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Hamptons Life

Aug 3, 2010 12:11 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Dolls and toys are more than playthings in museum show and sale

Aug 3, 2010 12:11 PM

Last year, the red barn at the Southampton Historical Museum was cleared of its clutter and cobwebs and a few hundred dolls moved in for a short summer stay in the Hamptons. It was shorter for some than for others as the dolls were snapped up by toy mavens, doll connoisseurs and collectors.

The occasion was an estate sale of collectible toys and dolls, a benefit for the Southampton Historical Museum and the Toy Museum of New York, which is hoping to raise enough money to launch a permanent branch in Southampton Village. The sale was, by all accounts, a resounding success, which prompted organizers to return for a summer-long repeat, this time with more toys—literally hundreds of teddy bears, more than a thousand dolls and enough dollhouse furniture to outfit a miniature village.

All of the toys in the sale were donated by people who knew that they would be sold, according to Marlene Hochman, founder and director of the Toy Museum, which is based in Brooklyn Heights. Ms. Hochman, who is in the Hamptons in August when the New York museum space is closed, spoke of some of the donors in a recent phone interview. She noted that the huge collection of teddy bears came from a Californian, who was honoring his deceased wife’s hope that her collection would “have a good use.” Many of the dolls were donated by a woman from Brooklyn.

Wonderful as these extensive collections are, “they are just not right for our collection,” Ms. Hochman explained. What the Toy Museum of New York is trying to build, she said, “is a collection of 19th- and 20th-century classic toys.” But the others, she added, “make a great gift for someone.”

The New York museum, a non-profit educational organization founded in 1999, also prepares traveling exhibits for schools, libraries and cultural centers and hosts many visits from schoolchildren throughout the year. Always on the alert for toys that can teach, Ms. Hochman was intrigued when she first heard about Southampton resident Orson Munn’s spectacular collection of antique toy soldiers. Anyone who has had the privilege of a tour of Mr. Munn’s collection—breathtakingly displayed in meticulous miniature reenactments of battles from conflicts as far flung as the Zulu Wars and as close to home as the Civil War—will understand why.

Since Mr. Munn, a longtime village trustee whose dedication to the village is well known, has been looking for a home for the collection, and is understandably eager to see it stay in Southampton, it was not surprising last year when the Munns and Ms. Hochman joined forces to work on providing a museum site in Southampton. A fund-raising event was held last August to help bring a branch of the Toy Museum of New York to the village and Mr. Munn obliged by sharing some of the things he has learned and the pleasure he has derived since he began his collection at age 5.

Spearheading the effort in Southampton is Mr. Munn’s daughter, Linda Munn, who has inherited a love for Southampton from her parents. She believes that the museum she and Ms. Hochman envision fits nicely into plans currently evolving for the village’s next 10 years of growth—plans aimed at making Southampton a cultural destination.

What the Toy Museum would offer is “an educational experience,” said Ms. Munn, who spoke at her parents’ home on Gin Lane. Collectors of all ages “will travel across the world to see something to collect or something museum-worthy,” she said, predicting that a toy museum “would bring a very nice kind of people to Southampton.”

“The issue is finding a home,” she said. “Maybe when the Parrish moves to Water Mill, we may have the possibility,” she added wistfully, without venturing to finish the sentence. Once a home is found, Mr. Munn will donate his collection, which will be displayed along with other toys, including dolls, trains, trucks and board games.

Meanwhile, there is interest in the Munn collection elsewhere. Ms. Munn mentioned the Frazier International History Museum in Louisville, Kentucky, which has been eyeing Mr. Munn’s collection with great interest. In another development, part of the collection devoted to American soldiers in war has been promised a home by William Frankenbach, who is in charge of a space in Veterans Hall where the toy soldiers are to be part of a larger exhibit.

“That’s great,” said Ms. Munn. “It helps Veterans Hall and it’s wonderful to be able to teach children about war—the heroes and what it takes.”

The aim is to keep the collection in Southampton, but “we are entertaining alternatives,” sighed Ms. Munn. “We have to have a Plan B.”

Meanwhile, as part of Plan A, the Doll and Toy Show and Sale is ongoing in the red barn at the Rogers Mansion, 17 Meeting House Lane. The museum is open 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.

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