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THE SPINNING WHEEL December, 1952, page 44

Mechanical Toys at
Astronomical Prices!

When an item in an antiques shop is marked at $2,000, there is no doubt about it; even the veriest amateur knows it is a piece for the book and that it has already made news, or will make it soon. When an item brings $2,000 at public auction, whether in the country, or at one of New York's swank galleries, it is headline news for the papers.
It is not so in that world of near-antiques better known as the field of Mechanical Toys. The publicity seems to be smothered. The biggest deals are private ones, between collectors. But some ripe, rich and rare tales, all authenticated, are bubbling to the surface. For example, a perfect "Freedman" Bank recently sold for $2,500. This is neither hearsay nor invention. It happened. The bank was exchanged, not for two $1,250 banks, but for cash. The Freedman is considered the oldest of mechanical banks, dating from 1865. There are two varieties; one with the freed negro behind a table and one with the figure behind a box-like desk. Yes, in one the figure has a hair wig, in the other it is simply a cast iron poll.
The "Harlequin & Columbine" Mechanical Bank is the one most people consider the top piece in terms of desirability. Last year one of these banks changed hands for $1,500. I well remember that I practically chewed steel spikes when 4 years ago, I heard it had a record of $500. Why? Because I once thought a price of $150 ridiculous and would not pay it. The "Harlequin & Columbine" was first made in 1877. Then, there is one displaying only a single player, kicking a goal. That bank sold recently for $1,400. But so much for mechanical banks. There are other mechanical toys doing high price acrobatics in the toy arena.
Take Electric Trains; the miniatures which everyone of us knows about and with which not a few of us played in the now dim past. What would you estimate as the value of an Ives electric train of 1915? Would you pay $10 for a good second-hand one? Oh, no you wouldn't! You'd pay around $200. In fact, one of them has just been sold for $350 and another pair at $225 each. Maybe you'd like a Buckman steamboat, a side wheeler, or a live steam locomotive, or a steam fire engine that will pump hard enough to throw a tiny stream of water 20 feet. Prepare to start at $100 each, but do not expect to get them for that.
At our office we have quite a few early merchandise catalogs. We have one of Ives Toys, dated 1915. We paid $250 for it in 1947. Today we were advised it was worth a dollar a year; in other words, if it was 37 years old it was worth $37. The pages of our catalogs picturing mechanical banks are worth $10 each. Our 1914 Hubley Toy catalog is worth $25. Spring driven mechanical toys are now bringing from $10 to $50. There are collectors of Trolley Cars exclusively in this dumb-founding new phases of toy collecting. Imagine it! No news about it in the journals of the trade; no news in the general magazines of antiques, and yet the prices are equal to, or ahead, of the prices being paid for sets of Silver Resist Lustre, half-dozens of historic blue plates, Hepplewhite sideboards, Queen Anne and William & Mary sofas, and pairs of top flight Georgian and Chippendale chairs.
We think this phenomenon deserves attention; the attention of dealers everywhere; the attention of all collectors. If ever the admonitions, "Study your Stock" and "Know your Collecting" are proved as common sense it is right here in the mechanical toy situation.
There are over a million collectors in the United States. Some of them spend $25,000 a year on old automobiles. Some collect old steam powered harvesters and threshing machines. Some collect match book covers. Some collect plug tobacco tags. Then there are collectors of all sorts and kinds of playthings, and buttons, and dolls et cetera, many of the items being beyond the general editorial scope of this magazine. I've just read of the bargain of the year in New Hampshire. An old Model T Ford sold for $29. I'm betting even money that by now it has been retooled, repaired, repainted, and is in shape to compete, pricewise, with a 1952 Ford Six, complete.
What is happening now in the world of antiques has been happening for the past ten years. A new generation is collecting NEW & DIFFERENT CATEGORIES of objects. No longer does the William & Mary type sofa or the chi-chi Philadelphia highboy rule supreme. Right up there, in the high sky, stands the Freedman Bank, The Early Electric Train, and other things that weren't antiques by any standard a decade ago.

  by Eric Tomsett

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