‘Are there any old toys around here?’ You’d better believe it
By Mark Wineka
SPENCER — Four years ago, in what he says was his attempt not to be a hoarder, Steve Mayo started looking for a category of collectibles that were harder to find — so he wouldn’t end up with so much stuff.
It didn’t work exactly as Mayo had planned. He went all in on wooden toys, and some of his best toys will be on display over the next year at the Spencer Doll and Toy Museum at 108 Fourth St.
“The pain is looking through 3,000 toys and deciding which 300 to bring,” Mayo said Saturday morning as he unloaded big plastic containers full of wooden toys, just part of his enviable collection.
Curator Gayle Hansen, assisted by her husband, Michael, helped Mayo in unpacking his containers and deciding what to display in two large cabinets at the museum. For now, many of Mayo’s prized Ted-Toylers will fill one cabinet.
The other cabinet probably will have a mix of wooden toys from companies such as Hustler, Rich, Scary Ann, Wilson Walkies, International and Toy Tinkers.
Mayo brought enough toys so the museum, founded by Beth Nance, will be able to have rotating exhibits of his stuff over the coming months.
Mayo considers Lexington, Miss., his home, but he travels a lot with his job and came to Spencer from Kentucky. His travels are conducive to meeting fellow collectors such as the Hansens, with whom he spent Friday night.
In fact, Mayo will be going home with a pre-World War II Lionel train set he bought from Michael Hansen.
“I’m wound up,” Mayo said as he kept working Saturday. “I could talk all day. He (Michael) said, ‘Bring whatever you want,’ and after we talked, he said, ‘Don’t bring all that.'”
This will be the first time Mayo’s toys will be on display for the public since he came to own the treasures. “He would like people to see them,” Gayle Hansen said.
Mayo said he often has tracked down longtime collectors ready to sell what he or she has. He makes an offer for the whole collection, and many times that approach has been successful.
He also describes himself as someone who just digs around and has fun. He keeps a notebook with page after page of lists detailing the wooden toys he has under the company name that made them.
On his cellphone, he keeps pictures, divided by company, of the toys he still wants to find to round out his collection.
“Everywhere I go I ask, ‘Are there any old toys around here?’ … I meet somebody like these two (the Hansens). I get to know them. They get to know me.”
They soon start trading pictures of things they come across.
“I do that with a wide variety of collectors,” Mayo said.
Not only does Mayo have rare toys, he sometimes has the original boxes they came in.
During the unpacking Saturday, he frequently turned to Michael Hansen and said how rare a particular toy might be.
His 1930 Teddy Giant Roaring Racer is one of only two in the world, Mayo said.
He is particularly proud of his Ted Toy-lers Marching Squad pull toy from 1927. He also showed off a Continental Army soldier from 1926 made in celebration of the country’s 150th anniversary.
Michael Hansen was impressed with Mayo’s collection of miniatures, such as his Scary Anns and Wilson Walkies. At shows and other museums, he has never seen the quantity and quality that Mayo has.
“And I’ve seen some big collections,” Hansen said.
Hansen has about 40 Wilson Walkies, for example, but the ones Mayo was pulling out of containers Saturday were “some of the rarest I’ve seen,” Hansen said.
The Wilson Walkies, which were designed to walk down ramps, were made from discarded thread cones coming from sock factories.
Most collectible wooden toys were produced in factories from 1880 into the 1950s. Mayo is a collector of specific brands, many of which date back to the 1920s and 1930s. He said he has come to have a wealth of knowledge of those brands, thanks greatly to being around longtime collectors.
Mayo, 45, said he won’t be done collecting “until I have them all.” His wife puts up with his pastime because she is a collector, too. She specializes in antique glass and silver.
The Spencer Doll and Toy Museum is open Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
African-American artists Elijah Belton and Deloris Medlin also had their works displayed Saturday at the museum.
Belton is co-owner of the E&M Gallery at 907 S. Main St., Salisbury, and the gallery often exhibits the art of other local artists. Medlin’s work will be featured from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. Feb. 18.
Belton said his art concentrates on everyday people, and the works he had displayed Saturday included a sharecropper, school teacher, older men from Faith and East Spencer, and overall depictions of Third World hunger.
The E&M Gallery is open from 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Wednesday-Friday and 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday.
Medlin concentrates mainly on portraits (and pets and old cars) done in charcoal and pencil. She also has been making “Dee’s Announcement Bells,” which customers can buy to announce their special occasions.
Medlin has a Facebook page — Dee’s Arts and Crafts, Salisbury, N.C. — showing samples of her work
E&M Gallery also is on Facebook.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263.