Collector Spotlight: Merle Levitt, Collector of Antique Trains & Toys Morphy's March 11-12, 2011 Toys & Advertising Auction features the Merle Levitt collection of American and European trains and toys. In this article, Merle shares his favorite collecting adventures.
News-Antique.com - Mar 09,2011 - DENVER, Pa. - Merle Levitt, whose beautiful collection of pre- and postwar Lionel, American Flyer and Ives trains is a highlight of Morphy’s March 11-12, 2011 auction, says he never actually intended to become a collector. It just sort of happened.
“I started out as a train operator,” Levitt said. “I have three sons and had built a little table layout for their HO trains when they were youngsters. But then one rainy afternoon many years ago when I was down in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, I stumbled into a hobby shop that had some O gauge train accessories of the type I remembered from childhood. They seemed to have so much more playability than HO accessories. I bought some accessories that day and it was like taking that first fatal sip of wine.”
Levitt recalled that his quest to collect was a learning experience from day one, and very different from the way collectors acquire toys and trains nowadays. “Back in the early 1970s when I started out, there weren’t as many good reference publications. Most of what I learned was through word of mouth from other collectors, and most of my buying came from ads I placed in the paper. Occasionally I would get lucky, but often the sellers didn’t want to sell individual pieces; they would only sell their collections as a whole.” That’s when Levitt starting attending shows – like the semiannual York Toy Train Show, the TCA Show and eventually the Chicago Toy Show – where he could buy exactly what he pleased and also sell off the unwanted or excess pieces from collections he had been forced to buy.
Levitt said trains were much harder to find where he lived in Minneapolis than, say, on the East Coast. “There weren’t as many big department stores in the center of America, so there were fewer trains per capita.” But he did make one great score as a result of an ad – a standard gauge Lionel Blue Comet that belonged to a retired high school principal who was in the process of moving to California. “He had acquired the train from a movie theater in Austin, Minnesota,” Levitt said. “In the postwar years, every Saturday there would be a kids’ matinee at the local movie theater. Sometimes theaters would set up toys as an added attraction to draw the kids. The Blue Comet set, which is in the auction, was one of those toys.”
Another prized item in the Levitt collection is a boxed 1948-49 Lionel store display measuring 3 feet by 5 feet that incorporates shelving and train track. “It’s known as catalog No. 10, and it was made for Lionel dealers so they could remove trains from their boxes and set them out for display,” said Levitt. It is offered in the March 11-12 auction complete with its original set box, which retains its shipping label from Lionel to a hardware store in Toledo. It’s such a large, impressive set, Levitt said, that when