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Vintage toys a hobby and an obsession to some collectors

March 01, 2004|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

SCOTLAND, Pa. - The obsession of Chris Collis can be summed up in two words: John Deere.

"Anything Deere, I've got it. Even something I didn't have until today," the Inwood, W.Va., man said, pulling out a John Deere insulated cup he picked up Sunday at the fifth annual Cumberland Valley Model Railroad Club Toy, Train and Doll Show.

Collis was there as a vendor, but a number of those selling also were looking to add to their personal collections.

"I sell the stuff to pay for what I collect," said Ben Kriner of Marion, Pa. His favorite collectibles are plastic trucks and other toys manufactured in the years right after World War II.

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Plastics technology and manufacturing took off during the war and after it ended, "they had to decide what they were going to do with the new technology," Kriner said. Some manufacturers turned to toys to keep production lines rolling in peacetime.

"It pays for my habit," Bill Morrison said. The owner of All Toy Co. in Hummelstown, Pa., Morrison said owning a business where 20 or more dealers buy and sell antique and collectible toys was his way of building his own collection.

"His collection created this monster," said his wife, Fran.

Some people, Fran said, will go to bizarre lengths to track down toys, often for personal, rather than financial, reasons.

"We had a man come into the store with a list about 30 pages long of toys ... He was trying to re-create his childhood," she said. The customer, a psychiatrist, used old Christmas photos to identify some of the toys he received as a boy.

Several years later, Fran Morrison saw the man at another toy show and he had whittled the list down to a few pages.

The Morrisons had a stack of paper doll cut-out books, including one of the first President Bush and family. Opening the book to the first page provided the answer to the question, "Boxers or briefs?"

Walking through Sunday's show, anyone could see something to spark a childhood memory. The Lone Ranger, Dick Tracy and Betty Boop were there, along with Mickey, Donald and a host of other Disney characters.

Barbie was there in her many permutations, from Winter's Eve Barbie to Easter Fun Barbie and several of Barbie's spinoff pals.

"You haven't seen anything 'til you've been to an all-Barbie show," said Bill Robinson, another vendor and a founding member of the railroad club.

An antique toy, even in used condition, may cost hundreds of dollars, according to Nancy Diley of Fairfax, Va. She and her husband, Henry, were offering antiques and reproductions of wind-up toys and friction cars.

She sent a tin Donald Duck waddling across a box top.

"If you had the original, this would cost you $250 to $300. This one sells for $24," she said.

Having a toy's original box can add 50 percent to its value, Henry Diley said.

The reproductions allow people to relive childhood memories without fear of damaging a valuable antique. "They're affordable. They're nicely made. You're not afraid to wind them up," she said.

The couple said they sell a lot on e-Bay, but they like being in touch with other collectors on the toy-show circuit.

"You'll see the same people week after week," Collis said of the collectors and vendors.

"It's like an extended family, said his fianc, Rochelle Franke of Winchester, Va.

Collis said he goes to about 16 toy shows during the winter months and another 32 tractor shows during the rest of the year. In addition to John Deere toys, he also collects the real thing, including a John Deere B that belonged to his great-grandfather.

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