Snapshots from the
Birnkrant Family Album
Part II

Antique Toy World
November 1995
By Doug and Pat Wengel

In our second visit to the Birnkrant Collection we take you into Mel's studio, where we find him at work on a toy project while the marvelous Mickey and Minnie ventriloquist figures "art direct."

In the early '60's, Mel and Eunice began a business called "Boutique Fantastique," hand crafting sand toys, animated music boxes, zoetropes and gift items based on antique toys.

A 1967 article in the New York Times attracted the president of Colorforms, who called Mel, challenging him to invent modern toys. The results was the "Colorforms Aliens," among the very first boys' action figures (which are very collectible today.)

Mel continued his association with Colorforms, and as creative director was responsible for the Mickey Mouse Colorforms and some 30 to 50 other products each year for the next 20 years.

As an independent inventor since 1988, Mel has created many items, including Maurice Sendak's "Wild Things" dolls, the "Baby Face" dolls by Galoob and Mattel's "My Very Own Puppy," to name a few.

At left is one of Mel's original sculpy prototype dolls which became "Baby Face" dolls by Galoob.

Ironically, his most successful item to date is practically unknown in the U.S., called "Magic Diaper Babies." It was a "fad" in Europe, where it sold over 100 million pieces.

His latest creation is a line of toys for Mattel based on the top-rated Nickelodeon show "Aaaahh! Real Monsters" … appearing now at a Toys "R" Us near "U."

Apart from whatever work is in progress in Mel's studio, there are few signs of his own creative output visible. He has always preferred to immerse himself in the beauty and inspiration of images from the golden age of comic characters rather than his own efforts.

As Mel says, "If I can find an empty space around here (which isn't easy) and 'something I have done' is competing with an 'old toy' to fill it, the old toy wins out every time!" As you can see from these photos, the old toys have not only won out, they have completely vanquished all competition!

Much of the joy of experiencing the Birnkrant Collection is a direct result of the absolutely superb displays created by Mel to showcase the collection. Everywhere you look is a feast for the eyes and the heart. With brilliantly engineered lighting, each showcase is craftily designed by Mel to lead the eye to the items he desires to emphasize.

Again, sit back, relax and enjoy these glorious images from the finest comic character collection in the world.

This corner of Mel's studio looks like he has cornered the market in comic characters.

An enticing selection of BUSTER BROWN. Note the remarkably rare Roly Dolly by Schoenhut and the windmill-powered animated store display.

BETTY BOOP and her troupe top off an eye-popping presentation of POPEYE and his pals.

A "FANTASTIK" voyage! POPEYE the Sailor navigates a sea of JEEPS.  

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All photographs Mel Birnkrant
Some of the toys the Walt Disney Company