A man of many talents, Geoffrey Randolph Webster – “GR” to his friends – is a retired businessman, author and portrait painter who divides his time between Florida and the idyllic French Riviera. He is a graduate of the University of Chicago with a master’s degree in business and retired as president and CEO of Givaudan Fragrances Inc., after a 30-year career in international business and marketing.
But those distinctions are by no means all of the laurels to which GR can lay claim. He was also a highly decorated Vietnam War pilot who received 30 Air Medals, double Distinguished Flying Crosses and the Air Medal for Valor; as well as the Bronze Star, Purple Heart and two Awards of the Cross of Gallantry as commander of the “Mustang” Gunship Platoon of the 68th Assault Helicopter Company’s “Top Tigers.” When friends say GR’s head is in the clouds, it’s a compliment.
“Whether airplane, seaplane or helicopter, GR is the person you would want to have at the helm if you were a passenger,” said Tom Sage Jr., chief operating officer of Morphy Auctions, which will sell Webster’s American cast-iron and selected British, Continental and Japanese planes on May 11 and 12.
GR’s fascination for airplanes – which began during childhood as the son of a naval pilot – led to his amassing one of the world’s largest and finest collections of aviation toys and models.
Webster documented portions of his collection in the 2009 book Collecting Vintage Aircraft Toys and again in a 2011 edition titled Dinky Toys Aircraft 1934-1979 [with co-authors Sir George Cox, John Beugels]. The latter is the only reference book available that focuses specifically on Dinky aeronautical toys.
Many of the planes that served as actual book examples are among the Webster toys to be auctioned at Morphy’s. The top prize amongst the aircraft offered is the ultra-rare 1930s Britains Short Bros. Monoplane Flying Boat with original box. One of only three known to exist, the Bakelite and heavy tin plane is also the only example to be offered for public sale in the last 30 years.
“James Opie, who authored the premier guide on Britains soldiers, rates this toy at the top of rarity for Britains,” said Sage. “We think GR’s book example, which is estimated at $12,000 to $16,000, might even reach $20,000.”
Additionally, two Britains monoplanes are included in the sale – one in red and the other in yellow – with a historically correct 1930s star-in-circle insignia. Each is estimated at around $1,500.
A fleet of iconic 1920s cast-iron aviation toys is led by a Hubley America, the largest cast-iron plane ever made. There’s also a massive Hubley Friendship float plane with Amelia Earhart’s silhouette in one window; a Spirit of St. Louis, and numerous other period cast-iron tri-motors and gliders.
A highly unusual auction entry is Hubley’s 1937 cast-iron prototype Bell Airacuda with its original box. The twin-engine plane has a gunner in front of each engine on the wings.
Prewar German tin planes include Tippco productions from 1935 to 1942, including a Junkers JU-52, a Siebel twin-engine transport, and the only known surviving example of a Heinkel He-100. There are also rare prewar Rico (Spanish) and Ingap (Italian) craft, including the only known original examples of the CR-42 biplane fighter and the Macchi C.202; and a seldom-seen Chein (American) tinplate Martin seaplane. Arguably the largest tin toy ever produced, a Yonezawa tinplate 10-engine B-36 bomber had plenty of room to spread its expansive wings in the long-held Webster collection. Other Japanese highlights include a very clean, boxed B-50 bomber; a black and orange prewar Northrup Lindberg single-engine exploration plane – both by Yonezawa – and a Japanese-made four-engine B-29 bomber.
It’s always exciting for collectors to discover unassembled, prewar-era Dux constructor planes. The Webster collection contains two: a model of the German Stuka divebomber and a civilian Messerschmidt ME109. Both display colorful graphics on their boxes.
“We think collectors will have a field day with this collection, which has a lot of diversity to it,” said Sage. “Usually toy plane collectors concentrate on one category, for instance American-made or Japanese-made or cast-iron planes. There aren’t many who collect all toy planes, but GR was one of them. His collection is an overview of aviation history in toy form.”
Additional segments of GR Webster’s mammoth toy aircraft collection will be auctioned at auction houses in the USA and UK. The full list follows:
Morphy Auctions in Denver, Pa. (murphyauctions.com), will offer approximately 50 prized American cast-iron, English die-cast, and pre- and postwar European and Japanese airplanes in its May 11-12 Toy, Train & Doll Auction.
Affiliated Auctions, of Tallahassee, Fla., has been chosen to auction Webster’s aviation identification models, which were used in wartime to help military personnel identify both enemy and friendly aircraft by their shapes. The models are being incorporated into Affiliated’s regular monthly auctions.
Stephenson’s Auctioneers of Southampton, Pa. (suburban Philadelphia), will be auctioning a mixed selection of Webster’s toy airplanes in a May sale.
Lloyd Ralston Gallery, of Shelton, Conn., will sell US and Japanese planes, many tin aircraft and helicopters, diecast and boxed 1970s plastic planes and some Dinky Toys in their upcoming auctions.
Meanwhile in England, Vectis Auctions, of Stockton-on-Tees, is planning to include the collection’s rare British die-cast airplanes in a June auction, with a possible second auction to follow later this year.