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June 2004 | Vol. III - No. 6


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Salmagundi Tin Toys: Reproductions from the Past


Picture a duck with a propeller on his dunce hat riding a tricycle. When Buck and Norma Service started with one tin toy among their antiques and collectibles in 1993, little did they know this tiny reproduction would generate a new business. Today, Salmagundi Tin Toys is the largest tin toy dealer in the , carrying 367 different reproductions made in countries throughout the world.

Since January 2001, this dealer has been Internet-based and never seems to have a free moment. Buck Service remarks, "We get phone calls throughout the day and night because we never specified any hours of business, and I suppose the customers believe that we´re available at any hour of the day or night like the people at L.L. Bean, but that´s actually not true. However, I´d rather roll out of bed at 3 a.m. than turn down an order."

Although Salmagundi does not carry antiques, their reproductions hold more appeal for those who wish to actually touch and operate them. Service says the authentic relics are expensive and break easily. "Picture a rusty, wobbly toy that might have a broken spring or a missing key or which has lost one of its exterior parts. What possible good can there be in that toy?” he says. Now reach over onto the shelf and take a shiny reproduction made last week, housed in a crisp new box with beautiful artwork on the outside, which has a key to wind it, and it works!"

Nostalgia may be inherent in their popularity, but he believes it´s not possible to feel nostalgic about something that a person has never possessed or experienced. "We settle on acquiring the reminders of previous lives…toys! What toy evokes the most emotional response? Tin windups. They are tiny automatons that perform on demand."

Service is not a collector and insists that if a dealer wants to make money he must resist the temptation to keep every item he sells. "Scarcity still plays a part in the price and sales of these toys, even though they might only be a couple years old," he says.

His personal philosophy is: "Never say bye, say sell." He attributes their success to paid advertising, direct personal service, and a colorful website. Having a background in advertising, he applies a principle he learned forty years ago. "Don´t just bring it in. Paint it red and bring it in on an elephant,” he says. “A small ad in an obscure magazine or paper will bring small results. A bigger ad in the right magazine in color will bring more business."

Most customers are men between the ages of 45 and 70. When the business was a brick and mortar establishment their biggest sellers were windup animals. "Women would look into our shop, fascinated by the colors and the concept, and they would buy bags full of small tin windups. Men tended to stay outside and wait. Now that we´re attacking the market from a man´s corner, we´re selling robots and anything with wheels-whether it be cars, tanks, or motorcycles."






Writer's Bio: Julia Ann Charpentier is a Milwaukee-based freelance writer and an editor for book publishers. Read more articles by this author


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