What’s in your attic? Toy collector displays favorites at Herman’s Boy

Show open during Harvest Fest

by Beth Altena

Nate Brown always loved toys and admits he never really grew up, but early on in his collecting days he learned a valuable lesson: Don’t throw out the box. Brown has hundreds of antique toys on display at Herman’s Boy, 220 Northland Drive. He is out back in a barn that was once a pig sty and former “dog house” for the man of the home years ago, when his wife would occasionally lock him out, according to a long-time neighbor.

“I was at an auction sale of antique toys in Lafayette, Indiana, and they held up a farm tractor and it went for $400,” Brown stated. “I had one just like it at home, so I was surprised. Then they held up the box and it went for $500.”

Brown said boxes are often priced more highly than the items they once held because nobody keeps the boxes.

“Did you ever keep the boxes your toys came in at Christmas?” he asked.

Once a set is separated from the box, it is impossible to know if the set is complete or what is missing.

Brown is a collector of toys, trains, coins, tools and lunchboxes, and he and Joyce, his wife of 49 years, are more than happy to share the efforts of years of collecting and research with those who stop in to visit. With hundreds of pieces on display at Herman’s Boy, Brown said the selection is just a drop in the bucket to his entire collection. He brought farm-related pieces for the most part to go along with the harvest theme of the annual festival which runs through October 10.

Among the oldest toys on display is a handmade plow dating to the 1870s. Made by a father who farmed on Ten Mile Road in Ottawa County, it isn’t much to look at, but has a nice story. There are other nice stories go along with each of the toys in the collection. A blue Batmobile surprises fans of the show.

“Everybody thinks the Batmobile is black, but in the original show it was blue,” Brown stated. Since the show aired in black and white, the fact is little known.

Brown described “sleepers” that are items for sale now at a low price that he believes in a little time and if the economy picks up will soon be valuables. He pointed to a large number of very small toy vehicles—going at auction and sales today for around $5—as an example. Other collectibles are versatile for collection because they have an appeal to more than one audience. The Hushpuppies truck he displays would appeal to a Hushpuppies collector, a GMC truck collector or a collector who likes semi trucks. The rubber Mickey Mouse auto would appeal to fans of Disney, rubber toys or unique car collectors.

There are probably many toys around that have value that are being played with by grandchildren. That’s fine, according to Brown, “It’s all in the eye of the beholder.”

Brown pointed to a brace—a woodworking tool that is quite common—and noted that its value is at around $200 because it was made by Winchester. Other oddities can give items value. A saw manufactured as a musical instrument, complete with bow and mallet, is valued at $700, compared to a regular saw with little value.

Brown’s dream is to have his toy collection on display in museum, but he would need a building about as large as Ace Hardware, which he constructed for Pete Kruer in his other role as a builder. If a museum never pans out for him, and his kids aren’t interested in picking up his hobby, he will probably donate his collection to existing museums. A car museum offered him $3,000 for one of the items in his collection. He also isn’t too worried about someone stealing from him.

“If they broke in, where would they start?” he laughed.

Of everything Brown has brought home over the years and among the collection he brings to Herman’s Boy for the Harvest Fest display, he is quick to answer when asked which is closest to his heart. “My wife Joyce is my favorite.”

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