Little toys for big boys

Buy, sell, trade | Collectors share their love of vintage childhood toys

A mostly male crowd spills into the expansive room to pore over rows of tiny tractors, implements and farmyard dioramas featured at the Saskatoon Farm Toy and Collectible Show.

It’s the start of another show for seasoned veterans of the show circuit such as Bill Wilke, who will spend the next few days looking for pieces for his collections, selling some and boxing the rest to take home to Yellow Grass, Sask.

The 67-year-old likes to collect the tractors and combines he grew up and worked with on the farm.

Collector Neil Isley is a couple of decades younger but also loves these antiques.

“I was told I had an old soul. Maybe that’s what connects me to them,” he said.

Isley, who rents out his farmland near Delisle, Sask., was drawn to the Lincoln toys, made in Windsor, Ont., from 1946-59.

His most valuable piece, priced at around $1,000, is a rare Lincoln garbage truck in its original condition.

Isley’s favourites include a Massey 44 tractor, a toy he played with as a boy at his grandparents’ house.

“Because of its sentimental value, it’s priceless,” Isley said.

“Every toy tells a story.”

He started collecting in 1997, drawn to the Lincoln toys’ primitive styling and unique stamp.

His father-in-law started giving him “ugly ones that needed fixing up” as Christmas presents.

“As the market changes, that $80 toy is now worth $125,” Isley said.

He started attending shows as a teenager, looking for fixer uppers.

“I looked for old toys that needed some love and needed to be restored,” said Isley, whose day job as an autobody technician is a great asset for restoration work.

“There’s always a different style, colour that will keep me looking for something different.”

The rule of thumb for his 1/16 to 1/18th scale collection is to maintain three: one original, one restored and maybe a third for trading.

He estimates the value of his 130 piece collection at $18,000.

He draws special pleasure from people’s reactions at shows.

“They’ll stop and stare and say, ‘now that’s a toy.’ I’m bringing back a memory. That’s what I get a kick out of.”

Wilke, now semi-retired and no longer farming, said collecting gives him something to do, but it’s also something he can share with a grandchild.

“What would I be doing if not going to a toy show. It occupies your time,” he said of his 1/16th scale collection of about 800 pieces.

His favourite, the 1938 Massey Harris Clipper combine with a box, which was the first Massey Harris scoop type combine, is valued at $2,000.

Wilke recalled skipping school to attend a John Deere show, where he won a toy tractor.

It eventually ended up in the garden, where it was driven over. A friend repaired it and Wilke’s son played with it as a child.

Sentimental favourites like that one will remain in his collection, he said.

He takes in about six shows a year in Canada and the United States, where there is a healthy market for farm toys and big collectors.

Values wax and wane, Wilke said.

“It works on supply and demand. If there’s lots of them, they’re not going to be worth as much. Sometimes they’re worth a lot more.”

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