Lillian Gottschalk, 84, expert on toy autos, napkin rings


Lillian B. Gottschalk, a world-renowned expert on and collector of automotive toys and Victorian napkin rings who wrote widely on both subjects, died of kidney failure Sunday at a hospital in Encino, Calif. The former Parkton resident was 84.

Born Lillian Brown and raised in Warren, Ohio, she was a graduate of Ohio State University and completed nursing school at the University of Southern California. She worked as a nurse during the late 1940s and 1950s in Los Angeles before her 1955 marriage to William G. Gottschalk.

They moved to Baltimore in 1966 when her husband was named president of Baltimore Biological Laboratories in Cockeysville. The company later became Bioquest, a division of Becton Dickinson.

Mrs. Gottschalk began collecting almost in self-defense. Her husband collected and restored rare, classic automobiles such as Auburn Boattail Speedsters, Hupmobiles, Detroit Electrics and air-cooled Franklins.

Fans of the legendary cars would invite her husband to meets and conventions while leaving her out, so she decided to start collecting toy versions of trucks and cars in the early 1960s.

"He always wanted a real Model T Ford to add to his collection," Mrs. Gottschalk told The Sun in 1986. "One day I bumped into one in the form of a toy miniature. Somebody was using it as a doorstop. As a joke I came home and announced proudly one day: `Well I found your Model T!'"

Her husband was pleased by her gift, and Mrs. Gottschalk became hooked on automotive toys, prowling antiques shops and attending sales and auctions.

Automobiles, buses, taxicabs, fire engines, patrol wagons, milk trucks, racers, tow trucks, trailer trucks, delivery vans, ambulances, car carriers, house trailers - models of anything that had rolled on the world's roads and highways and had been rendered in cast iron, metal or pressed tin - found their way into her ever-expanding collection.

The couples' collecting fervor extended to miniature stationary steam engines, blow torches, toasters, silver commemorative spoons, pedal cars, B&O Railroad dining car china, napkin rings and blinking-eye clocks.

By 1973, they had outgrown their home and purchased a 1930s-era dairy barn at York and Stablersville roads in Parkton. They converted it into a 7,000-square-foot home, restoration facility, museum and workshop, and called it The Barn.

"At one point, he had 21 automobiles, and she had at least 3,000 trucks and cars that spanned the period from the 1890s to pre-World War II," said her son, Dr. H. William Gottschalk, a dentist in Calabasas. Calif.

Not only did she display them at home, she happily let museums and historical societies display them as well. "Lil was a very intelligent and directed collector, and the historian and maven of automotive toys," said Rick Opfer, a Timonium auctioneer and longtime friend.

Because she had grown up in an antiques-filled home, Mrs. Gottschalk wasn't content just to collect; she wanted to know the provenance of her collection, and in doing so amassed a library of material relating to automotive toys from across the world. In 1986, Abbeville Press published her book, American Toy Cars & Trucks, which has become the definitive guide for collectors.

"She was always very receptive to showing her collection and sharing her knowledge," Mr. Opfer said. "Being in The Barn was an experience. It was very rustic, and they had filled it with Southwestern furniture and their various collections that were well-displayed. They even had things stuffed into the rafters. "

Mrs. Gottschalk was also co-author with Sandra Whitson of Figural Napkin Rings, a guide to napkin rings made in the shape of animals or other figures such as cherubs.

"People used to ask me what it was like growing up looking at all that stuff, and I'd tell them that while I appreciated what they had collected, it really wasn't me or my social circle," Dr. Gottschalk said. "But I carry the collecting gene, and now I collect napkin rings and have restored a few classic cars. It's because of the fascinating world I grew up in."

Her husband died in 1989, and a decade later, Mrs. Gottschalk moved from Parkton to Westlake Village, Calif.

Even though she had auctioned off her collection, she continued to look for napkin rings and toy vehicles, her son said.

Services for Mrs. Gottschalk were held yesterday in Los Angeles.

Also surviving are five grandchildren. Her daughter, S. Barbara Klausner, died in a skiing accident in February.

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