Amassed Since Childhood, Portugal’s Largest Toy Collection Belongs To Just One Man
Photography by Joel Araújo
I will always remember the first trip I took with my 1979 Toyota Corolla KE20 back in November of 2017. And, unlike many, it wasn’t from the passenger seat of a tow truck! “Can I get from here to the Museu do Caramulo and back with this car?” I asked the previous owner, minutes before sealing the deal. “Of course you can,” he replied, in a tone as if to say: “I’m not sure, but if not, it surely won’t be my problem!”
Fortunately, the trip was eventful, but in a fun, old-car kind of way. Setting off with a smile on my face, i chose to ignore the large degree of play in the steering, the exhaust leak, the faulty temperature gauge, and insane backfires that accompanied any amount of engine braking. None of this would keep me from reaching my destination: Portugal’s Museu do Caramulo.
After photographing and writing about that trip and the Ferrari exhibit in the museum for Petrolicious, I agreed with Salvador, a member of the museum’s board, that I would go back to cover the extensive and mind-blowing toy collection that’s also on dispaly. Owned by Salvador himself and on permanent display since 2003 in museum, it’s quite a sight. It’s worth a visit just for the toys alone. If you’re wondering, Salvador Patrício Gouveia is sort of like the Portuguese equivalent to Nick Mason; he’s a drummer for one, a recognized car collector, and a big fan of progressive rock. The only key difference being he doesn’t own a 250 GTO yet, and his old band was not called Pink Floyd!
I admit that although I sympathize with the world of automobilia and scale models, I’m not,by any means, an aficionado, let alone a collector. However, I truly believe that a special place in nerd heaven is reserved for all collectors of toys and cataloguers of the past’s more whimsical products. Salvador certainly fits into that group, and after spending a day photographing thousands upon thousands of amazing pieces in his vintage collection (which along with the cars, covers a lot of ground both literally and figuratively: planes, trains, automobiles, military dioramas and figures are all here. I sat down with Salvador after shooting and asked him more about his spread—which is the biggest toy collection in Portugal, and includes one of the most valuable vintage Star Wars ensembles in the world.
Joel Araújo: Salvador, most kids know how to destroy toys, not collect them. What were your motivations to start this collection?
Salvador Gouveia: It all started at my home, when I was a kid. My parents had gathered a small range of vintage toys up until then. A bit of everything but not too much of anything in particular, just the toys they enjoyed and could buy and collect together. It was small, but still with a lot of variety, which sparked in me the collector’s gene that I suppose was passed down to me, as I was fascinated with these toys as a kid.
So, growing up, I looked at toys as collectibles and not so much as play things. My first buy was a 1930s Dinky Toys model, back in ’88 when I was around 10 years old. It cost me 6.000 escudos, the Portuguese currency at the time, equivalent to about 30€ today, not considering inflation. At the time it was a considerable amount for any person to spend on a toy, let alone a kid. From then on, I never stopped.
JA: I’m not going to ask you to count them now, but if you had to give me a number…
SG: I think it’s fair to say that, by now, the collection has easily exceeded 7,500 pieces.
JA: I recognize some of these brands and toy manufacturers, but I’ve never heard of a few of the others. Where did all these pieces come from?
SG: They come from everywhere, really. From my trips abroad, antique stores that I pass by, auctions I participate in, and even some that survived from when I was a child, like the lead soldiers I inherited from my grandfather.
JA: Not all toys are born equal. What are the rarest and most valuable pieces on display here in the museum?
SG: This collection has many rare items in it as you can probably guess by the age of some of these things. I can give you the example of the massive Nazi iron locomotive from the 3rd Reich, made by Hausser to showcase at a German toy store back in the 1930s; it’s probably the only one in the world remaining. There’s also many limited production Portuguese toys here, as well as a comprehensive vintage Star Wars toy collection with many unique pieces, including some ‘70s pre-production items.
JA: Why should people visit this exhibition at Museu do Caramulo?
SG: The key word here is variety. It’s a common rule for collectors to focus their collections on a specific criteria; whether it’s a model of a certain car, one toy brand, one toy scale, only from one country, or anything else like that. This helps to close the scope and keep some kind of control over it. However, this collection covers almost all brands, toy lines, countries, different materials, sizes, and themes. From wooden WWI submarine toys from the ‘20s, up until Star Wars from the ‘70s and ‘80s. There’s a little bit of everything here. Every piece of this collection is still in good condition too, and many of them are still in their original boxes. It’s a big range for sure, but that just makes it more interesting to me. With the unfortunate closure of the Portuguese Toy Museum, this one has turned out to be the current biggest toy exhibition in the country.
After thanking Salvador and the Museu do Caramulo staff for the wonderful day, I got in my newly purchased ’79 Corolla and after 300km, managed to get home safe and sound with a feeling of a fulfilled mind and a warmed heart. I can’t wait go back, for at this scale there are surely many gems that slipped under the radar.