Here in West Sussex, many of the thriving collectors’ fields are informed by childhood passions. The land speed record attempts were particularly evocative for those growing up between and just after the First and Second World Wars.
“I remember watching Donald Campbell demonstrating his Bluebird CN7 land speed record car at Goodwood motor racing circuit, Sussex, in July 1960,” recalls Toovey’s consultant toys specialist Gordon Gardiner with customary enthusiasm. Competition for the world land speed record was particularly strong during the inter-war years, as a select group of courageous gentlemen drivers pushed themselves and their cars to the edge of endurance. Among these drivers were men like Henry Segrave and Malcolm Campbell, Donald Campbell’s father. These successive attempts to become the fastest men on land were celebrated in a mood of patriotism and national pride. Their bravery and achievements inspired a generation of boys. Our interest in their triumphs continues to fuel our appetite for toys and paper collectables relating to the pursuit of speed.
It is always great fun to stray into Toovey’s toys department. Our toys specialist Chris Gale is seen here with Gordon Gardiner enjoying a tinplate clockwork model of Malcolm Campbell’s Bluebird land speed record car by the German firm Gunthermann. German tinplate toys and trains from this period were made to high standards and are much sought-after by today’s collectors. In view of Gunthermann’s reputation for quality, I ask Gordon why this one does not bear their name and is just marked ‘Foreign’, rather than ‘German’. He replies, “There was a resistance to buying German-made toys after the Great War, so they marked this one simply as foreign to avoid any stigma.” I comment on the condition of this car, which to my eye seems to be remarkably good for its date. Gordon responds, “Most toy land speed record cars were well used by their original owners, so they are often quite play-worn but this one is better than most.” I always warm to the term ‘play-worn’. In all our other specialist departments, problems of condition are often noted as faults, but in the toys department things are play-worn, a fond metaphor for the passage of time and wear. “Nevertheless,” Chris interjects, “it is this model’s rarity and the fact that it still has its original box, albeit torn and incomplete, which led to its remarkable hammer price of £1100 in our Christmas toy sale.”
Chris reminds me of the Kingsbury tinplate keyless-clockwork model land speed record car which his department sold for £650 a couple of years ago. He says, “This is a popular model of the Golden Arrow record-breaker which was driven by Henry Segrave in 1929.”
Interest in land speed record-breakers is strong in other collectors’ areas as well. Take, for example, the menu for a banquet in honour of Sir Malcolm Campbell, ‘as a tribute to his achievement in setting up the New Land Speed Record of 301.129mph at Bonneville Flats, Utah, USA’. It is dated September 24th 1935 and has a bas-relief photograph cover depicting Sir Malcolm. The black and white photograph also illustrated here shows Sir Henry Segrave at the wheel of his 4 litre V12 Sunbeam, which broke the land speed record at 152.33mph in 1926. The card mount is signed in ink by Segrave and other key members of the record-breaking team. Both lots were sold in specialist paper collectables auctions, headed by Nicholas Toovey, for £100 and £300 respectively.
Returning to Toovey’s toys department, I am interested to know what it is about old toys which delight collectors. “Part of it is fulfilling childhood dreams,” says Chris, “but it is also about their interests – particular vehicles, for example, or a certain historical period.” He continues with a smile, “Toy collectors are really generous with their knowledge and their enthusiasm, which is contagious.” I agree. Collecting is often about the acquisition and sharing of knowledge but it is also about community and sharing interests with fellow enthusiasts. After all, lively minds make open hearts!
Chris Gale and Gordon Gardiner are already gearing up for their spring toy auction, which will be held on 25th March 2014. Nicholas Toovey’s next paper collectables auction will be on 22nd April 2014. All are delighted to share their specialist interests with you and offer advice. They can be contacted at Toovey’s Spring Gardens salerooms at Washington.
By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 11th December 2013 in the West Sussex Gazette.