Menu Close

Boating on Fifth Avenue

Author John Cech
Air Date 8/18/2003

Boating on Fifth Avenue Transcript

If you’re on downtown Fifth Avenue in New York City some time, with or without children, you could slip into another world in the Forbes Museum, on the ground floor of the magazine’s corporate headquarters. It’s free and open to the public. You’ll need to glide past the beautiful Art Deco panels that were made for the Grand Saloon of the famed ocean liner, Normandie. Don’t drift too far to the left or you’ll be in among some relics from the reign of Napoleon the Second, or tucked in with the mind-boggling, jewel-encrusted Fabergi Easter Eggs that were made for the last Tzars.

Steer a steady course, and you’ll find yourself in among a flotilla of amazing toy boats, all safely docked in clusters of 30 or 40, in their still harbors. At first you’ll be among the battleships and cruisers, some of which are three feet or more long, with enormous wind-up keys. Others ran on tiny gasoline or steam engines, milled to perfection like their coal-fired big brothers of a century ago.

Here on display is the serenely beautiful Weissenberg, the flag ship from the Marklin toy shipyards, with its bulbous turrets and towering masts. Near it, you’ll find an elaborate French packet boat from the 1890s, with mahogany decks, powered by a gleaming copper boiler. Don’t miss the squadron of torpedo boats, and the whole display case of toy submarines — which even contains divers and wind-up tin sharks and a sunken toy version of the Lusitania, which was torpedoed by U-Boats during World War I.

Further on, there are tug boats, racing skulls and sail boats for the tub, the pond, or the side walk. Yet another case holds hydroplanes, ferry boats and pleasure and merchant craft of every class and flag — side- and stern- wheelers, junks, and African Queens.

And just when you think you couldn’t be more dazzled, you’re in among the vitrines of toy soldiers. Aztec warriors are defending the great pyramid of the Sun at Tenochtitlan, Emporer Franz Joseph with his mutton chops whiskers is busy inspecting his troops. Ethiopian warriors bravely fight off Mussolini’s legions of fascists. A brigade of 1400 French infantry, a tiny 20 mm. per man, is on parade in the next case over from the Russian Imperial Guard. There are fox hunting parties and farm sets, knights in armor, and whole courts of leaden nobility. Tin toy soldiers began to be made in and around Nurenburg, Germany, in the 1700s. Even though they were made from scraps, it was a far nobler fate when one considers that their larger relatives became mere knives and forks and spoons.

Posted in Toys