When Jeffrey Levy was 16 and ill in bed, he was given a Dinky toy keep him amused. The toy kindled his teenage entrepreneurial instincts and led him to start a business which now turns over £25 million and has won a 1991 Queen’s Award for Exports.
“I started searching for toys from my childhood and I realised there must be a market for antique collectors’ toys.” After studying art, Levy worked in whisky exports, which gave him the chance to build toy market contacts abroad.
In 1978, the 26-year-old Levy founded the Mint & Boxed company in London. The idea caught on and prices have risen 20 to 25 per cent a year, he claims.
An average DINKY toy, such as a Hillman Minx saloon, which would have fetched £15 in 1978, now goes for as much as £280. The newest toys on Levy’s inventory are 1960s Dinkies, with TV-related themes such as Thunderbirds.
Mint & Boxed also stocks more exotic items such as a 3 ft tall, two tier carousel made in 1902 by the German firm of Marklin. One of only five made, it sells for £450,000.
Levy claims to have the world’s largest stock of antique toys, valued at £25 million. Around 90 per cent are sold abroad and the firm opened a gallery in Madison Avenue, New York in September.
The market has been relatively impervious to business cycles, says Levy. After the 1987 crash, interest in toys perked up globally, “as funds wanted safe havens”.
“I make no promises,” says Levy. “I don’t what to hype the market and cause a bubble. Look what happened in the stamp market when they tried that 10 years ago.”