The Antique Toy Archive

Money in Toys – Jeffrey Levy antique toys

Antiques Collecting, March 1990. By Tricia Topping

In this computer, space-age society of ours, the world of antique toyland has become one of the boom markets of the late eighties, increasing at the rate of twenty-five percent on return per annum. With all signs suggesting that this trend is set to continue space in the nineties.

Every adult, at some time in his or her life, has played with toys, from tinplate to plastic; from early clockwork trains to the computerized, complex gifts for today’s children.

Toy collecting has been around for centuries, and it is often adults who dream up, commission and buy the most elaborate of toys under the guise of gifts for the children. None more so than the royal families of Europe, who for hundreds of years led the way in commissioning the most ingenious mechanical working toys.

Way back in the 1660s, the Dauphin of France had a group of one hundred toy soldiers made in Nuremburg, Germany, By the famous firm of Gottfried Hautsch. These toys could march and shoot and took some four years to manufacture.

The British company of Mint & Boxed, which specializes in “toys for boys” offers an example of the way toys can give an insight into history. The Marklin gauge III Tsar Nicholas train was presented to the Russian Royal Family on the occasion of their state visit to Paris in 1995. On their return to Russia, weighed down with so many presents and gifts, the Royal Family left the train with the majordomo of their hotel. When he died, his granddaughter discovered the train in his country house. She contacted the British company, who established authenticity, and within twenty-four hours the locomotive and the previously unknown photograph of the Tsar and Tsarevech holding the train was available for sale in the Mint & Boxed London gallery.

The train is a perfect example of the criteria for a top-quality investment in toys. First, it has authenticity and provenance. Secondly, it is unique and from a reputable and well-known manufacturer, and, finally, it is in mint condition.

Toys have always been collectible items, and the sharp fall seen in the world stock markets in October 1987 saw investors looking for an alternative investment and a market with growth potential. Early investors with vision have studied and purchased in this unrecognized market to their benefit. One off these canny investors was Jeffrey Levy, the founder and owner of Mint & Boxed, who did not start collecting seriously until 1978 and now has the largest antique toy business in the world. During the past few years the price of toys has escalated, and more and more collectors realize the value and scarcity of such items and their investment potential.

Toys were designed to amuse and entertain or as “child-size” versions of the real thing. However, the same rules apply to investing in and collecting toys as to any other fine-art market: quality and authenticity. There are very few toys around which have stood the test of time. The mechanisms in the older mechanical toys were delicate and not designed for rough handling, and, as in today’s world, toys had a limited life in the hands of a child.

The value of antique toys grew slowly in the early eighties, but the last twelve months have seen a period of accelerated growth and demand. Prices achieved at leading auction houses and international toy conventions indicate a rise of over twenty percent and, in some cases, twenty-five percent. Shrewd investors, experienced in buying in other fine-art markets, purchase the perfect toy in excellent condition, and the gap between poor quality and perfect toys is widening considerably.

One of the best ways to increase a portfolio is to buy from a reputable dealer who knows his subjects well and have made it his business to research and find highly unusual and collectible toys from all over the world.

Mint & Boxed, based in London, England, is such a company, owner-run by dedicated and knowledgeable “toy man” Jeffrey Levy, and staffed by a team of experienced buyers and experts with a wealth of information at their fingertips. The company, which started in 1983, has built a reputation as the leading company specializing in antique and collectible toys. The Mint & Boxed Company has among its clients a variety of investors, museums and institutional and private collectors. Operating internationally, the company has a multi-million dollar turnover and is the largest dealer of antique and collectible toys in the world.

Their gallery and showrooms in Edgware, Middlesex, some eight miles from London, houses the largest and most comprehensive selection of antique collectible toys, probably the most expensive toy town in the world. In these tranquil and rarefied surroundings, you will find only the best in toys. Soft toys, such as dolls and teddy bears, are excluded, and the company concentrates on mechanical toys, tinplate toys, trains, boats and diecast toys.

At Mint & Boxed, one never finds damaged or broken toys; all toys are in prime condition. The majority of toys in the cabinets are rare collectors’ pieces. The team scours the world in search of toys which can add to their illustrious clients’ portfolios. Mint & Boxed General Manager Guy Bromley, claims that his company knows the sources of most of the unusual, rare and special toys worldwide.

The company leaves no stone unturned in its search for toys of the right caliber. Their staff attend all the major European toy conventions, and you will find a Mint & Boxed expert at all the major events in America. There is a full-time representative based in North America.

The company, in its trading history, has built up a formidable reputation for buying and selling toys. Through their hands have passed the famous Ottenheimer Collection of early tinplate toys, the Peter Bartok Collection and many others. To give an example, a magnificent antique toy boat, measuring forty-eight inches in length, the Jmperator, manufactured by the German company Marklin in 1885, was recently sold to a collector an investor based in the United States fir the world-record sum of $200,000. The collector not only received a boat in perfect working condition, but also has the pleasure of owning a unique toy made to special order for the Crown Prince of Austria, a member of the Hapsburg Royal Family, which was intended as a gift for his children.

