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Forbes' Toy Collection Going On Auction Block

ULA ILNYTZKY   09/24/10 01:01 PM ET   AP

Forbes Toys

NEW YORK — The Forbes collection of miniature vintage toy soldiers and boats – from kings and queens to luxury ocean liners and warships – is going on the auction block in December.

The charming collectibles have been on view for 25 years in a series of dioramas and vignettes in the lobby of the Forbes Magazine Fifth Avenue headquarters in Greenwich Village.

Totaling 7,500 pieces crafted from the 1870s through the 1950s, they will be sold in 250 lots on Dec. 17 at Sotheby's. They are expected to bring $3 million to $5 million.

Among the highlights is a 37-inch-long replica of the Cunard Line's Lusitania ocean liner complete with two lead seamen, a seated passenger and five pairs of lifeboats. The magazine's late publisher, Malcolm Forbes, paid $28,600 for it at a Sotheby's auction in 1983. At the upcoming auction, the vintage toy is estimated to bring $100,000 to $200,000.

A cast-iron French gas-powered armored gunboat with zinc and bronze details is the largest toy in the collection. Forty-seven inches long, it is a replica of a 19th century battleship and the only known example of its kind, Sotheby's told The Associated Press in announcing the sale. It could bring $200,000 to $300,000.

The assortment of tiny boats is endless, including submarines and a Venetian-style gondola, manufactured in tin and cast iron by noted German toy makers Bing, Carette, Fleischmann and Marklin.

Among the toy soldiers – by toy makers Britains, Heyde, Mignot and Elastolin – is a rare group of 27 handmade Medieval mounted knights from the early 20th century that could bring $15,000 to $25,000.

Company Vice President Robert Forbes said he and his brothers decided to part with the collection to give "others a chance to own them, collect them, and maybe even wind them up on a pond or pool and watch them go."

The family auctioned a selection of the tiny toys four years after Forbes' death in 1990, bringing a total of $393,415 at Sotheby's. What's left – including inch-high Aztecs and conquistadors, Indians surrounded by a stagecoach and fox hunters – is being sold in December.

Forbes' founder B.C. Forbes started buying toy boats when his sons were young. Many years later his son Malcolm took over the family business – and the toy-buying tradition.

A savvy entrepreneur who lived large, Malcolm Forbes' passions extended to motorcycling, ballooning, sailing and collecting – most famously Faberge eggs. Miniature toys were added to his collecting in 1973 when he spotted an antique toy boat at FAO Schwartz that reminded him of the ones he had as a child. He bought it and a lifelong collection was started.

"It's clear to me that it was the nostalgia more than anything else that sparked both the toy boat and the toy soldier collections – the warm, embracing memories of the endless fun we had with them," he said in an 1989 article.

The Faberge eggs, which for years were exhibited alongside the miniature collectibles at the Forbes Galleries, were purchased in 2004 for an undisclosed sum by a Russian businessman two months before they were to be auctioned at Sotheby's.

Also for sale from the Forbes collection is the earliest homemade Monopoly board game known to have survived. Complete with the original set of rules, it is estimated at $60,000 to $80,000.

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Filed by Danny Shea  |