Jeffery Levy with the Mallard A4 Class series locomotive of the London-North Eastern Railway (L.N.E.R.) of 1938, renamed Rod Stewart.
When Englishman Jeffrey Levy opened The Antique Toy Gallery in Tel Aviv last year, “he had no idea that local collectors were waiting for it with so much excitement. It turns out that in Israel, there is a large community of collectors and antique toy lovers.”
Says Jeffrey with a large smile: “Since the publication of articles and interviews about me on TV and in the national press, I keep receiving phone calls and visits from people who come to see my exhibits, ask questions, consult on various aspects of the hobby and buy as well. It’s something that makes me really happy.”
Jeffrey made aliyah to Israel with his wife and their now 16-year-old son three years ago, after years of traveling all over the world.
“I think” he says, “that aliyah is the closing of a circle and we settled down very well in Raanana.”
Aged 59, Jeffrey was born in England to parents who emigrated from Austria. His father was an engineer and physicist and his mother was a French teacher. As far as he can remember, he has always loved toys.
When he was six, his twin brother died of an illness and little Jeffrey, who did not fully understand the meaning of death, was happy to inherit the remaining toys.
Later on, he used the money he received for his bar mitzvah to purchase a 1938 toy bus for seven pounds. From then on, he began collecting. He started looking for toys in secondhand stores, asking about their origin, and not caring at all what his friends’ thought of his strange hobby. When he finished high school, his parents expected him to study at university but Jeffrey was determined to move on with the toys. This crisis between him and his parents led him to leave home and move far away to the USA, where he thought he could learn from the biggest collectors and connect with them.
“At the age of 19, I opened my first gallery in Los Angeles, says Jeffrey. “It was great. I was different, very young and very interesting. I linked up with collectors of antiques including some who were famous, like Bill Shatner, Richard Gere and Woody Allen who were my customers. My friendly relationship with Woody especially continues to this day.”
Levy's business faced both ups and downs, and after he closed his first gallery in LA, in 1989, he opened a three story gallery in central New York at a glittering event with the leading movie stars of the time, such as Brooke Shields, Susan Anton, Bianca Jagger and many more.
Jeffrey kept traveling to Europe, where he found most of the treasures he was looking for and gained a knowledge that made him a source of information for collectors all over the world. After two years, he was forced to close the gallery but he continued his business with toys.
Not for sale . . . a plane with the Star of David on its wings
Following his acquaintance and marriage to Suzy, his Spanish language teacher, the two moved to Spain, Suzy's homeland, in 1999. In Valencia, then later in Córdoba, where they lived, Jeffrey opened a new gallery in 2000, “Galeria Navarro” that was his base for many years until his immigration to Israel in 2014. Jeffrey gathered his great knowledge in his book The World of Antique Toys, which to this day is like the Urim and Thummim (Bible) of toy collectors.
Jeffrey Levy keeps collecting toys which are up to and over a hundred years old, not only for himself, but for his many international clients, both private and institutional. Today, he has a large collection of about 1000 items on display for sale in his gallery, each one of which is totally original in every detail, and some of which have their original box, which makes the toy even more valuable.
More than anything else, he says, he loves buses.
“There is one particular bus that I love in a special way. It was made in England in 1959. It's the same bus that I fell in love with when I was four, and I didn't get from my parents. Later on, I found it at an antique dealer. I paid a lot of money for it. I keep it in my home. Also, Automatons from the Pre-WW1 period are particularly fascinating to me. These are clockwork figures performing amusing feats”.
The oldest toy in Jeffrey's collection is a child's gambling game from 1860, made in France, which is still in working condition and contained in the original wood and leather bound box.
A tour of the toys in the gallery makes him recall fascinating stories and emotional memories. One item that he will never sell, he says, is a plane with the Star of David, which was stamped on its wings in protest against the confiscation of a Jewish-owned factory, by the Nazis.
“Some items don't have a price,” he says “The mere fact that this historically important toy airplane is here, in Israel, the Jewish homeland, seems just right. It is a testament to the undefeated Jewish spirit which lives on. It's almost akin to poetic justice”.
Opening times for those who want to visit
■The Antique Toy Gallery, 62 Arlozorov Street, Tel Aviv.
■To book a meeting please call 052 875 0800 or 03 649 9890.
■The Gallery is open Sundays to Thursdays from 09:30 to 17:30.