Frank G. Whitson, toy collector

August 07, 1993|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,Staff Writer

Frank G. Whitson, a nationally recognized toy collector, dealer and Antique Row figure, died Wednesday after a heart attack at his home in Hamilton. He was 82.

"He was extremely knowledgeable about toys, folk art, Tiffany and leaded glass lamp shades," remembered Barr Harris, of Harris Auction Galleries who was a friend for 40 years. "He was loud, boisterous, and everyone knew him."

"I first met him 20 years ago when I asked about a toy," recalled Timonium auctioneer and longtime acquaintance Rick Opfer, "and I got a long spiel and wondered, 'Who is this guy?' "

Mr. Whitson's shop, Antiquemania, located on West Read Street in an 1847 building that was once a saloon, is jampacked with his inventory. It is representative of his interests that included the whole panoply of cast iron and tin items such as blinking-eye clocks, horse-drawn carriages, Royal Circus toys, door stops, shaving mugs, toy boats, trains, frogs, bootjacks, toy motorcycles and mechanical banks.

"He made you aware when he was at an auction. If anyone outbid him, he thought they were crazy," Mr. Harris said.

"If someone succeeded in outbiding him, he would say, 'Let them have [it], it isn't worth it,' " laughed Mr. Opfer.

Mr. Whitson set a Guinness world record in 1978 when he purchased a Jonah and the Whale iron bank for $18,500 at an auction in Williamsport, Pa.

"He also had a peculiar habit of assigning names to people. It was easier for him to remember names that way," Mr. Opfer said.

"He always called Serge Agadjanian, a toy collector, Afghanistan," said Sandra J. Whitson, a daughter.

Mr. Whitson was born in Amityville, N.Y., and grew up in Albany, where he received his early education. When he was 14, he moved with his mother, Julia, to Raleigh, N.C., after his parents' divorce. He graduated from high school there and studied engineering at Georgia Tech.

In 1933, he married the former Frances Moore of Raleigh and, with the outbreak of World War II, moved to Baltimore and went to work for what then was Glenn L. Martin Co. in Middle River, doing tooling on Martin B-26 bombers.

"I stayed with Martin for a year or two after the war, but I didn't like that job -- you had to do a little work out there then," he said in a 1991 Inside Collector magazine interview.

He began buying and selling antiques when he was 12, influenced by an aunt who was a dealer, and eventually bought and sold for some of the most famous American toy collections held by such individuals as Barney Barenholtz and Ed Mosler of the Mosler Safe Co. He opened a shop on North Charles Street in 1947 and later moved to Read Street, off Antique Row, the district of antique shops lining North Howard Street.

"He was fond of saying that his vocation and avocation were the same thing and he was lucky to be doing something that he enjoyed," his daughter said. "In fact, he was in his shop the day before he died doing what he loved best, running his business."

In a 1968 interview, Mr. Whitson imparted his lifelong collecting philosophy.

"If the housekeeper has been lax in throwing things away -- for one reason or the other -- these people have stumbled into a gold mine, literally. And the cycle is still running -- today's junk is tomorrow's nostalgia, and will have a pretty price on it too. Imagine a 10-cent Prince Valiant comic book going as high as $250?

"There's a lesson in all of that, never throw anything out."

Services for Mr. Whitson will be held today at the Leonard J. Ruck Funeral Home, 5305 Harford Road.

Besides his wife, he is survived by three daughters, Elizabeth Anne Scheuerman of Baltimore, F. Gale Whitson-Schmidt of Evanston, Ill., and Sandra J. Whitson of Lititz, Pa.; and two grandchildren.

The family suggested memorial contributions to the Hamilton Christian Preschool, 5532 Harford Road, Baltimore 21214.

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