Published: November 16, 2021
Review and Photos by Greg Smith
ALLENTOWN, PENN. – The Allentown Toy Show returned with great joy to the Allentown Fairgrounds November 5-6, bringing with it a steady roster of dealers and an always-energetic stable of buyers. The show consistently lives up to its reputation as a no-frills smorgasbord of the greatest toys made throughout time and has earned a label as the greatest toy show in the United States.
It had been 24 months since the last toy show at the fairgrounds, the 2020 event cancelled on account of the pandemic. Many of the dealers’ booth rents had been rolled forward to this show.
There was just about every toy in the chest on the show floor, from early American tin and clockwork toys, cast iron toys of all forms, dolls, holiday material, mechanical and still banks, all varieties of transportation from carriages to airplanes to cars and in sizes as small as a Hot Wheels racer to as large as a pedal car.
There were some ruminations earlier in the year that the toy show would not occur, but appear it did with thousands of toys in tow. Most every dealer we spoke with was exuberant on the show’s return and thrilled to be back exhibiting. On the show’s set up day, many of the dealers threw their toys onto the tables and walked away to other booths where they caught up with old friends.
Steven and Leon Weiss of Gemini Antiques & RSL Auction Co brought with them a balance toy by the Durham, Conn., Merriam Mfg Co. Leon had never seen this form before, saying they typically featured a horse or dog atop, but this one had two figures on a seesaw and instead of the typical circular weight on the bottom, the balance was provided by a cast bird.
Don & Betty Jo Heim featured a coffee can train from Limited Brand Products with its original cardboard box. In the bright colors of red, orange, green and blue, Don Heim said the train was originally sold piecemeal in the 1920s during the Great Depression. A shopper would buy one canister of coffee at a time and the train parts, including the wheels and axle, would come inside the can. When a family finished the can – or probably before if they had another canister laying around the kitchen – the child could strap the axle to the can and have a train car. A very energetic family would have a train in no time at all as they collected every color.
Robert Davis of Sheffield, Mass., created a display of early Twentieth Century polished metal airplanes that were originally released by the Junior Aviation Toy Company. Momentum built quickly for the company after it released a model following the famed 1927 flight of the Spirit of St Louis by aviator Charles Lindbergh. Three of Lindbergh’s backers invested in the toy production and by 1928 the firm had released a kit that could produce more than 250 aircraft variations, spurring a $2 million industry. Davis had on hand over ten different models and has produced an exhibition on the toys in the past.
With Maine dealer Marc Olimpio was a number of George Brown toys, including a Metropolitan Hose Car, which can be seen in the designer’s sketchbook. Also with him was a Lady Riding Side Saddle and a balance toy with a horse. The dealer also had a clockwork brougham carriage by Hall and Stafford. He said it’s been found as a pull toy but almost never appears as a clockwork example.
There were a number of antiques with John Kolar of JMK Toys, but he was proudest of the painted and hand-formed tin ship models he produces in the manner of Bing, Marklin and others from the Spanish American War. Since 1994, Kolar has built 198 boats and he brought with him his 196th, the Chicago, modeled after a first series Marklin. It came with electric lights and could be radio controlled.
Massachusetts dealer John Reynolds brought a series of English appliqued lithographs. Reynolds said this toy/art form was at its height from 1830 to 1860 when a child could buy a plain portrait of a performer from a toy theater shop, color it, and then apply various pieces of tinsel for a dazzling effect.
Just in time for Christmas, holiday material was on show with eight to ten dealers, among them Kit Carter-Weilage of Kentucky. She produced a group of high-quality German belsnickels in original felt with good, rosy paint. After dealing in general Americana for a while, Carter-Weilage said she studied holiday material for a decade before focusing on high-quality examples that were true to form.
Pat and Rich Garthoeffner were seen exhibiting a large-size safe by J&E Stevens, circa the 1880s. Rich said the company made three versions of the large safe, modeled after their small safe banks, and this one came in green with red outlines embellished with gold squiggling. The colors may have been indicative of a Christmas model.
The Hubley Royal Circus was on parade with Bob Brady. The dealer featured a Farmer Wagon with starburst wheels in fine paint – when the cast iron wagon rolls, the farmer’s head rises and falls into the wagon car. Right next to it was the Giraffe Cage Wagon with the momma and her calf.
Mike Caffarella landed a spotlight on a German musical mechanical bank in his booth. The hand painted wood toy was made circa 1915-20 and took the form of a five-story inn. When wound, a platform in the cupola would spin the figures in it around.
And it wouldn’t be an Allentown Toy Show without the booths of the auctioneers offering their upcoming offerings and attracting others. On hand were Jeanne and Michael Bertoia of Bertoia Auctions, Noel Barrett with Pook & Pook, Miles King and Chris Sammet of Milestone Auctions, Ray and Bre Day of Cyber Toy Auctions and Tommy Sage Jr with Morphy Auctions.
The show enjoyed a weekend of vigor with a rejuvenated collecting base on hand. If all goes according to plan, it will be back in Allentown next year around the same time.
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