Märklin New York Series II clockwork battleship #1092/115, circa 1905, with gilt embossed figurehead, 27½" long, $109,350.
The auction's top performer, a Märklin Providence clockwork tinplate paddle-wheeler #1071, 1900-02, with captain on the foredeck, 26" long, went at $247,250.
Märklin battleship Maryland #5128D/9, circa 1915, flies U.S. flag, modeled after a proposed French battleship Normandie, 36" long, $143,750.
Märklin Kaiserin Augusta Victoria, a 46" long steam-powered liner, replicates the world's largest real-life liner and was the largest in Märklin's toy fleet. Every inch bespeaks power. It went at $144,600 to an Internet bidder from Germany.
The first entry in the sale to break Märklin's dominance of bidding winners was a Rock & Graner Kaiser Wilhelm #2111 steam-powered paddle-wheeler, circa 1875, 21" long, with a bowsprit and figurehead adding another 6". Another of the Nuremberg boat classics, this early and elusive offering is one of the most colorful boats, decked out in green and accented with orange and maroon hull bands. It sold for $46,000. Rock & Graner, which closed its doors in the early 1900's, was acquired by Märklin.
An early 1900's Gunthermann (German) lithographed tin key-wind eight-man racing scull with coxswain offers realistic in-sync dipping of the oars. An impressive 29" long, it set a torrid pace at $31,625.
A clockwork Märklin Iowa Series I cruiser #1090 with ram bow and a single mast, 20½" long, found favor at $51,750.
Bertoia Auctions, Vineland, New Jersey
by Dick Friz
Photos courtesy Bertoia Auctions
The mythic master toy maker Märklin wove its spell at the globally heralded sale of Part I of the R.T. "Dick" Claus collection of nautical toys at Bertoia Auctions in Vineland, New Jersey, on May 12. Despite keen competition from 48 other elite fleet purveyors, the maker from Göppingen, Germany dominated the scene.
A total of 210 lots included toy battleships, cruisers, gunboats, riverboats, submarines, speedboats, paddle-wheelers, ocean liners, and yachts dating from the 1870's to the mid-1950's. It was away all boats and full speed ahead to a stunning $1.83 million total—a remarkably productive day for a sale running just over two hours. The final tally ran over half a million dollars beyond Bertoia's presale estimate, and the average price per lot exceeded $8500 (all prices include the buyer's premium).
The marquee boat sale, or what one observer touted as "the best of the best," attracted over 100 registered bidders, including Europeans who flew in to vie with the Americans, plus a gallery full of agents representing low-profile collectors; all were caught up in frenetic floor action.
Among the major players attending were Frans Bevers of Belgium, David Pressland of England, Christian Selzer and Max Schuler of Germany, Murray Blackman of Philadelphia, and "Tiny" Moyer of Clarksburg, Maryland. Others, including Paul Lang of Switzerland and Ray Haradin of Pittsburgh, plus low-profile German, U.K., French, Canadian, and Chinese boat aficionados, entertained left bids, kept phone lines abuzz, or vied on line via LiveAuctioneers. Internet bidders prevailed on 44 lots, accounting for 21% of the total.
A buoyant Michael Bertoia, obviously elated by the many five-figure numbers posted, stated that unlike at sales in the past few years, when Europeans cornered the prize entries, this time U.S. bidders held their ground. German collectors were less successful in repatriating Märklins, Bings, Fleischmanns, et al. back to their homeland. This may be attributable, in part, to the closing gap between the U.S dollar and the weakened euro. Actually, Bertoia added, it was a take-home tossup between European and U.S. buyers.
Talk about monopolizing the scene, Märklin nauticals ruled, ranging from a 46" long battleship behemoth to a 5" long lifeboat accessory. They swept all five top entries and seven of the top ten lots, plus 16 out of the 20 boats finishing at $20,000 or more were Märklins. The four exceptions were a Rock & Graner Kaiser Wilhelmpaddle-wheeler at $46,000; a Radiguet live-steam gunboat at $36,800; a Gunthermann eight-man racing scull at $31,625; and a Bing torpedo boat at $23,000.
