Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXII, No. 52
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
Coldwell Banker Princeton Office

Prudential Fox and Roach, Realtors

Gloria Nilson GMAC Real Estate

Henderson Sotheby's International Realty

N.T. Callaway Princeton Office

Stockton Real Estate, LLC

Weichert, Realtors

Advertise in Town Topics

Iris Interiors

Advertise in Town Topics

Weather Forecast

Wind-Up Bears, Soldiers, Knife-Grinders Among Windrows Resident’s Treasured Toys

Ellen Gilbert

Lester Arstark used to limit his antiques-loving wife Janice’s expeditions. “Three antique shops all the way to Maine!” she exclaimed recently, describing his impatience with her passion. Then, in the late 1970s, he caught the bug himself. The result is the extraordinary collection of antique toys that now lines the shelves of Mr. Arstark’s office in their Windrows home.

Coming from a family that owned 5 & 10s, it’s not surprising that the former advertising executive gravitated toward toys as collectibles. Tin toys, that is. Mr. Arstark makes it clear that tin toys, with their interesting manufacturing process and bright colors have it all over iron toys, which are “clunky” and could easily be made to look older than they actually were by getting them rusty.

Mr. Arstark’s sources were junk stores, antique stores, and, surprisingly perhaps, hardware stores. “They didn’t sell toys as a main item,” he explained, but sometimes “they had them in the basement,” often in mint condition. Asked how much he paid for some of his toys, which span the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries, Mr. Arstark says he doesn’t remember; “the pursuit was more important than trying to make money.”

His collection ranges from a simple National Biscuit Co. wagon, to a line of soldiers that were part of a late 19th century diorama depicting the Franco-Prussian War, to a knife-grinder with a wheel that sets off sparks. Mr. Arstark’s particular fascination with toys with movable parts is apparent as he describes their evolution from pull toys, to toys with clockwork mechanisms, (which failed because “they kept running when kids’ patience ran out”), to wind-up toys, which ran down in a more timely manner. Battery-operated toys followed. Mrs. Arstark, who was a first-grade teacher, counts several wind-up bears that turn the pages of books as among her favorites.

Mr. Arstark points out that the toys were almost always made for boys; girls were presumably busy playing with dolls. He scoffs at the notion of collecting trains, which were “what most kids got at Christmas.” Invariably in good condition, “they all did the same thing: they went around on a track.”

Until their move to Windrows, the Arstarks, who have been married for 56 years, lived on Long Island, where their homes included a Roslyn Village house that was on the National Historic Register, and another that they literally had to vacate when it was made into a museum. Besides living in remarkable homes, they travelled a lot, and though he won’t mention it, Mrs. Arstark was happy to report that Mr. Arstark’s business clients included concerns like the one that did the electrical work at Cape Canaveral, and another that was responsible for the subways in Washington, D.C. Now, she says, life at Windrows, an independent living community, includes “a very lively group — we have fun.”

Return to Previous Story | Return to Top | Go to Next Story

Town Topics® may be purchased on Wednesday mornings at the following locations: Princeton — McCaffrey’s, Cox’s, Kiosk (Palmer Square), Krauszer’s (State Road), Olives, Speedy Mart (State Road), Wawa (University Place); Hopewell — Village Express; Rocky Hill — Wawa (Route 518); Pennington — Pennington Market.
Copyright© Town Topics®, Inc. 2011.