The invitation only reception at Mint & Boxed’s new Madison gallery was not the usual bill of rare for the majority of toy collectors and dealers attending. It was more like a gala Hollywood opening with celebrities and luminaries from the financial world hobnobbing with the toy crowed, in a setting resplendent with understated British Elegance.
The evening began with a cocktail party at the Madison Avenue gallery. The three floors quickly became as crowded as a popular toy show upon opening its doors. Jeffrey Levy was the most gracious of hosts.
The fund-raising auction to benefit pediatric Aids programs following the reception was the inducement for the participation of several celebrities. Richard Gere was the sole male movie personality to show; his gorgeous presence, even though it was only for a few minutes, will linger on in the minds of many female guests. Generous with her time and indulgent with numerous men who asked to be photographed with her was a very beautiful Brooke Shields, accompanied by her mother, Brooke, a representative for AmFAR (American Foundation for Aids Research), spoke briefly at the reception and later attended the toy auction at the nearby Stanhope hotel. Proceeds of the auction, which included a silent oral auction, totalled $250,000. A check payable in that amount was presented to AmFAR by Mint & Boxed.
Other notables in the crowed included Robin Leach, Susan Anton, Bianca Jagger, and Martha Plimpton. Representing the world of business and finance were Robert Forbes of the Forbes Publishing empire and Louis Rudin, acting in his capacity as Chiarman of the Association for a Better New York.
In the more familiar world of toys, there was a mixed crowed of collectors and dealers, among them Leon and Steve Weiss, Ray Haradin, Robert Lesser, Pat and Rich Gartheffner, Tom and Lori Sage, David Pressland and Hilary Kay, Antje and Hasso Wein, and Bill and Jeannie Bertoia. Also attending were Curtis Smith, Joshua Arfer, Carl Weiss and Victoria Crawford Weiss, Harry and Amanda Matelsky, Alan Green and Peter Merolo.
Several members of the Mint 7 Boxed staff were on hand, including Vernon Chamberlain, Vice President of U.S Sales and Eric Alberta, General Manager. Chamberlain will head up the base of operations here in the United States.
The new three-level gallery at Madison was formerly the site of a Benetton clothing store. In only four months time, extensive remodelling was done to the structure by interior Desings, Ltd. Of New Jersey. Designer Rona Spiegel informed me that she was officially hired in London on April 25 of this year. Toys on each of the floors are displayed in cases crafted of African mahogany; a gracious stairway of Honduran mahogany and an exquisite Walter ford crystal chandelier (originally made for the B. Altman department store) dominated the impressive entry.
Toys get progressively more expensive and rarer as you go up. Downstairs are Disney and other comic toys, robots, Lehmann, Japanese automotive and Schuco toys. The second level features trains and cast-iron toys, and the upper floor, clockwork toys, German and American tin toys and mechanical banks.
Following a short speech by Jeffrey Levy in which he stressed the growing international and cultural value of antique toys as an exciting new art form, Mathilde Krim, the founding co-chair for AmFAR took the podium, followed by Brooke Shields. Miss Shields expressed hope that those present would spend freely at the toy auction to benefit Aids research.
At approximately 8 p.m., guests left the gallery in limousines provided by Mint & boxed or walked the short distance to the nearby Stanhope hotel. More elegant food and drink were offered during the silent auction preview. Approximately thirty lots were sold by Christie auctioneer Christopher Hartop, who heads up Christie’s silver department. Mr. Hartop did an outstanding job livening up the auction proceedings.
“The World of Antique Toys” by Jeffrey Levy, a new and lavish pictorial volume published to commemorate the gallery opening, was the first lot. Signed by the author, the number on book in a limited edition of $5,000 encouraged audience participation in a round of entertaining bidding, selling for a final bid of $7,000. Other lots included a Goodwin walking doll and carriage toy which brought $2,800; a Hubley cast iron fire pumper, c. 1890, $24,000 and a Japanese Mickey Mouse Cowboy Rider with a celluloid horse for $6,500.
Earlier in the evening during an interview with Leila Dunbar, Mr Levy commented on his recent purchase of Joe Freeman’s toy restoration business, “Tin Toy Works,” an acquisition that is of concern to many dealers in German tin toys who fear that Mint & Boxed will have a virtual stranglehold on the restoration business. According to Leila, Levy expressed the opinion lost its somewhat shady reputation and became an acknowledged fact. Following that interview, he issued a formal statement through New York’s DeVries Public Relations.
“With the purchase of Tin Toy works, Mint & Boxed can now offer its customers a unique after-sales service,” stated Levy. “Customers may opt to have electric mechanisms, motors and clockwork repaired or original toy conditions restored. They will be offered the opportunity to have their toys professionally cleaned and repaired to their specifications following purchase, making the collection of authentic antique toys and even more appealing pursuit.”
Does Mint & Boxed’s arrival herald the beginning of a new era in antique toys? Many dealers we spoke to were elated at the increased prestige and exposure that they have brought to these shores, while others were openly dismayed that antique toys may be priced out of reach. Will Mint & Boxed continue to hold their own, developing new “art” buyers for toys selling at six figures and up, or will the vagaries of Madison Avenue take their toll on Levy’s seemingly endless financial resources? Only time will tell. In the meantime, he is king of the toy world, one who knows how to throw a hell of a party.