American Flyer 1930 Catalog Artwork
BY OTIS B. DRINKWATER
This is a pen name. To contact the author, please mail Editor Bob Mintz.
For those truly spectacular toy train items, one cannot really say they own them; rather they are a temporary caretaker of such an extraordinary item. At least that is how I view my possession of the American Flyer 1930 catalog artwork.
The artwork is an original “Goauche” painting. Gouache differs from a watercolor in that the particles are larger, the ratio of pigment to water is much higher, and an additional inert, white pigment, such as chalk, is also present. This makes gouache heavier and more opaque, with greater reflective qualities. It is reported that this type of painting is used most consistently by commercial artists for works such as posters; illustrations; comics; and other design work. It is my understanding that lead was the “inert” white pigment used in the painting I have. The so called “inert” pigment has begun to darken over the years and has turned black in spots.
The painting is on paper and is dated 4/1/30 and signed by the artist/or the person who received the art on the lower right border in pencil. Additionally, the work appears to be signed in the art at the lower left corner.
Unfortunately, the names in both places were illegible when I acquired the artwork. I am hopeful that upon the complete restoration of the work that the names may become legible.
Recently, I have been in touch with a gentleman who believes that this work was likely by his father, Louis A. Paeth. The younger Mr. Paeth provided me with some persuasive information to support his belief that his father painted this art. One of the more compelling factors is that his father is confirmed to be the artist for the 1922-1924 catalog cover artwork, as evidenced by the stylized “P” that appears in that work. However, more credible support is evidenced in the artwork itself, as far as the green color of the background, the style of faces that his father portrayed, which are very similar to the boy’s face on the art itself.
When viewed as an unframed piece of art, one can clearly tell that it is an original as there are pencil notations below and to the sides of the art.
Additionally, the art does not always stop at the traditional bounds of the catalog cover that prewar Flyer collectors know so well. For instance, the track extends beyond the border; the light of the engine headlights extends beyond the border; and the white and yellow stripes that form the left and right borders of the catalog cover extend further to the top and bottom of the traditional catalog cover edges.
I guess one other key to the originality of the piece is that the badge at the center top, which lists “electrical trains; transformers; windup trains; airplanes; and structo toys”, is actually made of paper that was decorated and then applied to the painting. This badge was loose when I acquired the artwork and unfortunately reveals how much the item has faded in the past 81 years. I should also note that similar badges are a trait of Louis A. Paeth’s artwork and this is one of the substantial points for attributing this piece to him.
As I mentioned, I consider myself the caretaker of this incredible piece. Therefore, the first thing I did upon acquiring this item (and another Flyer art piece to be featured in a forthcoming article), is to search for someone to save the item for future generations. After watching enough “Antiques Roadshow” segments, I know that paper items from this era are often mounted on acid containing backing/paper. Additionally, several spots of the painting were starting to darken and the item has apparently faded significantly. The paper conservator who I eventually found indicated that the darkening was due to lead pigment being used in the colors. I was assured that this would be reversible. The artwork is also being removed from its cardboard backing and being remounted on an acid free backing.
As for the history of the piece, unfortunately all I have is hearsay. The person I acquired it from did not know its history. After showing a picture of the art to two knowledgeable collectors who knew a former owner of the work, the following story was told to me:
“The former owner had acquired it from a hobby shop in the Chicago area (believed to be in the early 1980s). The hobby shop owner had acquired this and another Flyer art piece (to be written about in a later article) from a barber shop in Chicago after the barber shop closed. The barber had apparently acquired the two art pieces from the original artist, who frequented the barber shop.”
It is rumored that the hobby shop and barber shop may have been in the vicinity of the former American Flyer factory on South Halsted Street. However, my knowledge of that area is that it is largely an industrial area. Additionally, Mr. Paeth (the possible artist’s son) indicated that his father maintained an office on Michigan Avenue and lived in the Naperville area; therefore, he thought it unlikely that his father would go to a barber so far south of his office or so distant from his home. However, Mr. Paeth indicated that the story of the artist giving the item to his barber would follow with his father’s generous nature.
As I mentioned, the only name I have associated with this item, is the name of the deceased former owner, whose widow I acquired it from, with the former owner not documenting any of the information that he had.
As for the artwork, I have owned it a little over a year and it and the other work have been in the possession of the art conservator for almost a year. I hope to have both items returned in the next few months, but I am content to sit back and wait for the professional paper conservator to finish the job in an unhurried manner.
The pictures shown herein are all photos that were taken of the piece prior to its conservation. Therefore, it appears both dirty and unframed.
Anyone who reads this and wants to contact me, please contact the editor of e*train.