My New Year's resolution is to keep up with regular posts. It is not for lack of items to post, but for lack of time that I have not been contributing and doing my part. Hopefully 2011 will allow me the time to share some of my finds.
The auction this past November 2010 of Tom Gray's wonderful Old Salem Toy Museum in historic Winston-Salem, North Carolina, was a highly anticipated event by Erzgebirge and all toy collectors alike. Both Tom Gray’s grandfather, James A. Gray, and his great-uncle, Bowman Gray Sr., held the position of chairman of the board of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company. James Gray's grandfather helped found Wachovia Bank and was an original settler of Winston. Tom's cousin, Frank L. Horton, and Frank's mother, Theo, opened the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts in Old Salem (MESDA); and Tom Gray, along with his mother, Anne, opened the Old Salem Toy Museum housed in the same building as MESDA. They were both a highlight and must-see of any visit to Old Salem. Although the toy museum is now closed, MESDA is still going strong, and the proceeds of the sale of Tom Gray's toy museum have all gone towards the operation of MESDA.
Four years ago Maria and Dieter came to visit me from Germany. Eileen flew out to see us as well. Then we all climbed in my Jeep on a beautiful April morning for a drive to Winston-Salem where Tom Gray had graciously invited us to dinner. He first made sure we all had tickets to tour Old Salem, which was wonderful. We took the walking tour through the area's public buildings and enjoyed seeing the historic private homes and gardens which had been restored. Of course, MESDA was also on our tour, which has an unbelievable collection of early Southern furniture and accessories, and when we arrived at the Old Salem Toy Museum Tom was there to greet us and gave us a personal tour. The Old Salem Toy Museum was an absolute gem, and I know everyone on our trip was honored to have seen it. He had the best of the best and it was displayed in state-of-the-art surroundings. Of course, Maria, Dieter and I zeroed in on the Erzgebirge, but that was only a small part of his vast collection.
As much fun as we had touring Old Salem, the highlight was our invitation to have drinks and appetizers at Tom's historic Old Salem home. For collectors it was really as if we had gone to antique heaven. I can only say it was exquistely restored and full of the most fabulous collection of antiques. One fireplace was all done with antique camel tiles (as Camel cigarettes are a product of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, and Tom collected camels!). In the little powder room I used there was a collection of antique tin camel cookie cutters laying in a basket. Treasures were at every turn. Dinner was at a steak house where we were treated like kings and queens and he told us stories about his father growing up at Graylyn, the family estate. It was a day none of us will ever forget, and we all remember Tom as a genuinely kind and generous host.
So the auction of the contents of the Old Salem Toy Museum was bittersweet for us. We were extremely sad to hear that it had closed, but excited about the possibility of acquiring a piece or two of the collection. The only problem was, there were so many fabulous pieces, and it was hard to decide what to buy and how to allocate the funds among the hundreds of pieces. I decided to take the all-or-nothing approach and try for what I considered to be the rarest toy in the group, which was an Erzgebirge ship. There are three that are known to exist -- the one in Tom's collection, one at the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum in Williamsburg, Virginia, and another which I believe is owned privately.
Bidding via telephone, I was very fortunate to have won the ship. It is an outstanding example of the wondeful toys exported to the United States from the Erzgebirge region of Germany as early as the first half of the 19th century. It is intricately painted in the style typical of the time and region with paper sails glued to the decorated spars rigged on the three masts and manned by ten sailors in red with red and blue decorated turbans which betray the European fascination with (and fear of) the Ottoman Empire during the early 19th century.
What is remarkable, however, in the little paper label on the underside of the ship's hull written in pencil which says, "Given to Loveland Munson, 3 by his Uncle Jesse Munson of Bradford, NY 1846." Excellent research, done by Mary Audrey Apple, who also joined us on our visit to Old Salem, along with her husband, Jim, determined that Loveland Munson later became an important lawyer/jurist in Vermont and was born in Manchester in 1843.
The ship has now made its way to my collection and was such a thrill to display it in its new home.
Welcome to Living Tastefully’s “Antique of the Week” page. Our love of antiques is reflected in every aspect of our everyday lives. We are passionate about collecting and also love functional antiques that can actually be used and not only admired. Hopefully we can inspire you to incorporate antiques in your home and your life to add charm and beauty to your surroundings.