Monday, February 27, 2006

The future of the hobby: Ebay vs. Auctions vs. Meets

Recently, I‘ve noticed a large number of early spring toy actions with some excellent quality items for bid (picture is from the Spring Lloyd Ralston Gallery offering.) These have got me thinking about recent statements I've heard such as, “auctions are destroying the hobby,” and “toy meets will soon be a thing of the past.” So, up for discussion this week is this question, what is the future of antique toy buying? What is currently the best way to purchase the gems we all seek? I for one have been mulling this over for some time and decided to list my current experiences. If you are reading this please add your comments to the discussion. I am very interested in the current state of the hobby. Okay, here goes:

Ebay: Recently I have watched numerous Ebay auctions run wild. It seems that more often than not Ebay items are advertised as “exceptionally rare” and in “excellent condition for its age.” I do a lot of Ebay-ing and have great luck selling on Ebay, but only marginal success buying. As someone who generally knows what the items I am looking at are, I have some concept for quality vs. price. My feeling is that items on Ebay are often overbid for the quality offered, especially when compared to auctions. Some of the automation is very nice such as automated favorite searches but these advantages seem unbalanced by overzealous buyers who seem willing to overpay just to beat the next guy out.

Auctions: Currently Stout, Ralston and Morphy are all offering some very nice items. With a few obvious exceptions, it seems these items go for very fair prices and the condition is generally far better than what I am seeing on Ebay. Granted these auctions are more difficult to bid on than Ebay due to pre-registration requirements and potential travel, but through the addition of LiveAuctions this seems to have improved. My only complaint with auctions I have participated in is the excessively high absentee bidder fees charged. I recently paid 17.5% to Stout for a very nice, rare early Schoenner live steam engine and feel I still got a good deal, but it would be nice if they could get things down closer to 10% like Noel Barrett did for the Ward Kimball auctions.

Meets: Are they dead? Well, I attend both Spring and Fall York every year and can definitely say they’re not dead. However, for the collector who likes his trains more esoteric than Lionel and MTH I feel like I’m hunting for the proverbial needle in a haystack. But if you enjoy the hunt and don’t mind long slow walks on cement floors, nothing beats the excitement of 1200 tables full of potential diamonds. That said, prices at these meets are always negotiable and the internet has not managed to replace the good natured spirit of such shows.

In closing, what is your favorite way to find toys? What is your most successful? I for one think the future is brighter for the hobby thanks to new technologies that benefit those who can’t travel due to impairment or finances. What do you think?

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Book Review: The Golden Years of Tin Toy Trains

Anyone who is serious about collecting antiques realizes that research is central to the hobby. Therefore, I have decided to review a number of books recently added to my shelf. These reviews will be scattered among the many topics discussed in this forum. I begin with a look at Paul Klein Schiphorst’s “The Golden Years of Tin Toy Trains, 1850 - 1909,” published by New Cavendish Books.

I’ve had this volume for over a year and find myself constantly drawn back to its beautiful production value and extremely rare trains. Schiphorst begins the book with a brief chapter on pre-1850’s trains and then splits the remaining chapters into French manufacturers and German manufacturers. The author begins by telling us that his own collecting interests began with accessories which he felt were much underrepresented in existing literature. Therefore, he has included both a train and accessories chapter for most of the represented manufacturers.

The French chapters begin with a timeline describing the development and mergers of various manufacturers. I found this extremely useful from a research standpoint and wish the author had done the same for the better known German manufacturers. This would have been especially useful for companies such as Rock & Graner and Ernst Plank. However, his coverage of both the trains and accessories of these companies is exceptional, providing images of little seen or known makes and models. Indeed, as is New Cavendish Books’ creed, this volume gives average collectors the chance to own a piece of something most could never afford.

The 1000+ color photos expertly photographed by the author make this a coffee table book beyond comparison. Rather than simply depicting “mug shots” of the trains described, the author has propped them with structures and figures that are era-specific. He even goes as far as including early lead flats figures with the earliest trains. The author’s eye for detail in this area is truly exceptional. Additionally, this volume was not slighted on production value. It is beautifully bound with gilded edges and sold with a protective slip-box. Overall, “The Golden Years of Tin Toy Trains” has an heirloom quality which separates it from other books on my shelves.

If there is one criticism I have of this title it is the limited written descriptions of the trains and accessories depicted. From a research standpoint it would be nice to have the same amount of detail on the Marklin and Bing trains as we are given on those of French manufacture. However this information is available through other publications, and its neglect in this volume does not reduce its value as the greatest book produced on trains of this era. Now, if only someone would do this for early American Tin Trains, hmm maybe a project for my retirement years.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Unusual Ives Gondola

Well, this next post came a little later than expected due to the birth of my first child (aka next in line to inherit the collection.) But now, I'm getting back to the blog. Up for discussion this week is an unusual 1880's Ives gondola I recently purchased on Ebay, unusual because it is painted bright orange rather than the usual red.

Ives manufactured a number of cast iron floor train sets in the 1880's and 1890's in both clockwork and pull-train form. In 1900 the Ives factory burned to the ground and most if not all of the casting moulds were lost (paraphrased from Louis Hertz's book "The Messrs. Ives of Bridgeport").

I'm a big fan of the 2-2-0 high smokestack locomotives of this period and have actively searched for all the elements to make a complete set. I believe that a complete set contains a locomotive and tender with two gondolas and two cast brakemen. Until recently all I had located was the locomotive pictured above, but last week I found this bright orange CP RR Ives gondola and purchased it off Ebay.

Rick Ralson's "Cast Iron Floor Trains" does not list an orange gondola. So, here's the question, is this a repaint or did Ives produce early cars in this color. The paint definitely looks original with very heavy signs of wear. In chipped areas I don't see any other tones showing through. So, any thoughts, is it original or a very early repaint? If Rick Ralston is out there and reads this I'd love to get his input as well.

Thanks to everyone who has started responding to this Blog and special thanks to Marc Kuffler for adding a link to us from his site.