Today’s best buys in antique toys
Antique toys are double-barreled delights. They arouse pleasant remembrances and reflect good design. If you’re Christmas-gift shopping and are willing to spend $10 to $95, the choices are rich. Look for toys made between 1860 and 1920. Earlier ones are too hard to find; later ones, less appealing.
The examples we show are from the antique toy department of FAO Schwartz, New York.
The monkey [at right], a mechanical bank, tips its hat when a coin is dropped into the slot. The bank, made sometime after 1880, is of stamped iron — a budget substitute for heavier cast iron. You should be able to find a bank like this one for about $30.
$10 buys this toy soldier dressed in 18th-century uniform, though he’s probably a product of the 19th century, when historical models became very popular. He could as easily be a drummer in the French and Indian Wars as in the American Revolution. Aside from rare earlier examples, toy soldiers are part of a tradition begun in the 1700s. Germany made flat models; France, dimensional ones. Tin and lead alloys were used until recently. The hollow-casting technique, which made metal figures lighter and less costly, was introduced by an English manufacturer about 1890.
$30 is what you’ll pay for Autograph Authors, one of innumerable card and board games introduced after 1860. For this price you’ll receive an impressive supply of portraits of significant American authors of the 1880s. All are sure to be as enjoyable to look at now as the game was once to play. They are done in a realistic style typical of magazines of the period. An old game may not be practical for playing, but owning it provides an appealing — and amusing — interpretation of the styles of yesterday.
$70 is the price of this set of mini “bentwood” furniture. It was designed for a child to use when playing with dolls and is beautifully inconsistent in detail — a refreshing contrast to the more sophisticated work intended for adult appreciation. Besides using wood, turn-of-the-century toy furniture craftsmen occasionally used paper and metal. This set reflects the charm of life-size designs that were fashionable in rustic country cabins.
$70 is not unreasonable for a realistic ceramic baby doll from the period just after World War I. The idea of making children’s dolls dates from about 1850, but first efforts were simply small-scale versions of adult figures, extremely well-dressed. About 50 years ago, a number of sculptors took pains to determine what was characteristic of babies physically, and dolls like this one were the result. Early examples of doll figures are rarer and more costly.
$75 would be a good buy for this barnyard scene in miniature, because it shows off the wood-carver’s skills so beautifully. We picture only a portion of the set, which includes other trees and people and many more pairs of farm animals, all of which have the charm of folk art. These wood figures were a specialty of German carvers of the late 19th century, but American and Scandinavian craftsmen did similar work on occasion.
$90 is a fair price for a set of picture blocks that children played with as puzzles and also as building blocks in the 1880s. Each wood square is covered with six different picture pieces, which when put together create six city scenes. New York, Venice, London and Paris are readily identifiable, but others from the Near and Far East are not easy to recognize — or put together. The scenes — lithographs done in the spirit of such printmakers as Currier and Ives — appealed to the public’s expanding interest in color.
$95 will purchase this particularly attractive mini tea set from the mid-19th century. It duplicates both a shape and a pattern that were popular in the 1790s. The wide interest in doll houses, beginning in the late 18th century, inspired potters everywhere to produce small-scale wares. If there is a collector on your Christmas list and you have time to shop widely, you will find antique miniatures of just about every type of pottery made.
-Marvin D. Schwartz