The Forbes Magazine Building

I was recently heading down Fifth Avenue toward Washington Square when a interesting looking building caught my eye.

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It wasn’t anything more than the columns that I noticed and then, looking closer, I discovered it was the Forbes Magazine Building, located at 13th Street and Fifth Avenue.

I’m no longer a subscriber, but it isn’t the magazine that I was thinking about when I saw it.  It was the toys!

Yes, the toys.  Malcolm Forbes was a collector of all sorts of stuff and his most reknowned collection…okay, his second most reknowned (the Fabrage eggs would be #1)…is his toy soldier collection.

As I entered the building, a couple of things happened.  First, there was a bit of wall art that caught my eye.  It was a sort of toy-rolling-balls-with-clanging-sounds sort of thing by “George Rhoads”.  It took a quick picture.

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There was usually one ball in motion zipping around in this contraption and about every minute or two, seven or so balls would kick into action with lots of useless movement and noise.  I loved it.

Another thing that caught my eye was a request not to take pictures.  Oops.  So, the interior of the place is only going to be textually described.

The Forbes Gallery (it’s on the first floor) is open to the public where the rest of the building is still in use for publishing the magazine.  When you first go in, you have several possible routes.  Mine was straightforward:  where are the soldiers?  Thataway, I was told.  So, I went thataway.

They weren’t the first to be shown.  The first stuff was toy boats.  Magnificent, wonderous, perfect toy boats.  Hundreds of them.  They were exclusively not modern.  I didn’t notice anything that looked less than 50 years old.  Most looked much older than that.  I got the feeling that these were Malcolm’s and, being raised a child of wealth, he got every one he ever wanted (and he wanted a lot of them).  They were shown with very few placards, but mostly as if to say:  “I got a zillion of these things, here they are in bulk.  My collection is the greatest in the world!”

And, by George, it probably is.  They were mostly steamship-type boats and they looked like they had a complete life and a wonderful time on small ponds throughout NYC over the years.  None of them, at least offhand, looked like a true collector might want them:  absolutely pristine and without blemish.  Instead, they looked like they had been played with a lot by a boy (or a bunch of boys) with every intention of enjoying them to the max.

A couple of more rooms held the toy soldiers.  “Soldiers” is being too narrow.  Lots of soldiers and lots of cowboys and Indians and lots of Aztecs and lots of Greeks…and lots of others.  They were made of tin, and lead, and sawdust, and everything.  It was a complete collection of lots and lots.  You didn’t have one or two soldiers.  Nope.  You had hundreds arranged in an action scene.  And each type of army or group had its own scene.  I confess that I’m glad I never saw it when I was a kid because my green plastic army men would have never satisfied me again.

But I bet Malcolm never had the great wars with his guys that we had with ours.  Our great joy was to use rubber band shots to simulate the warfare and I doubt Malcolm would have let his suffer under that sort of assault.

But I loved his collection.  Wow.

Another room held the first Monopoly set ever.  If you’ve heard of the oldest one, it’s round and mostly handprinted.  He even has the earlier versions of it, back in the days it was called “The Landlord’s Game”.  Very, very impressive.

There were other rooms filled with artworks and a necklace exhibit.  The artwork was mostly cartoons by Ronald Searle and the necklace exhibit was not what I would have expected.  Instead, it was mostly plastic and glass necklaces, all done by hand by Monica Searle (I don’t know about any relation to Ronald Searle, but I would suspect there is).

A rather unusual collection that’s also there is old trophies for unknown people.  Well, that’s not right.  It’s trophies that ended up in flea markets and the like.  Their original winners’ names may be on them or not, but the trophies have provided their fleeting accolades on people and since been discarded by them or their heirs.  It’s a little strange.  But that’s fine by me.

-H

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