Revealing the antique toy collections of Donald Kaufman

Donald Kaufman was born and bred in Pittsfield, Massachusetts on October 8, 1930. After his education and a measure of national service in the Army, he joined the family company, Kaufman Brothers which sold general goods.


The company was just one generation old, having been started by his father and uncle. With the younger Kaufman playing an ever more significant role, the business expanded to include Kaufman Brothers Toys - better known as K B Toys - which developed a presence in every state in the US.

Kaufman gained a comfortable income through the workings of K B Toys, and began collecting toys of his own. The collection began with an International Harvester Red Baby truck, which he bought from a fellow collector for $4 and never looked back.

Bignan Tinplate Luxury Auto
Bignan Tinplate Luxury Automobile

That was the start of something big. Kaufman always had a steady income flow - the more so after K B Toys was sold for $62m - but his determination and skill were more important. From an early stage, unwilling to face a common collector's problem of having nowhere to put things, he built a new wing onto his house.

Kaufman was also lucky in having someone who shared his passion. His second marriage, to Sally Golden, was crucial to his success and he regarded his collecting as a team effort from then on.

Donald Kaufman was a completionist who set out to collect examples of all the high quality vehicle toys of Europe. Although he owned a number of examples of some types of toy he claimed not to own any duplicates - every example was different in some way he considered significant, even if it was just a different paint colour.

The balance between the size of Kaufman's collection (7,000 items or so) and its sophistication reflects both Kaufman's honing skills and his insatiability as a collector.

These characteristics in turn are reflected in the way he turned up to auctions and exhibitions. Kaufman is credited as being the first collector to use a bicycle in navigating Route 20 during the Brimfield antiques shows. On the other hand fellow collectors remember a sinking feeling when he turned up to auctions in an empty truck.

Tippco Tin Clockwork Mickey Minnie Mouse motorbike
Tippco Tin Clockwork Mickey Minnie Mouse motorbike with original box

Two of his favourite ever pieces were a Tippco tin clockwork Mickey and Minnie Mouse on Motorcycle, early 1930s, the only known example with its original pictorial box and a fire engine which is actually powered by steam - both of which have been estimated at $50,000.

Sally Kaufman insists that whilst the collection might have become very valuable, Kaufman never collected for that reason, just for the love of it.

Popeye the Champ toy
Popeye the Champ toy (a part of this month's auction)

It is perhaps in keeping with that attitude that Kaufman, having refused all offers of private sales, decided at 78 to release it all to auction - 'If you love something, set them free' as the saying almost goes, and he set every last toy vehicle - and all the other toys - on the road to new owners at once, holding back nothing.

Bertaoia auctions was delighted to take on the collection, but thought it would only be manageable to sell across four, five or even six auctions. Kaufman quietly but enthusiastically helped to set up the sales, and stated that he would be present to watch all his beloved toys finding new homes with other collectors who loved them.

Donald Kaufman toy auction flyer
Donald Kaufman fourth toy auction flyer
(Click to enlarge)

Sadly, that was not to be, as he died suddenly after the first two auctions which had already achieved several million dollars. With the fourth auction coming up, the total is now $9.3m and counting.

With bids coming from all over the world, it's clear that collectors everywhere are grateful to Kaufman for bringing together and preserving  so many valuable pieces, which would doubtless otherwise have been damaged or lost.


The fourth Donald Kaufman toy auction will take place on September 24-25 in Vineland, New Jersey


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