The toy collection of Malcolm Forbes was auctioned off Friday in New York City. Toy boats, mostly, glorious pre-World War I dreadnaughts, their decks festooned with flags and turrets, and triple-stacked ocean liners with clockwork mechanisms.
The sale netted millions and brought me a pang, because I liked to visit the Forbes Galleries when I was in New York, to ogle his toys. Not just fleets of whimsy, but armies of lead soldiers and the earliest Monopoly set, handmade in 1933 by the game’s inventor.
I’m a sucker for a good toy. I think my kids were the last boys on earth who actually played with lead soldiers, because I couldn’t stop myself from buying them — at FAO Schwarz downtown, at Hamleys in London — and, once you’ve bought toy soldiers, how can you not let kids play with them? To my credit, I didn’t care about wrecking their value, and am rather proud that they’re lined up on shelves in their bedrooms, proudly displaying their chips and dings and scars of battle.
Of course kids nowadays don’t want lead soldiers or fancy ships. Adults splurging for classic toys are, to a greater or lesser degree, really indulging themselves. And that’s OK. Your kids will learn to appreciate them in the fullness of time.
And if they don’t, at least you do.
When my sons were born, I bought each a Steiff teddy bear. Steiff bears, made of mohair, are not the cuddliest bears — they’re hard, with arms and legs that move. I bought them because my father went to Germany on business in 1962 and brought home a suitcase jammed with lovely, colorful Steiff toys — a green tortoise, an orange lobster, a brown squirrel, lots of birds.
They were a bargain, then. They’re not a bargain anymore. The teddy bear — a placid, light brown fellow — cost $160, and that was 15 years ago. My wife, discovering what I paid, was in the midst of her “Are you out of your MIND?!” lecture when I deflated her with the most effective retort I’ve managed in 20 years of marriage.
“When you see that bear in your grandchild’s crib,” I observed, “it’ll seem a bargain.” Husband: 1; Wife: 0.
I’ve just dug the bear out from the bottom of my son’s closet, along with that 50-year-old Steiff lobster. They both look new.
And — like Forbes’ ships — they are worth something. Not that it matters — I hope the kids never are in a position where they need to sell their teddy bears. But maintaining value does provide ammunition in the constant why-are-you-buying-this debate I have with my wife.
We were on our honeymoon, driving through New England, and we stopped in Boston and visited its Museum of Fine Arts. In the gift shop was a wooden pull toy robot — “Space Robot” by Hoobert Toys of King Ferry, N.Y., “durably constructed from Eastern hard maple and beautifully painted with bright, non-toxic colors,” according to the box, which I kept. “It is designed to stimulate playtime fantasy and enjoyment of the natural world, while arousing a child’s finer instincts.”
My finer instincts aroused, I held it with what must have been a proprietary air, because my bride swept over, made a sour face, and said, “Absolutely not. It’ll just sit on the shelf, collecting dust.” And the price! Thirty dollars! Too much.
Chastened, I set my robot back on the shelf, and was led, head bowed, from the store.
We were outside the museum, at the curb, when the realization dawned that, despite being married, I was still a man, someone whose wishes mattered, if only to me. I stopped.
“Wait here,” I told my wife. “I’m going back for that Space Robot. It’s my honeymoon too.”
So I spun around, went back inside and bought the robot.
Flash forward five years. I’m reading a newspaper article about David Kirk, the author/illustrator of the best-selling Miss Spider books. Turns out, before he got into the children’s book business, he used to have a toy company, Hoobert toys.
“He produced some whimsical and sophisticated toys that are now worth thousands of dollars,” the article said, “particularly his clunky ‘Bob’ robots.”
I hurried over to my wife.
“Ha!” I said, tapping the article with my finger. “Double ha!”
I don’t think mine is a “Bob” robot, but it’s probably worth the 30 bucks I paid for it — not that I’m selling the thing. We’ll leave that, like the Forbes heirs, to my kids when I’m dead.
What I’m trying to say is this: Toys are too important to be left to children. Nor can they be reduced to a mere addition to the ever-burgeoning credit-card bills. My wife was correct — that Space Robot has sat on a shelf in my office for 20 years, and it makes me happy every single time my eyes fall upon it. It’s swell.
So guys, if you see a toy you like, I say, “Get it!” Life is too short. Sure, it’s nice if there’s a kid to give it to. But that isn’t absolutely necessary, and if the womenfolk are outraged at the expense, heck, tell ’em it’s an investment.
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