The time to sip champagne, cash in your portfolio and celebrate antique toys as fine art is now. Jeffrey Levy, thirty-three year old chairman of U.K.- based antique toy gallery Mint & Boxed, has crashed Manhattan in one of the most important English invasion in U.S history, placed somewhere between the Redcoats marching at Concord and the Beatles’ pilgrimage in 1964.
After a seven-year warmup in London, Levy has accelerated his quest for promoting the finest in toy artistry and at once has shaken and stirred the antique toy world by razing and raising the concept of the antique toy.
In past several months he has performed the following feats— purchased Alex Acevedo’s entire, sweet sixteen-year-old toy collection of 1,000 items, including some of the best American and European tin and cast-iron toys in the world with an estimated $15 million retail value; acquired the Charles Hose Reel, considered to be the best American tin toy in the world, for a reported $250,000; resold the Charles Hose Reel to a Western European collector for a confirmed $1 million; and added Tin Toy Works, the Pennsylvania- based toy restoration and repair company, to the Mint & Boxed toy team.
Levy has cased these accomplishments in a three-floor gallery on the corner of 84th and Madison. The New York gallery will stand as the second leg of a worldwide expansion. “London to New York is a natural progression,” Levy said. “We have developed an international clientele, and we believe that toys are a form of fine art with international interest.
“We now employ thirty-one people between London and New York, and we have plans for expansion in the Far East. We see Japan in particular being a very exciting market for us.”
Even though the Perelman and barenholtz sales sated a lot of American tin and cast-iron collectors, the belief at Mint & Boxed is that toys have come of age as fine art’s blossoming younger sister. Waiting is a slumbering clientele of public institutions, privately held companies and discerning art collectors, needing only a gentle wakeup kiss to awaken their interest.
“We are located in the heart of the famed museum mile, and we already do a lot of business with museums, many museums that have been set up in the Far East, and we have been charged with catering to their needs,” Levy said. “Corporations, yes. In fact, yesterday one of New York’s major corporate buyers came in to look for gifts for various clients of theirs, and we will be participating in the future. We can see toys appealing to a whole new set in Manhattan.
“We have got quite an entrance on Madison Avenue for the American toys, the early George Brown, cast-iron toys and penny banks,” Levy continued.
“This is a market that we believe carries enormous potential, enormous potential. Up until this year the market has just been confined to the United States, and maybe only one or two countries has become interested in American toys. Although they don’t share the same artistry or endearing features as the German toys from the late 1800s and early 1900s, they have a crudeness, a charm about them that is typically American.”
Forbes, Variety and Antique Toy World were all scanned to bring together their respective world for a three-day invitation-only grand opening bash.
Thursday night, September 14. Featured a charity auction to benefit the American Foundation for AIDs Research (AmFAR). Mint & Boxed donated eighty-two toys, with one hundred percent of the proceeds to go to AmFAR.
“The reason why we chose AmFAR as our charity is that we thought of no better way to make debut in New York than to give money to worthwhile cause linked to children,” Levy said. He presented a check for $250,000 to the organization.
Brooke Shields, noted jeans model, actress and Princeton graduate, glamorized the evening with her enthusiastic support. Shields, who has done extended work for AmFAR, made a brief speech, posed for photos for all who asked and chatted with the large crowd throughout the evening.
Shields, who collects dolls, could soon be a toy convert. “I never knew that I would be interested in toys like this,” she said. “I have never seen anything like it. This was a wonderful idea and a very special night.”
Susan Anton, Bianca Jagger and actress Martha Plimpton also appeared at the gallery, giving the large press contingent, which included “entertainment Tonight” and The New York Times, many photo opportunities.
The excitement continued Friday as half a dozen limousines carried a Who’s Who of Antique Toy Dealers/collectors to the red-carpeted entrance, many of whom wanted their presence and dealings to remain private. Passersby stared inside the first-floor windows, leaving scores of fingerprints which marked their areas of interest.
American horse-drawn and European automotive tin, mechanical banks and trains dominated the top floor. Although prices were stiffer than a bond three-olive martini (which were not being served), a number of items on both the upper floors had red “sold” tags tied to their bodies, which seemed to prove that there is upward mobility left in the market.
