While looking around eBay for some expensive wooden toys from Naef, I found some expensive wooden toys from Alexander Calder instead. Now I knew Calder made at least a circus-ful of toys in his early Parisian days, because they're at the Whitney, and the film of him putting his ingenious little wire and fabric and wood scrap dolls through their paces is absolutely enchanting. In fact, it's one of the few times I've even called anything enchanting, it's that enchanting.
But last week, Dutch tipped me off to some very early pulltoys and puzzles Calder designed in the 20's for a European toymaker, which eventually went into some production at Gould Manufacturing of Osh Kosh, WI. Good luck finding those vintage bad boys, I thought.
Then all of a sudden, Intermarche, a modernist specialist on eBay, turns up with new Calder toys for sale. Turns out the Calder Foundation and Paperball, the publishing arm of PaceWildenstein, the gallery which represents the Calder Estate, have authorized a somewhat limited production of replicas of Calder's 20's era "Action Toys."
They're made by a French company called Vilac, and so far, there are five wooden animal toys in the series: an elephant and a cat are like 3D puzzles; there's a bull pushtoy with a bobbing head; and two articulated pulltoys, a shark and a kangaroo. The designs are all kind of raw, especially by today's standards, and the Foundation has dictated that even the original design flaws and shortcomings were to be replicated in the new versions.
But if you want a slick, focus-grouped machine, there are a hundred options out there for you. If you want the handmade toys a major 20th century artist invented for his own grandkids, these Calders are it. So start saving, because they're not really cheap, and start shopping a bit, because the prices are a bit all over the map.
Intermarche's eBay store has the elephant for $75 or the cat for $70 (plus $15 shipping). The shark, meanwhile, is at museum shops for SFMOMA and MCA Chicago for $195, but Nova68 sells it for $199 ["instead of $250," or $250 million, for that matter]. The kangaroo is at SFMOMA for $240. Nova68's the only place online that shows the bull, $150 ["instead of $200."]
See the Calder reference info in Vilac's artiste collection [vilac.com]