Claus’s Part Two: Top Nauticals & Toys
Bertoia Auctions, Vineland, New Jersey
Photos courtesy Bertoia Auctions
Recently on Storage Wars, the A&E reality TV series, a die-hard bidder at auction, when asked about his obsession, replied, “It’s the ‘Wow’ factor.”
“Wow!” reverberated throughout the Bertoia gallery on November 10, 2012, in Vineland, New Jersey, at part two of the watershed sale of the Richard “Dick” Claus nautical toy collection. When the last of the 374 entries found safe harbor, Bertoia had logged in $1.6 million, which was added to the $1.8 million achieved in the first Claus sale in May 2012. The $3.4 million grand total gave Bertoia Auctions plenty to cheer about. As a jubilant Jeanne Bertoia exclaimed, “Not since the Spanish Armada has a fleet of ships received so much worldwide attention.”
The day’s defining moment arrived midway through the day when the Gebruder Märklin Chicago sidewheeler, 1900-02, a marvel of detail and craftsmanship, stirred up a bidding crossfire between resolute buyers on the phones and in the gallery. The field of contenders narrowed after the $200,000 mark. The room grew quiet as two bidders—one on the floor, the other on the phone—faced off at $10,000 increments. The time ticked agonizingly away as each, if one could read their minds, was repeating, “Don’t give up the ship!”
Ultimately the phone bidder, an unnamed American collector, a frequent highflier at Bertoia outings, prevailed at $264,500 (includes buyer’s premium), exceeding the previous world auction record by nearly $20,000.
Setting a new nautical toy record, the Märklin side paddle-wheeler Chicago, 1900-02, #1080/2, 31" long, an exemplar of artistic perfection with complex bridge structure, enormous bow, and two tall wood masts, with six composition figures of captain and crew, boxed, made $264,500.
Trolleys, another favorite Claus pursuit, were led by a Voltamp Interurban #2115, early 1900’s, electric, 18" long, that brought $24,150.
Märklin Jolanda yacht, #5064/41, 16" long, circa 1910, perfect scale and execution, $31,625.
Märklin paddle-wheeler, 1921-29, #5066/46, 18" long, full deck cabin, extensive window detail, two funnels, canvas canopy covering entire stern, $28,750.
This Märklin battleship Mexico, series two, #5121, 30" long, flying Mexican colors, found south of the border, far surpassed its estimate and brought $126,500.
Märklin battleship, circa 1910, #5129/9, 36" long, with original box, in classic German dreadnought configuration, with lifeboats positioned in circular pattern, $51,750.
Märklin ocean liner Resolute, 1919-28, #5057/7, 28" long, restoration to one side of hull and to deck, a former clockwork toy, retired as a travel agency window display, $17,250.
The Chicago paddle-wheeler had appeared on the cover of The Allure of Toy Ships (2005) by Dick Claus. Jeanne Bertoia described it as “one of the most luxurious boats, with the utmost artistic perfection.” It has the detailing and craftsmanship that the Goppingen maker is renowned for: fine railing appointments with an enormous bow; hand-painted lower deck curtains; elaborate paddle-wheel covers that match the twin blue and brown stacks; plus a vigilant captain on the bridge.
The previous high-water mark was set in May 2012 as the Märklin Providence, also a Claus paddle-wheeler, made a $247,025 splash. A Märklin H.M.S. Terrible, circa 1904, modeled after a cruiser that saw action in the China Seas during the Boxer Rebellion, brought $144,265 in April 2012 at the Ron McCrindell collection offering by Special Auction Services, Greenham, U.K. That price was presumably a U.K. record. In December 2010, Sotheby’s, New York City, auctioned a Märklin R.M.S. Lusitania, a model of the British Cunard liner, once the world’s largest liner, which was torpedoed by a German submarine in 1915. The liner hailed from the esteemed Malcolm Forbes collection and claimed a new record, though short-lived, at $194,500.
The Claus repertoire included 67 different toy makers—from American Flyer to Yonezawa. European makers set the pace, with Bing at 52 and Märklin at 36 clearly making their presence known among such prominent German makers as Carette, Fleischmann, Ernst Plank, Orobr, Rock & Graner, Stoudt, and Arnold.
