Toy museum set to play well in sale

A renowned British toy designer’s museum of antiques, curios and collectibles – thousands of objects amassed over a lifetime – has stunned antiques experts at Hansons Auctioneers. 

Over more than 50 years, Patrick Rylands, 81, a man who created some of the UK’s best loved toys, amassed his giant and diverse collection. He bought anything and everything that caught his eye, from the rarest tinplate penny toys and early Mickey Mouse collectibles to vivid 1930s American radios and what is thought to be the best Victorian marble collection ever found in the UK.  

Toy automaton
Credit: Hansons

Cabaret Mechanical Theatre automata also appealed. He acquired 50, mostly by renowned British artist Paul Spooner. A Napoleonic, nine-character ‘Spinning Jenny’ bone automaton, made by a French prisoner of war in circa 1800-1810, is also part of the collection. It alone could achieve £15,000 under the hammer at Hansons Auctioneers. 

Their team of valuers are hard at work cataloguing the objects. Among them is toy valuer Steve Fulford who said: “There are drawers full of small pieces right up to a Polyphon, a large coin-operated floor-standing music box measuring 7ft tall.  

“Such is the vastness and scarcity of the objects, the collection could achieve more than £100,000 at auction. It boasts many stars which continually amaze us as they emerge from boxes. I particularly like a 1994 Paul Spooner automaton called Manet’s Olympia (estimate £3,000-£4,000). I also love a Victorian glass marble with a beautifully-crafted colour swirl and teardrop inside. It’s a work of art. 

Victorian marble with a small tear-drop to the centre of a rare, colour-divided core swirl.
Credit: Hansons

“Patrick objects to being described as a ‘passionate’ collector. He said he had an ‘interest’ and if there was any skill involved it was in having an eye for a specific item and then learning more about it through research and relationships with dealers. He claims to have no favourites. He bought things because he liked them. 

“Whatever spurred him on, family members have great stories of visiting him and being transported into a kind of Aladdin’s cave, a treasure trove from which he would bring item after item to show them, to their great delight, and his. 

Paul Spooner automaton
Paul Spooner automaton, 1994, called Manet’s Olympia, estimated at £3,000-4,000. Credit: Hansons

“His eye for interesting objects strayed far beyond toys and mechanical objects. Lots include royal souvenir chocolates from 1923 and a collection of suffragette badges which include a scarce circa 1909 example designed by social activist Silvia Pankhurst. Our militaria department say it’s the best suffragette badge they’ve ever seen.” 

Patrick, who was born in Hull, East Yorkshire, but later moved to London, said: “I started collecting when I was 20 years old, probably even a little before that. One of the very first items I bought was a two-sided tin figure on a rectangular base with one foot in front of the other as if about to bowl a ball. That’s in the auction.  

“I suppose I started collecting toys because I was making them for a living but my collection covers many areas. I don’t have any favourites. I liked all the things I collected – that’s why I bought them!  

An antique Napoleonic Spinning Jenny bone automaton
Napoleonic Spinning Jenny bone automaton. Credit: Hansons

“My method of sourcing them was at first solely based on where to find them cheaply. That led to regular visits to London’s Portobello Road, which was close to where I lived, and early morning visits to Brick Lane markets. I built relationships with specific dealers including an American marble dealer. He used to come to my home carrying marbles in a handgun case for protection. 

“The phase of my life when I was a designer and a collector is now over and I have moved into the next phase where the focus needs to be on care and comfort. Nevertheless, I have kept a handful of items so maybe I have some favourites after all. 

Steve said: “Such is Patrick’s pedigree as a designer his toys are on permanent display in London’s Victoria and Albert Museum of Childhood and, at  27, he became the youngest designer to win the Duke of Edinburgh’s Prize for Elegant Design. 

A selection of toys designed by toy designer Patrick Rylands
A selection of toys designed by toy designer Patrick Rylands. Credit: Hansons

“He has a deep appreciation and understanding of how things are made. To offer an insight into his talent, in 1966, aged only 23, he invented Playplax, a colourful interlocking construction toy. It has sold over a million copies worldwide. At the time he was studying at London’s Royal College of Art. While working at Hornsea Pottery during his summer holidays, he showed a prototype design to his boss who knew a company that could make it. The rest, as they say, is history.” 

After graduating in ceramics from the Royal College of Art in London in 1966 Patrick worked as a freelance designer for iconic toy companies including Creative Playthings, Naef and Ambi Toys, where he worked exclusively as in-house designer for more than 25 years.  He created more than 130 popular toddler and baby toys, known for their simplicity of design combined with movement, sound and primary colours. In 1999 he was elected the title of Royal Designer for Industry. 

“Steve said: “Ever seen a duck with three miniature ducks that slot inside? Or Taskmaster’s Alex Horne with a Tommy Toot whistle toy? They were down to Patrick. 

“His design inspiration came from everywhere. For example one item was based on a 19th-century tin toy called Magic Run. His love of collecting proved useful. He picked up on mechanisms in other objects that could convert to toys.  

“His designs have brought joy to millions. His collection will deliver joy too. It can be hard to let go but age comes to us all. I hope he will enjoy seeing his lifetime of treasures delight collectors all over the world.” 

The Patrick Rylands’ Collection will be offered by Hansons Auctioneers starting with the May 29 Patrick Rylands’ Collection Part 1, Curios and Connoisseur Ceramics.