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Lillian Gottschalk, 84; Authority on Antique Automotive Toys

July 29, 2006|Claire Noland | Times Staff Writer

Lillian B. "Lily" Gottschalk, who gained acclaim for the scope of her antique toy collection as well as for her definitive book on the hobby, has died. She was 84.

A resident of Westlake Village since 1999, she died Sunday of complications of kidney failure at Encino-Tarzana Regional Medical Center, according to her son, H. William Gottschalk.

Inspired by the acquisition of vintage cars by her husband, Bill, Gottschalk started collecting all manner of antique automotive toys in the 1960s.

"Her first one was a cast-iron car, and it cost maybe 25 or 50 cents," her son told The Times.

If it had wheels, Gottschalk wanted it. Over the years, she amassed hundreds of miniature cars, trucks, fire engines, buses, taxis, ambulances, limousines, motorcycles, tractors, steamrollers and trains. These machine-made novelties were produced from about 1894 to 1942, often of cast iron, pressed steel, tin plate and lead, and sometimes of celluloid, paper, wood and plaster. All were colorfully lithographed.

The comprehensive collection, displayed in a converted dairy barn at the Gottschalks' home in Parkton, Md., attracted antique-toy enthusiasts from around the world. While accumulating her treasures, Gottschalk also researched and documented them. The result, with photos by Bill Holland, was "American Toy Cars and Trucks" (1985).

Noel Barrett, a noted antiques appraiser who appears regularly on the PBS series "Antiques Roadshow," told The Times: "A lot of people write price guides. They slap together a bunch of pictures and prices. Hers was almost academic, but not to the point of being ponderous. It was a well-documented, lavishly illustrated book that helped define the hobby."

Barrett called Gottschalk a true collector, one who searches for items because of an inherent love of the subject.

"Speculators tend to get bored," he said. "Collectors like to find the next toy and put it on the shelf."

Toys were Gottschalk's specialty, but she and her husband collected "all things antique," their son said. "Furniture, toys ... they even had a blowtorch collection."

He remembered the vast display space in the barn north of Baltimore filled with "rows and rows of shelves and room upon room" of collectibles.

Another of Gottschalk's interests was antique silver napkin rings, and she collaborated with Sandra Whitson on the 1995 book "Figural Napkin Rings," a reference guide aimed at collectors.

When her husband became ill with cancer, the Gottschalks decided to sell most of their collection. He died in 1989, and the next year Barrett held an auction at the Eagle Fire House in New Hope, Pa. The two-day sale brought in more than $1.5 million, then a record for a toy auction. Fourteen of the 715 toy vehicles sold for more than $10,000 apiece.

Barrett attributed the auction's success to Gottschalk's encouragement of other collectors.

"Everyone interested had visited Lily through the years," he said. "The collection was very well known. She wrote articles and staged museum exhibitions.

"When a great collection that's well documented comes on the market, the prices that are achieved are seldom matched for some time."

Gottschalk held on to some of her favorites, though. "That was her life," her son said.

She remained in Maryland until 1999, then moved to California to be closer to her children.

Born in Warren, Ohio, Gottschalk attended Ohio State University, went to nursing school at USC and worked at what was then Los Angeles County General Hospital. In the early 1950s, she met her future husband, a Wisconsin native who had settled in Los Angeles after World War II and was working in plastics manufacturing. They married and in 1966 moved to Baltimore, where he was an executive for medical supplier Becton, Dickinson and Co.

In addition to her son, a dentist who lives in Calabasas, Gottschalk is survived by five grandchildren. Her daughter, Susan Barbara Klausner, died in a solo skiing accident at Mammoth Mountain in February. Gottschalk and Klausner were buried at Hillside Memorial Park in Los Angeles.

One of the founding members of the Antique Toy Collectors of America, Gottschalk passed on her collecting gene to her son.

"I still have my Corgi Batmobile with the actual missiles that fire," he said. "It's incredibly rare and would be worth a lot of money. But I want to keep it. I think it's pretty cool."

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