Sold American tin toys included an American tin Tally Ho, thirty-sic inches long, produced circa 1870, very unusual in its extensive length and use of composition figures, possibly to compete with more elaborate European counterparts. Windows are cut a la Althof Bergmann, the same lanterns are shown in the George Brown Sketchbook, and the horses look similar to many Ives toys. Because of its unique feature, it was probably special-order toy and is the only one known. Asking price: $195,000.
Also purchased by the same person was an Althof Bergmann Horse-Drawn Railroad Omnibus, twenty-one inches long, largest omnibus produced by this company, featuring ornate stencilling, fancy pinstriping and a hatted driver. Asking price: $950,000.
A single collector dominated the second floor, in which large horse-drawn cast-iron toys overwhelmed both cases and customers. An Ives oversized hose reel was sold, with two articulated galloping horses, floral-patterned hose reel, in excellent condition. It had an asking price of $25,000. Another of several purchases included a Carpenter horse-drawn fir patrol, with articulated running horses, with an asking price of $10,500. Other pieces were sold with asking prices ranging from $7,000 to $14,000.
Almost all of the first floor, with prices ranging from $500 to $15,500, remained unsold through Friday. One case was filled with Lehmann windups, boxed and unboxed. Others held less-expensive cast iron, and the front windows were filled with character toys, including a boxed Amos ‘N’ Andy taxi for $4,500, a boxed Popeye overhead Puncher for $12,000 and a Knickerbocker Mickey Cowboy Doll with hat and chaps for $4,500.
A pair of Dent factory sample tri-motor airplanes did sell. “Question Mark” and “Air Express,” both in untouched paint and both with sample tags, each had an asking price of $15,500. This would also just about buy a full-sized 1972 Cessna single-engine 172 (although it’s much more difficult to display).
Several guests agreed that Mint & Boxed’s push for toy art education would affect the hobby and business positively. “This takes toy collecting from an amateur status into a more professional one which people have got to accept”,” said David Pressland, a long-time collector and author of The Art Of The Tin Toy. “We are going to see the hobby taken to a new level, and they will have to look at the good features. More toys are going to come out, and that means that more toys will be saved. This will put your collection on a more permanent financial basis, which has to be good.”
It’s almost overwhelming, and it shows that toys have graduated,” said Frank Bruno, thirty-year comic character veteran from New Jersey. “It’s nice to see that something that was relegated to the flea market ten years ago has climbed to Madison Ave.”
“I think that it will enhance the hobby and bring to light the face that toys are somewhat the art and history of America and will bring more people to collect,” said a collector of European tin from Florida.
Levy will not rest until toys are gracing mantels, museums and corporate collections all over the world. “My goal is to make toy collection as popular as possible,” Levy said. “I want people to feel relaxed and confident about buying toys. I want people to realize that toys are an important form of fine art. They weren’t appreciated ten or fifteen years ago like they are today. Hopefully, in the next ten years they will be seriously accepted in the fine art world.”
Mint & Boxed acquires Tin Toy Works repair and restoration business
In a move designed to control the quality and identification of the restoration performed within the antique tin toy market, Jeffrey Levy has purchased the Tin Toy Works restoration and repair business, owned and operated by Joseph and Barbara Freeman, which was featured on the cover of last month’s Antique Toy World. Tin Toy Works will continue to perform tin repairs for the public, through the Mint & Boxed organization.
Phillip Bucknall, who runs Mint & Boxed operations in London, explained the rationale behind the acquisition.
“It was to bring honesty and integrity to the subject of antique toy restoration,” he said. “Obviously, with items of this age, there is deterioration due to the passage of time. Mechanisms suffer from age and stress, as well, and it is to bring discipline to the field of repair and restoration that this acquisition was made to control the appearance and the marketing of these pieces and to make sure that anybody who is involved in a purchase is aware of the face that work is being done.
“If a toy owner wishes to have a work done to one of his own pieces, he realized that he is changing a worn or fatigued original toy for a restored toy, and that is absolutely fine. That is his decision, and he has absolutely every right to make that decision. The unfortunate aspect of it is if there is a toy in the marketplace and there is an element of confusion about its stature. It is to define this status that Mint & Boxed made the acquisition of Tin Toy Works.
“By bringing it out of the closet, as it were, it will clear the air and it will be easier for people to decide what side of the line that they’re on and possibly make the field of restoration more acceptable in some people’s eyes.
“It’s a matter of personal choice, and I don’t think that one can say that there is a right or a wrong,” Bucknall added. “By making the situation clear, now, hopefully, everyone can make up his mind.”