The year was 1971. Richard Nixon was in the White House. The average American earned $10,600 per year and lived in a house costing around $25,000. A brand new Datsun 1200 sports coupe could be purchased for around $1,865, its gas tank filled for a mere $4.20.
It was also a year bursting with invention and innovation. In 1971, Fed Ex was founded. A new stock market index called the NASDAQ made its debut on Wall Street. The era of modern technology had arrived with the release of Intel’s microprocessor, the CAT scanner, digital pocket calculator, floppy disk and liquid crystal display. Once relegated to military use, a novel method of electronic communication known as “email”
was now being made available to consumers on a limited level, as well.
While the world was charging toward a boundless high-tech horizon in 1971, there was also a homegrown project simultaneously brewing in Chicago – one that was anachronistically devoid of modern production techniques but poised to kickstart a worldwide microeconomy for the buying and selling of antique toys. Its architect was an automotive toy enthusiast named Dale Kelley.
“I was doing flea markets and selling toys at the time,” said Kelley. “There were only about six or seven of us doing that in Illinois. We didn’t know how many others were doing the same thing in other places, but I personally felt there was a need for a toy magazine to bring everyone together.”
Enter the 20-page mimeographed publication drafted on Kelley’s dining room table and dubbed “Antique Toy World.”
“For the first 20 years, I did all of the magazine planning from home, then I’d turn it over to the typesetters and layout people,” said Kelley, describing his cottage industry’s origins. “The first issue took me more time to do than today’s 130-page issues. We were printing them at a little storefront. The printer would do two pages at a time, then flip over the pages and print on the other side. He’d put the pages in a folder, then send them out to home workers for stapling and binding. I didn’t realize we were doing it the way it was done a hundred years ago till somebody said to me, ‘You’re doing it all wrong. You can print 16 pages at a time on a press.’”
Antique Toy World entered a new era, Kelley said, when a deal was struck with Chicago-based Pioneer Press, whose commercial division could turn out 32-page signatures and bind the magazines all at the same premises. Their association lasted 10 years, till Pioneer Press closed its commercial
operations and ATW switched to a Michigan printer. Later, Kelley would take his magazine to Ovidbell Press in Missouri, which has been printing ATW for the past 15 years.
Kelley said it took around six issues for his fledgling magazine to show any discernible improvement, and that by its third year, it was actually enjoying some growth. “By 1974, it was up to 30 pages. It grew slowly, and by 1979, we had added another six pages. The subscription base was certainly growing. We had subscribers all over Europe,” Kelley recalled.
By 1981, ATW had expanded to a full 64 pages. The decade to follow would prove to be the magazine’s boom period for ads and editorial. “We ran both display and classified ads,” said Kelley. “I think Don Kaufman was one of the first advertisers.”
With the March 1982 issue hitting an 80-page milestone, Kelley was forced to switch to thinner paper for use with offset pressing. “I had been using 60-pound typewriter paper. I couldn’t afford to use heavy paper any more because of the cost of postage for a larger-size magazine,” he said.
Around 1982, Antique Toy World introduced color, another link in the chain that indicated a bright future lay ahead. The magazine’s personality had been formed, Kelley said, with a team of regular contributors that included Clint Sealy (TootsieToys), Charlie Best (cap guns), Sy Schreckinger (banks), Jack Herbert (tin toys), and artist John West, whose distinctive cartoons and artwork began with the very first year of ATW’s
“But thousands of people have contributed material over the years,” said Kelley. “I remember Lloyd Ralston writing about robots, and of course there was Al Marwick, who wrote the column called The Fun is in the Search. Al had a great eye and was a big influence in the early days. I remember one time he did an article on Japanese tin cars that showed how far ahead he was of everybody else. At the time, you could actually go into a store and buy Japanese toy cars. He made everyone aware of what they were, and it seemed like overnight everybody was collecting them.”