Buying a collector’s piece such as the magnificent boat, Jmperator, from Mint & Boxed brings with it the full provenance of the toy, giving the investor the opportunity to own a little piece of history.

You can readily see that expertise is essential in the fun investment business of toy collecting.

Very few people know more about the tinplate toy market than the owner of Mint & Boxed, Jeffrey Levy, who is an acknowledged expert.

Levy explained to us that the center for tinplate toy production was Nuremburg, Germany, as the Oauphin of France discovered— remember, he bought his toy soldiers from there. Theodore Marklin, one of the first well-known German toy manufacturers, started business in 1859. The toys he manufactured were mainly ships, merry-go-rounds, zeppelins and humming tops. Later he moved into the production of model toy trains. Bing and Leahmann both rank high in reputation for German toy manufacturers from the 1890s, and their products are always in great demand.

While the Germans were dominating the market around the 1880s, other countries were developing toys for their own markets. The American toy manufacturer of Althof, Bergmann & co. was responsible for a delightful hoop toy. Fastened to the inside of a hoop was a clockwork figure which, when moved, would propel the hoop along the ground.

It was during this period that trademark protection covered most of the European toy markets, and as in all fine collectors’ pieces, such as porcelain and silver, the manufacturers’ trademarks began to show on their toys.

Production of each toy was often limited to a few pieces, and in some cases an individual toy would be commissioned. These special toys were often hand painted, with elaborate, highly detailed, miniaturized features. The most widely sought after toys were manufactured prior to 1914.

Our grandfathers loved commemorating special events; Lindbergh’s transatlantic flight and the South Pole Expedition of Amundsen became subjects for toys. Highly detailed models were made of early aeroplanes, ships and submarines. A fine example from the leading German toy manufacturers of the early century is currently for sale through Mint & Boxed. The magnificent piece is a very rare Marklin Kronprinz Wilhelm liner. Manufactured in 1909, its namesake was the largest liner of its day in the world.

In the period between 1918 and 1939 a number of European firms produced noteworthy toys. These were the years that the famous English firm of Hornby produced Dinky toys, and when Italian and American companies entered the market with a great variety of unusual toys, including Pinocchio on a Tricycle and the ever-popular Peck-Peck bird which pecked the ground when wound up. The end of the Second World War saw the importance of Germany as a major toy-making market in decline, only to be superseded by Japan, who in the 1960s exported large quantities of colorful tinplate novelty toys which today are escalating in value.

Jeffrey Levy commented that early toys must constitute an important part of any investment portfolio. Rare boxed items, such as a Lehamnn “Miss Blondin” dating back to 1899, can only increase in value.

A collection of trains, while being a valuable and necessary addition to a collection, is also great fun. Early toys give an insight into life and leisure during the early part of the century, none more so than trains. Every investment portfolio must contain a train or two. Other toys transcend continents, but there is quite a difference between American trains and the imported ones.

In Bridgeport, Connecticut, the firm of George W. Brown & Co. produced clockwork cast-iron trains in 1870 and went on to produce locomotives with bells, cow catchers and headlights. Again, in the early years (1860 to 1914), the famous names of Marklin, Bing and Carette dominated the European market. The Germans can take full credit for inventing the figure-eight track and the numerical system of gauges. After inventing the famous “Meccano” in 1901, the English firm of Hornby went on to produce their first clockwork “O”-gauge train in 1920. Later on, Hornby began to specialize in smaller gauges. Lionel, based in New York, was the last to offer toy trains in gauge “O.” There is no doubt that trains add to and enhance a toy collection.

The final sector of investment and pleasure purchases is in the diecast toy market. Motor cars from Model-T fords to Rolls Royces have been used in the diecast toy market. Leaders in the manufacture of toy cars were the famous Dinky Toys, manufactured in Liverpool from the year 1933 by Frank Hornby, who also invented Meccano, the world-famous children’s construction sets.

A multitude of designs spewed forth, from sport and saloon cars to commercial trucks and vans, including that toy with special attraction for children, the fire engine. Examples of these toys, according to Jeffrey Levy, are really only collectible in “Mint & Boxed” condition. In other words, for the toy to become collectible, it must be in “mint condition,” with the original box being an essential part of the item.

In order to establish a good collection, time, research and effort are required. Research into the various trademarks and toy-producing companies can, however, be time consuming, as many of them no longer exist.

Mint & Boxed produces a glossy, well-illustrated catalog twice a year, which is available from their London office, reflecting a small selection of the toys in stock. There are full-color photographs of the early, very rare pieces through to the smaller, later toys suitable for a young collector just starting in the market. Most importantly, Mint & Boxed guarantees the authenticity of all pieces position, as the leader in the field, to give helpful, knowledgeable advice on building up the right portfolio for pleasure and a high return on one’s investment. This is one area where making money can be fun.


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