LOS ANGELES – Lillian B. “Lily” Gottschalk, one of America’s foremost experts on antique automotive toys and Victorian napkin rings, died of kidney failure on July 23 at Encino-Tarzana Regional Medical Center in Los Angeles. She was 84.
Born and raised in Warren, Ohio, Lillian graduated from Ohio State University and subsequently earned her nursing credentials at the University of Southern California. She worked as a nurse in the Los Angeles area until her 1955 marriage to Wisconsin native, World War II military pilot and corporate executive William G. Gottschalk. Together, the couple formed parallel collections – Bill acquiring and restoring rare classic cars and Lillian amassing what would become one of the most celebrated assemblages of antique vehicular toys.
In an oft-repeated quote, Lily would joke that she had begun her collection in the early 1960s “in self defense.” Feeling left out at the many car shows and conventions she and her husband attended, Lily decided to seek out small-scale versions of the vehicles her husband favored. If it had wheels, she wanted it, whether it was a cast-iron fire pumper, a pressed-steel delivery truck or a tinplate racer.
In 1966, the Gottschalks relocated to the Baltimore area, where Bill assumed the position of president of Baltimore Biological Laboratories (later renamed Bioquest). From an East Coast vantage point, Lillian was able to indulge in her chosen hobby with far greater vigor. By 1973, Lillian’s collection had overtaken many of the rooms in the Gottschalk home, so the couple moved to a 7,000-square-foot converted dairy barn in rural Parkton, Md. Their son, Dr. H. William Gottschalk, said that, at one point, his father owned 21 vintage automobiles, but his mother owned at least 3,000. The country residence would become a popular destination for Lillian’s fellow collectors, some of whom traveled long distances to view her spectacular collection.
The Gottschalk toys were featured in several high-profile exhibitions, at institutions including The Museum of the City of New York and the Baltimore Museum of Art. As much a scholar as she was a collector, Lillian documented her massive fleet of vehicles in a landmark 1985 reference titled American Toy Cars and Trucks (Abbeville Press, New York). “Lily’s book will forever stand as a monument to that early era of automotive-toy collecting in America,” said Antique Trader editor Catherine Saunders-Watson. “It’s an incomparable source of information and is so beautifully illustrated with photographs taken by the late Bill Holland.”
Antique toy expert Noel Barrett, who, a year after Bill’s death in 1989, auctioned Lillian’s collection in a series of now-legendary sales, remarked: “She was a pioneer – unique – one of the few women to collect automotive toys, and she did it to a fare thee well. Her collection was already widely known before she produced her amazing book, which was one of the first near-academic picture books for the toy hobby.”
Many of Lillian’s friends, including commercial artist and cartoonist John West, remember her indefatiguable presence at the Antique Automobile Club of America’s annual show in Hershey, Pa. “Beginning in 1969 and for the next 20 years, you could always count on seeing Lillian set up there with her toys, wheeling and dealing.” West described Lillian as a “great supporter” of the toy hobby. “She was president of the Antique Toy Collectors of America and did a great job. She was very giving and always had club members over to her home.”
In 1995, Lillian Gottschalk showcased another of her interests by co-authoring, with Sandra Whitson, the reference titled Figural Napkin Rings: Collector’s Identification and Value Guide (Collector Books). The book is, itself, now considered a collector’s item.
Throughout their years together, the Gottschalks enjoyed traveling and socializing with their international circle of friends. “While I never had the privilege of knowing Bill, I can imagine the sort of life they led just from the stories Lily told me,” said Saunders-Watson. “The one I like best is Lily’s account of how she and Bill were traveling by train in Europe and ended up, by chance, sharing the same club car with the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. Apparently they all got on like a house afire and spent the whole train trip together. I think they even kept in touch after that.”
In 1999, Lillian Gottschalk moved back to southern California, settling in a luxury townhouse in Westlake Village, west of Los Angeles. While she no longer attended auctions and shows with the vitality for which she once was so well known, her interest in collecting never subsided.
In February, tragedy struck when Lillian’s daughter, Susan Barbara Klausner, was killed in a skiing accident at Mammoth Mountain, Calif. Lillian leaves behind five grandchildren and her son, the aforementioned Dr. Bill Gottschalk, who lives in Calabasas, Calif. A funeral service was held on July 25 in Los Angeles.