A Derbyshire man is putting his entire collection of rare mechanical toys up for auction this month, and hopes to raise as much as £100,000 for environmental causes.
Mike Stockwell, 69, has amassed a mini-museum of more than 1,000 items over the course of 40 years, but now his focus is firmly on things still to come.
He said: “The time has come for me to sell my collection because I’m very concerned about climate change.
“Money raised from the auction will be used to fund eco-conservation projects. I have three grandchildren and I want them to a have a future.”
The collection will be sold in 277 lots at Hansons Auctioneers in Etwall on Thursday, October 24, and is already attracting interest among collectors around the world, particularly in America, Japan and China.
Steve Fulford, toy valuer at Hansons, said: “It’s the most staggering array of toys I have ever seen – and I used to run a toy museum. It has to be one of the best collections of its type in the world.
“When we walked into Mike’s house to value the items, it was amazing to see room after room filled with boxed toys in display cabinets and on shelves.”
He added: Some of the objects, now safely locked away in our safe, are incredibly valuable. For example, Snappy The Happy Bubble Blowing Dragon has a guide price of £20,000 to £30,000.”
Mike, a retired toy shop owner, ecologist and Space Programme volunteer, says his fascination with the toys is down to being denied many playthings while growing up in post-war Birmingham.
He said: “These Japanese and German toys were a dad’s wages for the week. Ordinary families like mine couldn’t afford them.
“I bought them at toy fairs and flea markets over many years, sometimes for pennies and now they’re worth thousands.”
He added: “A robot recently sold in America for 86,000 dollars. Brand new in the UK in the 1950s it cost 49 shillings and 11 pence – that’s the equivalent of £2.50 today.
“I don’t think there’s a bank in the world that could give you that kind of return.”
The toys, which date from the 1950s-70s, have been carefully stored in an ever-expanding array of display cabinets at Mike’s home near Chesterfield.
He said: “I started collecting post-war tinplate automatons just after I married my wife Margaret in 1976 but I admit my hobby has gone beyond an obsession.
“People used to ask to visit our house just to see them. I suppose it was like going to a toy theatre.”
He added: “These things are far more than toys. They’re feats of engineering. Many are mechanical.
“They transcend from being playthings to movable works of art. Several are sophisticated pieces of equipment.”
Many of the toys were made in Germany and Japan as their economies recovered from the devastation of the Second World War under strict rules about what could be produced.
Japan had a love of western culture and there was often a connection to a movie or TV programme, from Charlie Weaver to Robby the Robot, Howdy Doody to Star Wars.
One automaton in the sale, Rajah Rey the Indian Prince, is based on Richard Burton in 1955 film The Rains of Ranchipur.
For Mike, they represented something else about that period of history.
He said: “During and just after the war it seemed as if everything was sepia, brown or green.
“In the 1950s these new toys emerged in bold and beautiful colours and they captured the new sense of optimism. They symbolised a bright and colourful future.”
He added: “This wasn’t a toy for children, it was a talking point to put on your home bar and impress your visitors. You can imagine Del Boy having one in Only Fools and Horses.”
One of the star items in the auction is a battery-operated Japanese automaton, hand-made in 1964, called McGregor.
Mike said: “He’s a Scotsman with a walking stick who sits in a chair. Switch him on and he gradually rises out of his chair, stands up and smokes his cigar.
“His movement is ingenious and seemingly impossible. It’s on a par with the ability of a honeybee to fly horizontally from one flower to another. Bees shouldn’t be able to do that.”
He added: “McGregor works thanks to a series of levers and counter levers, a motor, wires and batteries. There are no silicon chips.
“I’m fascinated by the engineering excellence these automatons demonstrate. I loved to work out how each one worked.”
For more details of the auction, email firstname.lastname@example.org.