After 60 Years, Man Bids Fond Farewell to Antique Toy Collection

Collector Donald Kaufman has amassed 7,000 toys since 1950. They're up for sale.

PITTSFIELD, Mass., Sept. 20, 2009 — -- If there is a toy heaven, it just might be here, in western Massachusetts, on a leafy residential street, inside Donald and Sally Kaufman's comfortable home.

It's a child's dream -- nothing but toys stacked floor-to-ceiling, packing the shelves that line the four floors of a special addition they added to display them all.

"People ask me, 'How many toys do you have?'" Donald Kaufman says. "I don't know. I don't really know. But I know I got a lot of toys.'"

Try about 7,000 toys, some more than 100 years old, many of them cars and trucks, a good number of them in just-out-of-the-box condition.

"Oh, it's truly one of the very best antique toy collections in the world," says Jeanne Bertoia, an antique toy collector herself and owner of Bertoia Auctions, in Vineland, N.J.

Now, after spending nearly 60 years amassing his astounding collection, Kaufman is selling his toys. All of them. There are so many toys, Bertoia is holding five to six auctions spread over more than two years to dismantle the collection.

To see more of Kaufman and his massive toy collection, watch John Berman's report Sunday on "World News." Check your local listings for air times.

The first auction of 1,400 toys garnered $4.2 million, easily surpassing pre-auction estimates. The next auction auction will be held by Bertoia Auctions on Sept. 25 and 26.

Kaufman does not need the money. He's in his late-70s now and says simply "it's time" to pass the toys on to other people.

Toys Are in Kaufman's Blood

Kaufman's family's dry goods business -- Kaufman Brothers -- eventually became a national chain of toy stores -- KB Toys -- that grew to hundreds of outlets.

Kaufman helped to run the company before the family sold it in the early 1980s for $62 million. KB Toys eventually fell on hard times, went bankrupt and closed this year.

But to Kaufman, toys have never been just business.

Walking amid the shelves of his collection, Kaufman displays a childlike sense of wonder as he stops to pick up a 1930s-era, Flash Gordon-style gun. He pulls the trigger, and the gun wheezes to life, emitting the sound of a siren.

A smile breaks across Kaufman's face. "It had to be fun for a kid. Imagine a kid 70 years ago with that toy," he says.

It's a feeling he has often.

Passion for Collecting Antique Toys Since 1950

"I think of everyone who was involved in it -- the people that took the cast iron out of the ground and brought it to the foundry, the manufacturers, the distributors, the wholesalers," Kaufman says.

"If this toy could talk -- I always think about that. I'd like to know, I'd love to know -- where it's been, who played with it, who made it," he says. "I'd like to know all those things, which you never do know, but you just imagine."

Kaufman began collecting antique toys in 1950.

"I loved toys when I was a kid, I was in the toy business, and they just had a great appeal to me. And they just turned me on. Old toys turn me on. They really did. They still do."

His hobby began slowly at first. "It took me a long time to really get started, but I did. I'd buy a few toys a year; it took me a long time to spend $100."

His collecting really took off after he met his second wife, Sally, whom he married in the early 1980s, and retired from the toy business. The two traveled around the Eastern U.S. to toy shows and auctions, often with a rented U-Haul trailer hitched to the back of their Ford Econoline van.

He developed a fine eye for good toys and often upgraded his collection. If he spotted a duplicate of a toy he already had, he would buy it if it was in better condition and then sell the first one.

One of his three daughters, Deborah Mager, says that when she was younger, she often imagined that her father was "playing with his toys, as opposed to paying his bills and doing his work."

Not so, says Kaufman. He never played with the toys. But, he says, he would often look at them.

"To me, toys are like art. Each one is like a valuable painting," he says.

Transportation toys form the bulk of his collection, from tow trucks to taxi cabs, airplanes to Greyhound buses, ice cream trucks to antique Model Ts – all made before 1965.

There also are walls filled with character toys, from the Official Mr. Magoo car, to a hand-painted, cast-iron Popeye, to a tin, wind-up motorcycle ridden by Mickey and Minnie Mouse, an item that could fetch up to $60,000 when it is sold at the next auction.

Unique Collection Boasts No Two Items Are Alike

But not all the toys can fit on the shelves. The collection includes scores of pedal cars that children once rode in.

Kaufman can tell you how he came to acquire just about every toy on his shelves -- where he bought it and how much he paid.

To the untrained eye, many of the toys look identical, but Kaufman says proudly that no two items in the collection are alike.

He stops at a wall of taxicabs toys

"They're different companies, and they are different styles. This one has a stripe in it, this one has a double stripe, this one has no stripe," he says, pointing out each one."

His wife chokes up as she talks about the dismantling of the collection.

"Oh, I miss them already," Sally Kaufman says. "I can't -- it's hard for me to talk about it. I don't know whether it's missing the toys, or missing the time. I don't know. I think it's a combination."

Standing amid the shelves, she adds, "I miss him coming here and getting lost. I miss that."

Donald is more matter-of-fact as he talks about the end of his collection, saying simply that he's "getting ready to say goodbye."