Metal Toys Made between 1860 and 1940 – in painted cast iron, lithographed tin, enamelled steel and die-cast metal – are among today’s most popular collectibles. They are also increasingly expensive. This year prices skyrocket for metal cars, trucks and steam engines at two record-breaking auctions in April and June held in New Hop, pa.
The escalation is expected to continue as other important collections change hands. In May, a Madison Avenue toy dealer, Alexander Acevedo, sold his toy holdings to a British collector turned dealer, Jeffrey Levy. Mr Acevedo, who outbid almost everyone in the 1980’s acquiring American and European toys and trains, sold Mr Levy all the windups, automatons, comic-character toys and trains from his gallery and private collection. Neither buyer nor seller would reveal the price, but Mr Levy is believed to have paid Mr Acevedo several million dollars.
Many of these toys will be moved seven blocks north, to Madison Avenue street, for the opening of Mint & Boxed, the three story branch of Mr Levy shop for period toys in London.
Interviewed during a recent trip to New York, Mr Levy said he became a toy collector in the early-1970’s when he was given a bus made the year he was born. “I was recovering in the hospital from a minor operation and a friend brought me a little die-cast toy from a junk shop – a Dinky London bus from 1956,” Mr Levy said. “After that, I wanted to acquire other examples of toys I remembered from my childhood. So I started advertising internationally for toys and was amazed at the response.”
Some eight years and scores of toy purchases later, Mr Levy became a toy dealer.
“We cover all aspects of boys’ own toys from the 1840’s to after the Second World War,” Mr levy said of the New York gallery. Children will not find vintage teddy bears, dolls and dolls houses at Mint & Boxed, he said. But they will find every imaginable transportation toy, as well as toys with imperial pedigrees, including a German-made Marklin train presented to Czar Nicholas II on a trip to Paris in 1905.
The toys will range in price from a few hundred dollars to about $1 million – the price Mr Levy said a West German buyer, whose name he did not reveal, recently paid for an American fire engine hose-reeler toy, the “Charles,” dating from the 1870’s. Made from tin with cast-iron wheels by the toy maker George M. Brown, the “Charles” was sold to a Pennsylvania collector for $125,000 last December at a giant tag sale organized by Mr Acevedo. This collector resold it to My Levy for $250,000 in April.
“In 1983 we sold $600,000 to $7000,000 in toys,” Mr Levy said. “From June 1989 to June 1990 our sales were $28 million.” He attributes the surge in part to Mint & Boxed’s
catalogue, issued twice a year, and a video. Mr Levy has written and is publishing a book about the best toys produced over the last 150 years.
Noel Barrett, The Pennsylvania toy dealer who organized the auctions in New hope this spring, likened toys to other collectibles. “What is happening in the toy market is very similar to the other markets,” he said. “The pioneer collections are being sold to new collectors, and premium prices are being paid for these toys. You have a lot of new people coming in and they don’t have the patience to go around and do the footwork that people did years ago in forming these collections.”
Both veteran and neophyte collectors were out in force at the record-setting sales in New Hope. The auctions were of toys collected for more than 30 years by William and Lillian Gottschalk of Baltimore, two of the America’s foremost toy collectors Mrs. Gottschalk decided to sell the collection after the death of her husband, a retired plastics producer. She included in the auction most of the cast-iron and tin toys from her book “American Toy Cars and Trucks.” Published in 1986 by Abbeville Press, it is considered a classic in the toy-collecting field.
The extraordinary prices realized during the Gottschalk sale on April 6 and 7 surprised many, including Mr Barrett. The 715 American and European vehicles made between 1894 and 1942 brought $1.5 million – well above Mr Barrett’s expectation of, at most, $950,000. It was a record total for toy auction.
Some cars, trucks and fire engines were sold for prices six time what Mr Barret had anticipated. A case in point was the sale’s most important toy, a 1911 red-and-black limousine-taxi, its top down and a uniformed driver at the wheel. Tom Sage, a Pennsylvania collector-dealer, paid $30,000 for it, an auction record for a toy car. The presale estimate on this toy, made by S.G. Gunthermann of Nuremberg, Germany, was $4,500 to $4,800. “the man who bought it told me he had never seen another like it,” Mr Barret said.
Two other German cars made prior to World War I commanded high prices. Both, in enameled tin, were made by Bing Brothers of Nuremberg: a mustard-colored 1904 open racing car with simulated cane seats sold for $27,800, and a dark green 1911 limousine with red trim and a roof rack – a forerunner of today’s stretch limousines at 17 inches – sold for $25,300. The buyers were not identified.
Until the Gottschalk sale in April, American cast-iron vehicles had never sold a auction for more than $9,900. Remarkably, nine of the 15 toys that brought more than $10,000 at the auction were cast-iron vehicles.
The highest price, $25,000, was paid for one of the scarcer toys, a gray and black 1927 Chevrolet sedan with advertising printed on its roof, made by the Arcade Manufacturing company of Freeport, Illinois. The price set a record for a cast-iron vehicle.
At the Gottschalk sale on June 2, a steam engine toy by Marklin Brothers of Nuremberg, estimated to bring $4,500 to $5,000, was sold for $34,100, a record for such a toy. The buyer, a West German, was not identified.