hong kong toy shop feature

Which Iconic Hong Kong Toy Shop Is Set To Close At The End Of August?

Ambrose Lee, 52, is passionate about toys. He collects them, he repairs them, and he lovingly shows them off in his Hong Kong shop.

On the third floor of the Prince’s Building, a luxury shopping center in the city’s Central District, is Ambrose’s 300-square-foot wonderland, the Toy Museum, a charming showcase filled to the brim with thousands of toys for sale.

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At times, you can’t even see Ambrose behind the mounds of stuffed animals and action figures.

It’s quite a colorful and joyous scene, much different from the minimalist displays in the rest of the high-end mall.

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In Ambrose’s shop there’s an endless supply of dolls, miniatures, trading cards, and games.

It didn’t start out that way. When he first opened in May 1999, there was much less inventory and it was mostly vintage.

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Over the years, however, Ambrose brought in more and more product so he could handle any customer request.

A certain Star Wars toy? Got it.

An Octopus action figure? Of course.

Pokemon items from a 1999 shipment? Right here.

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It’s pretty hard to stump Ambrose. If it’s not in his shop, it could very well be in his Kowloon Bay warehouse, where 90 percent of his collection is currently housed.

But soon Ambrose’s entire collection will be united together — in storage. After 17 years in business, Ambrose is shutting his Central shop doors.

His store, known as The Toy Museum, will be no more.

Yes, there’s always the case that a white knight will rush in and save the day. But that’s more hope, than reality.

Why the shuttering? The digital landscape has changed the way toys are bought and sold, and with so many competitors, Ambrose just doesn’t want to drop prices on his beloved items.

“I don’t want to get into a price war,” Ambrose explained.

For Ambrose, each item tells a story, and each story is important.

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Ambrose’s first gift was a teddy bear given to him by his mother when he was born. And he was hooked on toys ever since.

In his shop right now is a 1925 Gebruder Sussenguth Peter Bear, a very rare stuffed animal from eastern Germany. Peter Bear was experiment in blending doll-making and teddy bear construction, said Ambrose. And it’s an experiment that went horribly wrong – as shown by the bear’s strange look.

A failure, the mohair bear is hard to find. The “museum piece” is now the most expensive item in his shop.

“In a way Peter is very sad. He’s never been loved. Nobody played with him,” said Ambrose. “For [toy repairmen], we don’t mind a toy that’s worn or torn because that shows love.”

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Another exciting item in the Toy Museum is Tommy Gunn, a 1970s G.I. Joe wannabe from the U.K. Priced originally at £1.50 in 1973, the toy soldier can only be found at auction today.

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After setting down Tommy Gunn, Ambrose brought out two more collectable action figures.

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First up, a tank commander from the Action Man series. The figure possessed flocked hair, moveable “eagle eyes” and kung-fu grip. Made for the British market in the 1970s, it now sells for around HK$5,000.

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Soon, Action Jackson appeared. The 8-inch hero that was made by Mego, an American company, in Hong Kong.

The concept was to purchase the doll and then buy specialized outfits for him.

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Another personal favorite for Ambrose? A small pink puppy dog crafted out of fishing wire.

The dog reminds Ambrose of his youth when a few shops in Central sold the same trinkets on Wing Kut Street in the 1970s.

“For me it’s priceless,” said Ambrose,” because I’ve been looking for that for more than 30 years. It’s very, very rare.”

What was once HK$2 to $3, Ambrose purchased a few years ago for HK$150.

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As for another blast from the past, Ambrose brought out a round canister, a “gift pack”, featuring a View-Master with reels of DC comic book heroes in action.

Here’s Ambrose looking at images from the 1966 Batman television episode, “The Purr-fect Crime.”

Psst, to see some of the same slides, go to this fun site.

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Then, it was time for the vintage Fisher Price Movie Viewer. The device is lots of fun. Kids of all ages can insert cartridges containing clips of popular children’s shows and cartoons into the camera and then control the pace and direction of the silent footage by rolling a plastic crank backwards or forwards. Here, Ambrose watches part of Mickey Mouse and the Giant, a Disney adventure.

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As for Disney toys, Ambrose proudly displays a 1950s Donald Duck toy, made in England by Merrythought. Ambrose purchased the doll in Toronto a few years ago for CAD$300. He repaired the doll himself, and after restoration, it’s now worth at least CAD$3,350 (HK$20,000), he said.

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Looking back, Ambrose made two mistakes in his toy-collecting career, he said.

The first was when he was 14. He threw out all of his toys to show he was an adult. He regretted that decision within days. The only toy he had left… his first teddy bear.

“I was very upset, but what could I do about it? What’s done is done. So when I was 18, I decided to buy as many toys as I could,” Ambrose said.

The other mistake? When collectors were snapping up Star Wars toys in the 1970s he was buying tin toys from Japan.

Asked if closing the store is his third mistake, Ambrose says he doesn’t think so.

As time ticks closer to the end of August, Ambrose considers himself fortunate.

He’s run a successful business while meeting so many wonderful people.

“I’ve loved doing a toy business in Central,” said Ambrose. “I just wanted to create something different. I think I have achieved more than I can imagine.”

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Ambrose Lee, when he first opened his shop in 1999.

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Ambrose Lee, today.

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The Toy Museum — slated to close at the end of August 2016 — is located on the third floor of the Prince’s Building in Central, Hong Kong.

Call +852 2869 9138 for store hours.

To contact Ambrose for any toy-related question or toy repair need, kindly e-mail him at toymuseum99@gmail.com.

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Images Courtesy of Ambrose Lee and NewsWhistle.