Capital Gains: A thing of beauty is a toy forever

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Weaned on Nintendo and breakable thrift items from the local Toys 'R' Us, it seems that kids today no longer care for the concept of the Real Toy - a wind-up soldier, jack-in-the box, train or doll.

Yet if you look, you will find. Traditional toy shops and toy makers are by no means things of the past. Unique, handmade toys are still being created by a small and dedicated group.

'You can do things as a toy maker that you couldn't do in any other medium,' says Robert Nathan of the British Toymakers Guild. 'In what other field could one make a silly thing that does a silly thing when you push a silly button, and get paid for it?'

Still, while the market for the pre-seven-year-old is bouyant, children past that age are hard to capture in the techno-computer era.

'If more children could be presented with the kinds of thing I make - they'd love them,' says Toymaker of the Year, Jeff Soan. Soan, who individually hand-carves intricate and imaginative 'wobbly' wooden toys despairs over today's cheap plastic models. 'The market these days is flooded with GI Joes and Barbies and things that are all made in badly designed moulds. It's a shame, really.'

Yet he is determined to continue his trade. 'No two items I make are the same. My mermaids are special. Each tells me what she'll be like while I'm carving.'

Alex William Rulewski is also dedicated. 'I'm firmly in favour of the tradition of toys being made to pass on. 'They are things that should be kept and handed down. Today's toys are often broken within six months, whereas the things I make are substantial. They give pleasure to many children for many years.'.

Phillip's Auctioneers: 10 Salem Rd, Bayswater W2 (071-229 9090, ext 214). Phillip's quarterly toy auctions are a feast for anyone hankering for an antique toy. Browse through old die cast Matchbox and Corgi cars from the Thirtiess to the Seventies, tin model cars, mechanical animals and robots, doll houses and teddies. Dolls start at a minimum price of about pounds 80-pounds 100 and range from rare antiques to old Barbies and Sindies.

The Singing Tree: 69 New King's Rd SW6 (071-736 4527) Mon-Sat 10am-5.30pm. An exquisite shop which sells fine British minature work for doll houses. Houses on sale range from Georgian and Regency with gardens, gazebos and conservatories, to small set-up room kits for beginners to assemble themselves (pounds 112). Solid silver hallmarked place settings go for pounds 5.20 upwards, tiny oil paintings cost pounds 115,

mousetraps and candelabras vary in price. All work is handcrafted.

Stevenson Brothers: The Workshop, Ashford Rd, Bethersden, Kent TN2 63AP (0233 8203630) Mon-Fri 10am-6pm. Tony and Marc Stevenson hand-carve the most beautiful rocking horses in the country from a selection of English oak, mahogany, and black American walnut. Replica Victorian dapple greys are popular and all horses come with real horse hair and leather riding tack. Horses are mounted on safety stands or bow rockers. Each is custom made to order. A large showroom is open for browsing in Kent, and a catalogue can be ordered. At present only Harrods and Hamleys sell their horses.

Toucan Play: 94c Manor Ave SE4 (081-691 1332) Ring for viewing or made-to-order commissions. Toymaker of the Year Jeff

Soan makes hand-carved wobbly animals for children - and adults who collect them as objets d'art. Figures include waddling penguins, fish, birds, pigs and mermaids (pounds 45-pounds 200) from recyled wood.

Fabulous Animals: 6 Wimbledon Park Rd SW18 (081-874 7970). Ex-architect Neil Hardy makes specialised wind-up 'automata' figures. Dinosaurs do Rubik cubes and other animals tap-dance on top of see-through whirling mechanical bases. Eye-catching and captivating. Prices range from pounds 30 to pounds 200.

The Toy Factory: 105 Stapleton Hall Rd N4 (081 341 1060). Toymaker Samson Christofides makes large hand-painted jack-in-the-boxes which spring almost 2ft out of their boxes and could launch almost any child into orbit with surprise. Heads are made from glue resin and the painted boxes

are made from indestructible hardwood. Insiders say jack-in-the-boxes of this quality have not been seen for the past 50 years.

Alicia Merrett: 43 Anson Rd N7 (071-609 1013). Alicia Merrett specialises in soft cloth dolls made from stretch stockinette. While an 18in child's doll with a hand-painted latex face might set you back pounds 150, a newer teenage hand-stitched proto-Barbie doll is around pounds 85. Hand-made Teddies are also on sale as well as self-assembly kits.

Alex William Rulewski: Arch 22 Almond Rd SE16 (071-231 9998). Hand-made castles with lifelike sand and textured walls, towers, battlements, and drawbridges are the specialities here. Prices range from pounds 35 to pounds 98 and there's also a variety of home assembly kits too. His large wooden racing cars, come with adjustable seats, steering and suspension and start at pounds 475.

(Photograph omitted)

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