When Ralph Tomlinson was 15, his Christmas presents included socks, shirts, underwear and pants, but no toys. From that day on, Tomlinson has been on a mission to make up for that one toyless day.
Now 69, Tomlinson's Newport Beach home is a cross between museum and playroom. His still-growing collection of 1,700 antique toys from the early 1900s, some worth thousands of dollars, sitsin locked glass cabinets all over his home.
Tomlinson isn't in it for the money. The former welding engineer, building contractor and businessman said the collection is a labor of love.
"This is not an economic thing for me," he said. "I never want to part with any of my toys. I love each one, and I still play with them all the time."
Unlike children, he does not need to be told to put his toys away when he finishes playing. Each cabinet has been neatly organized to display a specific type of toy, everything from LGB electric trains from the '40s to wooden circus toys from 1915.
Friends of Orange Coast College's Norman E. Watson Library will be hosting a showing of toys in Tomlinson's home at 10 a.m. Saturday. Anyone interested should call (714) 432-5087.
Paul Cole, the president of the Antique Toy Collectors of America club, has seen Tomlinson's collection and was very impressed by the variety.
"Some people collect just cars, trains or boats," Cole said. "Ralph's collection is an excellent example of a cross-section of a lot of different toys, from a lot of places."
The toys are from all over the world, and Tomlinson has gone to all sorts of places to find them. He orders from catalogs and goes to auctions, conventions and antique stores looking for another piece of history.
Jack Herbert, an antique toy consultant for the Sotheby's and Christy's auction houses, said Tomlinson's collection is one of the best on the West Coast for variety and educational value.
"Toys are a historical panorama of where we've been," he said. "Whenever we made a move [in technology], a toy came out in miniature. From planes, trains, to a taxi cab."
The toys in Tomlinson's collection reflect the time period in which they were created. He has cast-iron carriages made in the early 1900s in England, complete with horses that bob their heads as they are pulled across the floor. He also has an extensive collection of classic American cars, including a Model T from 1923 and a 1928 Packard.
"If I had millions, I would spend it on toys instead of stocks and bonds. Toys are a fun way to enjoy resources. You can't play with a stock certificate."