Three other Märklins forged into the charmed six-figure realm: battleship New York, circa 1902, 35" long, $155,250; ocean liner Deutschland, 1909-15, 28" long, $149,500, more than double estimate; and battleship Mexico, 1915-20, 30" long, $126,500.
The above nautical superstars share special enhancements known to quicken collectors’ pulses—namely, masterful craftsmanship and intricate detailing. As Claus observed, “It did not matter that the toys were not accurate re-creations of their namesakes.” More important, there’s that intangible visceral appeal, and, above all, the boats were offered in as close to original condition as possible—excellent to pristine.
Dick Claus also has frequently commented that nautical toys reflect their times, and any of the historic entries at Bertoia make that abundantly clear. A Märklin gunboat Olympia advanced to $28,750. The back story is that off Manila in April 1898, Commodore George Dewey issued his stirring command to his chief executive officer Charles Gridley aboard the flagship, “You may fire when you are ready, Gridley.” Olympia’s guns broadsided the Spanish warships with cannon fire, vanquishing their vaunted armada and netting a decisive victory in a pivotal sea battle of the Spanish-American War.
The Bing Jaureguiberry, 32" long, sold for $28,750. Jaureguiberry was one of many French battleships deployed to the Mediterranean following the 1903 Anglo-French entente cordiale to patrol against Italian-Austrian coalition ships on the prowl.
The Märklin battleship New York was listed among the top sellers at $155,250. Her storied real-life namesake saw service in the 6th Battle Squadron of the Anglo-U.S. Grand Fleet in the Atlantic during World War I. In World War II she escorted Allied convoys and bombarded Axis beachheads ahead of amphibious assaults in Africa and the Pacific. In providing fire support near Okinawa, she was hit by a kamikaze attack but did not sink. That came later. After serving as a target for nuclear testing and after her decommissioning, she was used as a designated target for battle maneuver exercises in the Pacific and sank as a result.
The Bing ocean liner Leviathan, 1923-27, 14" long, sold for $1380. Before the real ship was the Leviathan, it was a German troop transport named Vaterland. It was seized by the U.S. Navy during World War I. Later the Leviathan was converted to one of the world’s largest ocean liners.
At least three versions of the Normandie crossed the docket. An elaborate 1920’s French biscuit tin, 17½" long, sold for $1035; a 1930’s Japanese entry, 11" long, got $115; and a 1930’s version by Bonnet (Vebe), French, 7½" long, made $920. The Normandie was commissioned in 1935 as the world’s largest liner. On her maiden Atlantic voyage, she set the world’s speed record traveling at 29.98 knots. Tragically in 1942, while being converted as a troop ship, she caught fire and sank in the Hudson River.
An unmarked 30" long channel liner, circa 1938, by the English firm Bassett-Lowke replicates a pleasure boat. Boxed and with a wood hull and upper deck cabin, it sold for $17,250. The liner once transported vacationers to the Channel Islands, a favorite haunt of titled and well-heeled Brits.
Average bathtub admirals had to be somewhat overwhelmed by the size of many of the offerings (several Bing ocean liners span 39" and 40"). A fitting compromise, especially for little tykes for a day at the beach, might be a 1920’s Märklin #8621/3 wheeled sailboat sand toy, 17½" long, for $8625.
Bertoia’s hardbound full-color catalog with handsome double spreads of nautical toys from all angles is one of the finest we’ve seen. In the preface Dick Claus writes of making a momentous decision. Upon publishing The Allure of Toy Ships, featuring over 1000 examples (most of them his own), he took a new tack and completely reevaluated his collection. As a result, less favored, condition-impaired examples were sold or upgraded. After seven years, the size of the Claus holdings has been reduced in size by one-half. The perfection imperative has its rewards. In scope, sublimity, and quality, the Claus collection knows no peer. Claus concluded, “I will dearly miss these objects of childhood delight, yet having been involved with their documentation has been reward enough.”
For more information, contact Bertoia Auctions at (856) 692-1881 or see (www.bertoiaauctions.com).
Märklin ocean liner Deutschland, 1909-15, #5050 E/7, electric-powered, smallest in series, 28" long, $149,500, more than double the estimate.
Märklin gunboat Olympia, 1903-04, #1033, armed for action, 16" long, $28,750.
Märklin battleship New York, circa 1902, first series, ram bow with ornate gilt-embossed scrolling, 35" long, $155,250.
Originally published in the March 2013 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2013 Maine Antique Digest