Toys 'R' Him


POSTED: Tuesday, July 14, 2009

From a woman's perspective, no grown man should be playing with toys, but everyone needs an outlet to manage some of life's stress and monotony. “;Toys”; for men are usually geared toward high-tech or sporting pursuits. Dale Cripps, however, prefers the simplicity of wooden toys that captured the imagination of kids more than a century ago, and that for adults today represent more than child's play.

Cripps will be showing his world-class collection of antique Schoenhut Humpty Dumpty Circus toys at the Hawaii All-Collectors Show coming up Friday and Saturday, during which collectors sell and share a variety of treasures.

The display will feature a miniature three-ring circus complete with tent, high-wire acrobats, ringmaster, horse riders and classic circus animals. All are made of wood and fully jointed to allow them to show off their circus tricks. To help bring his circus to life, Cripps even persuaded one of his friends to dress up like a ringmaster, complete with bullwhip.

In a decade, Cripps has managed to amass 125 of the circus pieces created between 1904 and 1935 by Albert Schoenhut, a German immigrant who produced toy pianos in Philadelphia beginning in 1872. In 1903, Schoenhut created a flexible, pose-able toy clown that became the foundation of the 1904 Humpty Dumpty Circus.

The circus, styled after European circuses and the Ringling Bros. big-tent extravaganzas, was such a hit that its personnel grew over the years to include a Chinese bowl-twirling acrobat, sideshow grotesque characters, trapeze artists, strongmen and a lion tamer, plus exotic animals that circuses at the time were known for, including hyenas, kangaroos, camels, polar bears and gorillas. Cripps has acquired all of the above and more.

“;I got into it by default,”; said Cripps, a jeweler who had already been collecting battery-operated toys from the 1950s as a stress reliever since about 1990. He had been attracted to the bright colors of toys like the Spooky Kooky Tree and Space Whale, which made them a joy to look at.

Then, in 1999, he said, “;I was looking on eBay one day and saw this animal, a donkey, and it was very inexpensive. I paid less than $20 for it, and it's probably worth $75 to $100.

“;I thought it would be good for my daughter to have something like this. I liked the fact that it was old and wooden, and I realized the durability of it, the fact that it survived this long.”;

The prize of his collection is a gorilla worth $3,000. Its cage is worth $500. Recently he offered $750 for a piece bid up to $250 on eBay. The seller couldn't figure out how to end the auction, and by the time it was over, the piece sold for more than $1,000.

SCHOENHUT'S FORTUNES were tied to the economy, and the company suffered during the Great Depression, which began in 1929. Cost-cutting measures showed in the pieces, allowing collectors to date them. The earliest ones incorporated rich materials, from mohair manes on lions, leather reins on horses, bisque heads and glass eyes on figures. Over time, figures were made in reduced size, shrinking from about 10 inches to 6, and heads began to be carved from wood, with features painted on. Toward the end of the series, heads were made of plaster.

“;The details of all this are pretty elaborate,”; Cripps said. “;There's artistry in these things that took time and energy to create.”;

The company declared bankruptcy and closed in 1935, but before that also manufactured a Safari series of figures inspired by Theodore Roosevelt's celebrated trip to Africa in 1909, during which he and members of his party hunted for animal specimens that now fill the Smithsonian Institution and for the American Museum of Natural History in New York. At the center of the collection is Teddy himself, one of Cripps' grails.

He said collectors of Schoenhut's circus pieces also collect the Safari series because the exotic animals and characters fit in well with the circus as well.

Also among his grails are the circus musicians. He said he once came upon a large selection of band members and trailers going for $75,000, but he had to pass.

“;You start it and you think, this is absolutely crazy when you think that from 1905 to 1910, you could buy an incredible set for $25 to $30.

“;I find it's a stress reliever. I'm not locking it up in a safe, not yet anyway. I love to show this stuff,”; Cripps said, adding that he's heard of one other collector in Hawaii through sellers, and would love to meet him to talk about Schoenhut.

Not that he's at any loss for shared interest. He's a member of the national Schoenhut Collector's Club, and says he's on the phone two or three times daily with an 84-year-old collector in Arlington, Va., who he considers to be his mentor.

Later this year he will make a pilgrimage to Philadelphia, where the Albert Schoenhut and Co. building still stands at 2215-2217 E. Hagert St., formerly Adams Street.

“;I'm an Aquarius, so I'm interested in a lot of things,”; Cripps said. “;Whether it's vintage watches or Schoenhut, it isn't any different. You go through the same research and procedures. Whether something's going for $50 to $5,000, I get just as excited.”;




Hawaii All-Collectors Show 2009

        >> Place: Blaisdell Exhibition Hall, 777 Ward Ave.

>> When: 3 to 9 p.m. Friday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday


» Admission: $4 for adults, $2 for children 7 to 11, free for 6 and younger; $15 for early entry at 2 p.m. Friday only


» Web: www.ukulele.com





        » Free doll clinic for sick dolls by Doll Doctor Minnie Lou Long of the Doll Doctors Association, who will examine up to three dolls per person and offer repair estimates for repair. She will be in booth 113.

» “;Wrestling in Hawaii 1956-57”; captures the Hawaii pro-wrestling phenomenon, as captured in promoter Al Karasick's weekly news flier, “;Wrestling in Hawaii,”; in which he talked about the weeks matches. In the display area.


» The Oahu Anime Explorer anime club will be hosting a cosplay contest open to all cosplayers, ranging from sci-fi to anime, “;Star Wars”; to “;Star Trek,”; Indiana Jones to Space Battleship Yamato. Pictures will be taken from Friday evening through Saturday afternoon, just before judging. Visit booth 103.