Approximately 17 years ago a photograph and caption appeared in the July 1998, Vol.44, No. 3 Train Collectors Quarterly "New and Unusual Items Seen at York" feature page 40. The photograph was of a Lionel Standard Gauge box with the box stamped with the name Ludwig Bauman store NYC. Nothing else was known of the content of this set, and more importantly, nothing about the company.
I was stunned when I read this. My dad had worked for that company for years. I said to myself: I’ll sit down and email the owner of the box, give him the background information on the company referenced on the box, and hopefully I can at least see it if not purchase it from the owner.
Well, 17 years later, I finally got the chance to sit down and compose the email, as life itself had got in the way of sending it sooner (more on this later). Here is the letter I wrote to the person who submitted the photo and info for the 1998 TCA Quarterly’s New and Unusual Items. With the extraordinary help of Jan Athey, Librarian at the TCA Reference Library, I was able to contact the owner of the box. Here is my mail to him, dated 10/21/2015, and not 10/21/1998:
Mr. Mathis - it has been 17 years since I first intended to send you an email regarding your contribution to New and Unusual Items Seen at York in the TCA quarterly July 1998 issue. Since then and now, life got in the way, with college graduations, engagements, weddings and new home purchases for both my daughters occurring since 1998. And of course, I lost this issue of the Quarterly in the process and any reference I had to that issue.
Jan Athey, Librarian at theTCA Reference Library came to the rescue! Earlier this month, on Wednesday of 2015 York Week, I enlisted the help of Jan to locate a copy of this July 1998 Quarterly so that I could contact you. Jan mentioned she knew you, and that she would mention all this if she bumped into you at York.
In this 1998 issue, you submitted a photo of a Standard Gauge set box for Outfit #35, apparently labelled for a Ludwig Bauman store in New York City - set contents unknown. My dad worked for that company, it was a furniture chain that operated in Queens and Brooklyn, with stores in Jamaica (main office), East New York and Astoria, 3 main shopping areas outside of Manhattan at that time. My dad was the credit and collection manager for the company, actually named C. Ludwig Bauman, for almost 50 years.(Apparently Lionel left off the C on the set box stamp).The Bauman Company merged with Michaels Brothers Furniture of Brooklyn in the 1970's. My dad worked with them for another 15 years, retiring at 72. As info, an outfield billboard featuring Michael’s can be seen in old photos of Ebbets Field just past the left-field foul pole in fair territory.
Having been born in the post war era, I can only recall most of what I write from conversations with my mom, dad and siblings. What I do remember however, were the two sets of prewar trains that always came out at Christmas time, along with the Putz-type houses, a few lead figurines, some Marx accessories and a home-made “ski slope” my uncle made for ourdime-store skiers and skaters. This is what Christmas always meant to me.My dad's company sold toys (and apparently trains) to shoppers frequenting the stores before Christmas. If the toys and trains were not sold, they were sold at cost to the employees. My dad purchased a 1688 passenger and 1689 freight set. He paid them off at the handsome sum of 50 cents a week until paid in full.
Those two “Lionel Junior” sets are still in the family, no set boxes remain. I know your box was a Standard Gauge set, no one is around anymore to verify Mr. Bauman's company selling Standards -they were probably too expensive when compared to my dad's disposable income – so we wound up with the 027 Lionel Junior’s. I do have a hazy recollection of dolls and toys positioned on the selling floor of the Jamaica Bauman’s store when I would stop by with my mom to wait for my dad at quitting time in the mid 50's - but no trains! We had to walk over to Macy's or Gertz Department Stores to see the train displays.
Well, to make a long-winded story shorter, these simple 1688 and 1689 sets are the major reason for my fascination with pre-war trains today, even though my friends had their post-war Santa Fe's, American Flyer's and HO's growing up in Queens in the 50's and 60's. Lucky for me my dad saw the value of setting up trains and running them with me as opposed to hanging out on the street with my friends.
Well, 17 years later, my message to you is finally done. If I can be of further assistance, please give me a call at 516 249-6628 any evening, or email back if I piqued your interest, and thanks for your time.
Here is what Mr Mathis graciously wrote back, and it certainly didn’t take 17 years for him to respond, only a few days:
Barry - many thanks for your e-mail. It’s always interesting to get new information on a toy train conundrum. Nobody has ever come forward to say what set #35 contained. I think it was a custom set made up for Bauman. I sold the box at York to a paper/box collector many, many years ago. I don’t even remember his name. I have photos of the box, label and Bauman shipping label on one of the numerous discs from my digital camera. Like most people I have no idea where or on what disc it is located (LOL!) But, I intend to look for it. Let’s hope I can do it before the discs or me are history…..I know your plight well concerning life agendas and priorities. My wife’s grandmothers’ doll house from the late 1800’s is on my workbench for a year waiting to be refurbished.
Thanks again I really enjoyed your story and greatly appreciate the time you took to write.
All my best for the Holidays.
And here’s a follow-up email a few days later……………
I went through all the old memory cards I could find without success. My records show I bought the box from a good friend (also a TCA member) along with a #51 loco, 180, 181 and 182 passenger car set in November 1996. The cars are Maroon with nothing unusual about them or the loco (i.e. labeled for a different railroad or anything like that). At that time my friend told me his father (again a TCA member) had picked up the trains and the box separately here in New Jersey in the 70’s. He didn’t have any other details. He did not believe the box had anything to do with the set.
If I remember correctly the set would not fit in the box along with any track. The box had no dividers. The box labels were the early type and that combination of loco and cars was sold as set #50 and #43 from about 1915 to 1923. There is no set #35 in any of the reference books I have. I sold the box at York in October 2000.
I did not record the buyers name or ID. Of course Lionel sold lots of sets on a private label basis that were just regular stock and given another number than that used in the catalog. The Bauman label, as I recall, had a Manhattan address. Along the edge was a printer’s notation of the date and number of labels printed. e.g. 2K (# printed) and 1/31 (date). You will see this in a great number of older labels. Today all you will see is the label ID # and that is usually well hidden.
BTW these are not the numbers appearing on the Bauman label but strictly an example. I will continue to look for old memory discs but I doubt if ones from 19 years ago will magically appear.
All my best. Les
Well, after all that, all I have to say is Merry Christmas to all, and perhaps the current box owner is out there and will read this along with all other TCA’ers.
Thank you Les Mathis, Jan Athey and my dad, Charles A. Potavin Sr. for starting all this!