How do you describe your collection?
My collection consists of wind-up toys.
Wind-up toys are identified or defined as having an external crown that, when turned, activates a series of gears and springs inside the toy. That puts the toy into motion — sometimes walking forward, but they may also jump, flip, and spin. That’s the fun part of them.
Wind-ups were invented in the 1500s and are sometimes referred to as clockwork toys because of their internal mechanisms. My collection is mostly plastic wind-up toys starting from the 1970s to today. I also have tin wind-up toys — a few of them are antiques and worth thousands of dollars. Others in my collection are reproductions. I’m not looking to buy, sell, and make money from the collection. It’s more of a fun hobby. They are cute and they make me smile.
When I received Guinness World Records recognition for my collection in 2021, I had 1,258 items. Since then, I’ve kept collecting and people have also gift them to me. I now have about 1,500 pieces.
When and why did you start your collection?
It was accidental. It started when I was 27. I’m now 64, so you can do the math.
I was in Vail, Colorado. I had never skied before and thought I needed to learn how to ski while I was there. I went into what they called the “Never-Ever” ski class with other adults who were beginners. I ditched the class at lunch and never went back. Instead, I went into town.
There was an adorable toy store in the village. I saw a little wind-up ski bunny. It had goggles on its head, little ski poles, and across its stomach was written “Vail”. It just spoke to me so I bought it. It was so cute and it was a great souvenir from the trip.
I didn’t have much of a childhood and never had many toys or games to play with. This collection is kind of a way to relive a childhood I didn’t have. Whenever I saw a wind-up, I bought it. Eventually, it turned into a collection and I looked for new toys when I was out. I think you probably find this with a lot of collectors — it’s the thrill of the hunt. I find toys in interesting places and not just in toy stores. I’d say the majority of my collection wasn’t found in toy stores. I find them in gift shops, airports, sporting events — random places. I was in Montana recently at a clothing store that had other little things. I found 6 different snail wind-up toys that I didn’t have in my collection.
At the time I started my collection, there was no Internet, no eBay. I really had my radar on no matter where I was, because you can find wind-up toys in unusual places. I do sometimes buy on eBay, especially during the pandemic when I couldn’t go out to stores or travel. But that wasn’t as fun for me.
How do you display and store your collection?
This is a great question.
Up until last year, wherever I lived, I put my toys out on shelves. With such a massive collection, I had to keep some in storage. I tried to put out as many as I could but always had boxes underneath the shelves. My dream was to have them all out so I could see them, as when they are stored, I forget about them and how many I have.
My dream came true just a few years ago. We live in Chicago but also have a home in Los Angeles. We had shelves custom made for the LA home, where I have the full collection on display. Every single piece. I do pick them up and play with them once in a while. People are amazed by the collection. It was a very well-thought-out process — I knew exactly the number of shelves I needed to have them all out. We have 3 different sizes of shelves and each has a little lip on the edge so the toys don’t fall off. I do have a fear that if there’s ever an earthquake in LA, I don’t know what’s going to happen to them. The lips on the shelves help. I’m at the point where I think I’ve run out of space, which I knew would happen.
An important part of having them all on display is how they are organized — I look at it as art. My son, Sam, was a great help with this. I have them organized by category. Some people have suggested I organize the collection by colour, but that’s not how my mind works. I have penguins, robots, Halloween-themed toys, characters from movies, Marvel, DC Comics, animals, cars, two whole shelves of Disney characters. — you name it, I’ve got it. They are organized very deliberately. It looks very nice.
I did need to have the entire collection in one location for the Guinness World Records process. Representatives of the organization came out to inspect and count each item. My husband, Harry, wrapped every single wind-up toy at our home in Chicago and sent them to me in LA. Bless his heart. I was nervous that some of them might get broken in the shipping process. They don’t need to be in working order to meet the eligibility criteria for Guinness but they do need to be all together in one location.
When I started the process with Guinness, I needed to track all the pieces, which I hadn’t done before. That meant I needed a photo and description of each item. Harry took a photo of each toy for a spreadsheet. I was going to hire a student to do it but Harry had recently retired so I was happy to have him take care of that. I had two witnesses for the count. Both counts were different and those were also different from my spreadsheet. I’m very fortunate to have Rachel, my daughter, who is a certified public accountant and works with spreadsheets all the time. I’m a creative person, not a numbers person. I could not have done it without her. We spent three hours on the phone figuring out why the counts didn’t match.
The spreadsheet is helpful to me even now. The other day, I went into a store and found wind-up surfer toys. I knew I already had two surfers but they do come in different colours. I just went to my phone and looked at the spreadsheet to determine what I didn’t have and bought those. I have a category on the spreadsheet for the toys I’ve added since I earned the world record in case I ever have to break the record again. Even with 1,500 toys in my collection, there are still many out there I’ve never seen before.
I have a YouTube channel where I post videos of some of my toy hauls. I bought 17 in one store recently. I get excited when that happens.
What do you consider to be the Holy Grail of your collection?
I don’t really have a great answer to that question.
Someone who is a big Disney fan came in recently to see my collection. She mentioned Pinocchio. I’ve never seen a Pinocchio wind-up toy, so that prompted me to search high and low for one. As far as I know, there isn’t one but now it’s in the back of my mind. I could have one designed and made for me. I’ve talked to makers of toys, but it’s a big deal to produce something.
In terms of my favourite toy, the most meaningful to me is the ski bunny from Vail. But, it isn’t my favourite. There’s a company called Z WindUps that makes translucent wind-up toys. You can actually see the mechanisms working inside. I have a panda and sock monkey from Z WindUps that jump rope. They are the cutest things to me.
I’m a big Disney fan and have a great wind-up from Toy Story. It’s Rex the dinosaur with three cones underneath his feet. It’s adorable.
I do have some that I don’t like. Generally, if I don’t like a toy, I don’t buy it. It’s not just about having the most, it’s also important that they bring me joy.
What advice would you give to someone interested in starting a wind-up toy collection?
I think it’s important to first decide how specific you want to be. Do you want to collect sports-themed wind-ups, or maybe just baseball toys? I know a lot of other collectors and some are big on nostalgia and collect wind-ups from certain eras such as the 1980s. It can go many different ways.
Collecting a specific type of wind-up is more of a challenge. You won’t find wind-ups from the ’80s in many stores. You’ll rely more on eBay then. Of course, there are stores that have nostalgic items. There’s a great store in Chicago I love to visit called Toy de Jour. It’s just so unique. There’s also a great one in LA called Wacko. I have many favourite toy stores.
Some people think that collectors are a little crazy. I disagree. Collecting gives people a microcosm of stability in life and a community. It’s not the same as hoarding — that’s a whole different story!
See more of Marla’s collection on her YouTube channel.
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