sale just before Christmas this being £2,250 and dating from the early sixties.
Such is the excellent reputation that Mint & Boxed has now gained that toys are now sent to buyers all over the world and carefully packed parcels are shipped out daily via the firm’s sign-written van. One order alone was for a parcel of several rare pieces together valued at £41,000.
“It is definitely a sellers’ market now and I expect it to remain so,” he said. “As far as I am concerned I feel I am dealing not with toys but with pure works of art which is exactly what they are and which is why so many serious collectors now by Mint & Boxed because they like to associate themselves with my policy towards old and antique rare toys. At all times I stress to customers that they are dealing with a top professional organisation.”
“Even so,” added Jeffrey “I don’t want to give the impression that we are not interested in the small collector. Clearly not everyone can afford to pay large sums for rare old toys and on our shelves are many, many pieces at very reasonable prices and I, or my trained staff, are always pleased to welcome visitors to the shop or to deal with their enquiries over the telephone.”