Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: I am the first to admit this year I was a bit indulgent over my birthday, and Kim nicely enabled me to a nice degree. Last weekend I covered what ended up being day two and day three of a glorious birthday week. Today, I circle back and start at the beginning. So many treasures did I acquire in this first foray, the day before my actual birthday, that it will take at least a few photo and several toy posts to fit it all in, so now I begin.
Last year on my birthday I discovered a gem of a toy store I had somehow missed, located in my own backyard, over the past several years. It is called, quite simply The Antique Toy Shop (you can visit their site here) and it is the sort of El Dorado of antique toys that I haven’t had locally in years. It’s most recent predecessors in my affection were a tiny hole in the wall operation in Greenwich, Village owned by a remarkably elderly man which was a bit too neat, very expensive and had a few too many toy soldiers to really satisfy my toy yen deeply, and another store that never quite took root, across the street from the Film Forum movie theater. However that one skewed toward somewhat later toys and I have never really been someone fishing in my own past – I like to go back further, to the earlier part of the 20th century. This recently discovered, tiny outpost is a true trove of Pictorama pleasure.
Anyway, a friend out-of-town inquired about this establishment and I looked it up. At the time it was located in a strange high-end antique mall in Manhattan’s east fifties which I had never been aware of. One summer weekend Kim and I hiked down there only to find it closed. I believe the next time I checked online I found it had moved to Chelsea and for whatever reason, it wasn’t until my birthday last year that we made the trip to one of the last antique strong holds in Chelsea, across the street from the remnants of the weekend market that used to thrive there, now a handful of vendors holding onto this last gasp, a building that houses three floors of dealers in antique clothing, jewelry and a delightful variety of other things. (A reminder of that day’s haul can be found here and here.)
As fulfilling as my online toy buying experience has been (and Pictorama readers know how, um, deeply I have supported this industry) there is nothing like a well curated collection which represents someone else’s vision and therefore introduces you to things you never knew you would love and well, need. And I do love that on the website for the The Antique Toy Shop the owner, Jean-Pol Ventugol, declares, Nothing useful, you don’t need it, you DESERVE it. For you or your beloved collector, it’s the only place of it’s kind in New York. Packed with childhood dreams from the floor to the ceiling. A man after my own heart!
Jean-Pol did not immediately recognize us when we arrived. Perhaps in years to come he will develop that sixth sense around Christmas and my February birthday, as has my toy dealing compatriot Regine Beghin in Belgium. She knows when to tempt me with prime offerings and her thoughtful greetings and emails add cheer, both personal and toy related, to each of these events annually. Anyway, last year was a mere introduction. This year we walked out pleasantly laden with toy take.
Mr. Ventugol does not exaggerate when he says his shop is packed from floor to ceiling – it quite literally is. So tightly packed is it that we stripped off our heavy down jackets and left them outside the door; I parked my shoulder bag (large enough to potentially contain my toy loot) and handbag safely on a corner of the floor in order to move as unimpeded as possible in his space and not be in danger of knocking into toys. Jean-Pol’s taste runs ever so slightly to the masculine for my own taste (he has a thing for these sort of glorious toy race cars which I can absolutely appreciate but fall outside my areas of obsession) and which takes the occasional fascinating turn toward things like early bikes. (If I ever were to purchase a bicycle I would certainly check in with him first.) His stock runs from the late 1800’s through the 1970’s, with a broad swath in the early 20th century, right where I like it.
Oddly, I have yet to purchase an actual toy cat from him – he is evidently not particular to them. As you can see, today we start out with this rather splendid Donald Duck (or as I like to think of it, a Donald Duck variation) Chein brand tin wind-up toy. Last year’s take away was a delightful felt covered wind-up pig which plays the fiddle, so the shop has broadened my horizons.
J. Chein & Co. was an American toy company started at the dawn of the 20th century and bumping along until the 1980’s. These early 20th century tin wind-up toys are what I think of as their real metier and although I don’t collect them deeply, I find the occasional one irresistible, usually for its wind-up movement. As I think I have shared before – it is the movement of tin toys that first attracted me to collecting, both wind-up and early battery toys. I am a sucker for the sputtering feet of this duck which provide his waddling walk. (I just wound him up and our cat Cookie sat up to take notice. Blackie, however and as is his tendency, remained asleep undisturbed or interested. Cookie however, is deeply interested and stares intently at me and Donald. She’s thinking – deep cat thoughts.) There is nothing like great toy movement to get my happy endorphins to kick in.
This is already a wildly meandering post so I will not go into the (rather fascinating) history of the Chein company too deeply. However a thumb nail of highlights are as follows: the company was founded in a loft in New York City, the original founder, Julius Chein died in a horseback riding accident in Central Park. His brother in-law, owner of the rival Mohawk Toys, took it over and merged the two enterprises. In addition, Chein was the producer and supplier of the early metal Cracker Jack toy prizes. (See here for a recent post on early Cracker Jack prizes, and do rest assured I have quite a future Cracker Jack post or posts in the making as they have become a new sub-genre of my collecting mania.) I also find it interesting that Woolworth’s was the later major client of Chein and as a result their financial fortunes waxed and wained along with that enterprise.
My duck is the second entry of this family to enter my collection and they are shown together below. The earlier and more beat-up variation was purchased in Europe I want to say. (A Google image search turns up a great penguin variation on the theme I will need to look out for.) I think I purchased the original Donald in a large buy of toys at a flea market in Paris several years ago. Both examples seem sport sort of strange beanies (Donald with yamaka? Why?) whose origins I am unclear on. The new fellow is in splendid condition and sports a jolly painted on cane in one feathered hand. I particularly like the fact that these toys had wind-up keys that were a permanent part of them so no fussing over potential missing keys with these. My earlier example winds and will move if held aloft, but no longer can execute his waddling walk. The new entry waddles splendidly, as duly noted by Cookie.
Kudos to you readers who have made it through a post which is much longer than original conceived! I will save the further exploits of my birthday acquisitions for tomorrow and beyond.