September 24, 2009 / 2:51 PM / in 8 years

Toy story: Antiques seen fetching millions

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - More than a thousand antique automotive toys will go on the block this week as Donald Kaufman, whose family founded KB Toys, auctions off his private collection.

<p>A rare boxed example of Mickey and Minnie Mouse on a motorcycle dating from the early 1930s is shown in this undated handout photo. REUTERS/Bertoia Auctions</p>

Kaufman, who began collecting toys in 1950, is among the world’s top antique toy collectors, with roughly 7,500 pieces focusing mainly on tin and cast-iron vehicles such as cars, planes, boats and trucks.

The entire collection is being auctioned in a series of sales taking place over the next few years, giving collectors and enthusiasts a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, according to Jeanne Bertoia, owner of Bertoia Auctions in Vineland, New Jersey, which is handling the auctions.

“He was one of the strongest buyers at all the antique toy auction houses and he just really bought the best,” Bertoia said. “When his paddle went up, people in the audience would say ‘oh darn, Don’s in the house’.”

The first auction of Kaufman’s toys, held in March, raised $4.2 million. The second auction will take place on Friday and Saturday and is expected to bring in roughly $2 million to $2.5 million, Bertoia said.

One highlight is a rare boxed example of Mickey and Minnie Mouse on a motorcycle dating from the early 1930s, which Bertoia estimated at $40,000 to $60,000. She noted, however, that because this is an absolute auction, every lot must sell, even if the offer is lower than estimated.

“In any big auction there’s always opportunities for bargains,” Bertoia said. She guessed that overall prices for antique toys are now about 15 percent softer than they were before the recession.

This week’s auction will include an array of early 20th-century luxury toy cars, many of which are still in their original boxes.

<p>An antique automotive toy from the private collection of Donald Kaufman, whose family founded KB Toys, is shown in this undated handout photo. REUTERS/Bertoia Auctions</p>

Richard Bertoia, a Bertoia associate, believes a Renault touring car is worth $25,000 to $30,000. He said the toy was found in a Paris factory after a toy show in 1928 and bought by an Italian count. Kaufman picked up the car several years ago at an auction of the count’s collection.

There are also several hand-made, hand-painted Marklin cars from around 1905 that “have the $50,000 potential,” he said.

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“I‘m not one to use the word exquisite very often but that would be as close,” he said. “It’s a visual history in miniature because these cars were duplicated from what the toy masters saw driving on the rough roads back then.”

Kaufman’s collecting intensified after he retired in 1981 and he and other family members sold their stake in KB Toys.

KB filed for bankruptcy in December, citing a sharp drop in sales and held “going out of business” sales at its roughly 460 stores. Rival retailer Toys “R” Us then bought KB’s trademark, logos and Web addresses at a bankruptcy auction for $2.1 million.

In an interview, Kaufman said he was “disappointed” to hear that KB went out of business even though he was not surprised.

About the auction, Kaufman said he expects it to be “great” since toys bring a lot of “interest and excitement” to people’s lives, as they did to his.

“It was a life for me, especially after I retired,” Kaufman said by phone from his home in Massachusetts. “It was a big part of my life.”

Reporting by Martinne Geller; editing by Patricia Reaney

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