Nashville Toy Museum
162 Eighth Ave. N.
9a.m.-5 p.m. daily
$5 adults, $2.50 children
For information, call 742-5678
Quietly and without fanfare, a new museum has opened in downtown Nashville. Though the official opening is still a month away, the Nashville Toy Museum has already been welcoming school and tour groups, as well as a few curious individuals, to its space in the historic Berger Building at Eighth Avenue North and Commerce Street.
If the museum’s name is familiar, that’s because it’s the same attraction that thrived for over a decade in Music Valley only to fall prey to hard times after the demise of Opryland theme park. “I had looked all over the country for a place to put my collection, and based on the motor coach tourism figures, I decided on Nashville,” says museum founder and owner Ted Lannom. “It was kind of an experiment to see if it would work, and it did. After 10 years, I was feeling pretty securethen Opryland closed.”
Lannom’s museum hung on a few more years, during which time he came across the Berger Building. Built in 1926, the building had been an art gallery in the mid-1980s but was standing empty and in disrepair when he bought it and began to renovate it in 1999. “It’s a beautiful building and on the National Registry of Historic Places, but when I bought it, rats, pigeons and the homeless had been using it for years and it was a mess.”
A mess no longer thanks to Lannom’s efforts, the building is now home to an array of antique working model trains, dolls, model planes and ships, toy soldiers and rare teddy bears, all displayed in a professional museum setting. After walking in the front door, visitors pass through the museum gift shop. On the wall to the left, a life-size carved and painted rhinoceros head adorns the Rhino Lounge, where patrons can purchase cookies and other kid-friendly snacks. Display cases in adjoining rooms hold windup toys inspired by vintage comic book characters like Krazy Kat and Popeye, along with dozens of antique teddy bears, including prized Steiff bears. That German toy company, founded in 1877 and still in operation, is credited with creating the first teddy bear in 1903. Some of these early teddy bears are worth thousands of dollars today. A 1907 teddy bear/hot water bottle sold at auction at Christie’s for $44,000 in December, and Lannom’s own collection includes a Steiff bear valued at $6,000.
Elsewhere in the museum, 19th century German and French china dolls in elaborate dress are displayed enjoying a picnic on a blanket. Another display is devoted to a collection of toy boats, another to pre-electric automotive toys like an 1898 German-made toy car with brass trim and a windshield made out of real glass. Military toys, from lead soldiers to a medieval castle with jousting knights, are also showcased. There are pieces by such revered toy makers as Bing, a German company that created mechanical boats and steam engines from 1924-35, and American Flyer, a Chicago company that made electric trains from 1907-38, as well as toys by Marklin, Lionel and Hornby.
Then there’s Lannom’s pride and joythe museum’s Hall of Railways, where a portion of the owner’s model train collection is on view. “I still don’t have room to display all my trains,” laments Lannom, who owns 750 model locomotives. What he does have room for is a 2,500-foot track where one of his model trains chugs along through a miniature landscape dotted with forests, seaports and villagesall constructed by Lannom over the last 20 years. Design touches like a 7-fooong grouper and a great white shark suspended from the ceiling give the museum a whimsical look that customers of any age will appreciate.
As fascinating as the toy collection is, the story behind it is just as interesting. Lannom has been acquiring toys since he was a boy growing up in Dyersburg, Tenn. “Even as a kid, I held on to certain toys and boxed them up rather than get rid of them when I outgrew them,” he recalls. After high school, Lannom earned a degree in art from the University of Georgia and then headed to New York to earn a master’s from the Pratt Institute. That’s when his love of antique toys grew into a full-blown obsession. “I began to meet antique toy collectors like myself in New Yorkwhere the first thing I did when I moved there was join the model yacht club in Central Park,” he recalls with a chuckle. “That was more important to me than getting my advanced degree.”
Soon Lannom was making trips each summer to England to scour antique toy markets there. “The reason there are so many fine antique toys in Britain is because the country wasn’t invaded during World War I or II, as European countries were,” he says. “So the British still have grearandpa’s trains and teddy bears in their attics.” Lannom brought hundreds of those heirlooms home with him during the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s. “My wife and I spent our 20s and 30s chasing toys,” he admits. “I bought at a reckless rate for 20 years, and when my collection was worth more than our house, I finally realized I was buying for a museum.”
Like other museums, the Nashville Toy Museum will eventually have an educational component. “We’re going to have after-school art classes for kids and children’s reading groups,” says Lannom, who taught art at Dyersburg State for 11 years and is himself a father of two children. “There’s going to be a lot for kids to do here, because I want it to be more than just a toy museum.”
According to Lannom, the museum will officially open in mid-February, though the gift shop is now open daily and groups can schedule private tours by appointment.
Just so you know, you accidently put Scarlett's name instead of Juliette's under Glenn. I…
my girl and I hadn't been that much into all the TV shows when we…
I second the nomination of Richie Richington for sacrificial Tennessee lamb. And dammit, it sure…
Oh yeah! Wentworth Miller and his wife Sienna Miller. I think they're probably gone forever…
what about the richie couple? my money is on one of them - the wife?…