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The Friday Five: William Gallagher


William Gallagher is president of the Antique Toy Collectors of America (ATCA), and in this interview, he describes the mission of the organization and shares why preserving toy history is important.

Tell us about the organization.

A group of 10 collectors founded ATCA in 1965. We’re approaching 300 members today. Most of our membership comprises U.S. residents but about 10% live outside the U.S.A., mostly in Canada and European countries.

We’re a non-profit organization. Our mission is to preserve the history of toys, educate our membership and the public, and develop friendships through the common bond of collecting toys.

The Friday Five

What is your role as president of ATCA?

I preside over board meetings and our conventions. I also promote our mission and vision outside of the organization. Part of my role is to adapt the organization to what’s currently happening in our culture. The culture of playthings is certainly changing and we have to ask ourselves about the role the organization plays in toy history. A membership survey we took last year shows that over 90% of the ATCA membership is over 60-years old. Part of my role is to stimulate the interest of younger generations. Young people spend more time on a keyboard than they do playing with actual toys. We want to interact with that group so we created a website and have an active Facebook page. That has helped generate new interest.

The Friday Five

What areas of interest are represented in the ATCA community?

Our group really looks at the history and rarity of playthings; we have diverse interests in our organization. The most popular era for our collectors is 1900-1930, followed by pre-1900, and then 1940s to 1960s, and lastly, post-1960. Within those eras, we have collectors of character, transportation, holiday, cast iron, paper, wood, and tin toys. The collections are world-class.

The Friday Five

Why is it important to preserve toy history?

If you think about the toys themselves, they have a significant history: the materials used, subjects, and technologies. Every one of them has a story to tell about play and has different levels of importance over time. Toys tend to follow history – what’s going on in the world during the time the toy was produced. They also project the future; think of space-related toys. The more I study toys, the more fascinating it gets. We have many published authors among our membership, including myself. We’re writing about topics that haven’t been written about in a meaningful way and want to share that information with the public. In addition, our website displays the contents of many old toy catalogs, an invaluable source of information for collectors.

The Friday Five

What benefits does ATCA offer members?

The biggest draw for members is our twice-yearly conventions. They typically take place in the U.S.A., but every three or four years we go to Canada or Europe. The events focus on members’ private collections during and also have educational components. When possible, we also visit area museums to learn more about their dating, storage, and archival processes. Prospective ATCA members need to be sponsored by an existing member and are highly encouraged to join us at a convention. This gives everyone a chance to get acquainted. We also publish a print magazine called Toy Chest twice a year. This is distributed internally and not sold outside ATCA. There are educational pieces written by members who have special knowledge. We also include convention highlights and other articles of interest.

We like to keep our community involved. Our Facebook page helps us do that. Our followers include dealers and collectors. We don’t conduct appraisals. We keep the focus on the history of toys and the joy of collecting.

The Friday Five

Learn more about the Antique Toy Collectors of America on their website.

Five questions, one fascinating person (or team!) – look into the minds of movers and shakers in the nostalgia, game, play, or toy industry.