Making the sale's biggest splash was a 26" clockwork Providencepaddle-wheeler, 1900-02, that churned furiously to $247,250. Bidding opened in the gallery at $60,000 and quickly escalated well past $100,000; then bidding narrowed down to several resolute bidders in the room and four on the phones. In the final showdown, an agent representing an unnamed American collector held the last paddle waving, bringing a mighty roar from the crowd.
Although Providenceperformed well beyond its $110,000/130,000 estimate, many observers thought it would finish even higher than its rarefied record-high perch. No one has seen another like it, and its condition, detail, and pedigree are unassailable. With its ornate arched cabin windows and gold-painted passenger benches and bridge, it exudes luxury. Five years ago, Providence had been consigned by a Wisconsin collector to auctioneer Noel Barrett, and in June 2007 it doubled its estimate to reach $99,000 at a sale in New Hope, Pennsylvania, where Dick Claus became the new owner.
Pulses quickened once again over a near-mint 46" long Märklin Kaiserin Augusta Victoria, a steam-powered, realistic rendering of an actual ocean liner once billed as the world's largest. It placed second when a German collector on the Internet won it at $144,600, thereby making it subject to a higher 20½% buyer's premium. Claus said he'd purchased this prize out of a doctor's estate in New York state. It had been preserved in a dry barn over many years and was probably never played with.
Narrowly edged out and placing number three was a circa 1915 Märklin Maryland battleship that spanned 36". With a four-tiered mast, twin stacks, and cannons bristling forth on all sides, it went at $143,750.
Bidders were further energized by a mighty 38" long Märklin BrooklynSeries II battleship bristling with firepower, including multilevel gun turrets and armored crow's nests. It sold for $103,500, the sale's fourth-highest price.
A number of nautical but nice entries on the docket were a bit easier on the bank account. A circa 1905 Carette boxed set, comprising a clockwork-activated speedboat and two wooden open boats, 6½" to 7" long, all piloted by seated figures, brought $3738. A Carette catalog from that year pictures toys listed under the heading "Schraube Flugzeug," or "Propeller Airplane."
Most of the sale's 30 submarines were German, but one by Jouet Française or JIF (French) with "Le Berrob" printed on the original box, which also declared that the toy had won a Médaille d'Or in 1916, proved a clever departure in design and sold for a reasonable $2875. The elliptical hull, pointed at both ends, has a hatch cover with a figure emerging, and a rubber ball in the tube enables the sub to submerge and surface.
Another JIF boxed submarine, circa 1900, 7½" long, and powered by a rubber band, was crudely made but fascinating, according to Claus. It sold for $1265.
A Fleischmann clockwork two-masted ocean liner #520/50, 19" long and made in Germany's U.S. Zone, docked at $4600. This series was made from 1936 to 1955.
For those with a destructive bent, $748 could have purchased a circa 1914 Walbert Mfg. Co. (United States) boxed tinplate "Sinking Battleship." Included was a wooden torpedo that strikes a target on the side of the ship, after which the ship splits in half to simulate sinking.
Of the six trolleys offered, a 1920's Bing (German) "Municipal Tramways" double-decker clockwork example of lithographed tin, 9¼" long, held the greatest visual appeal and brought $4313.
The instructions for the challenging and popular board game Battleship, now a movie, call for cunning, courage, and nerves of steel-not bad requisites for those planning to attend Part II of the Dick Claus collection of antique nautical toys and boats at Bertoia's on Saturday, November 10. For more information, contact Bertoia Auctions at (856) 692-1881;
Web site (www.bertoiaauctions.com).
Märklin Baltimore Series II live-steam battleship #5130/D/8, 1912-15, 34" long, $80,500. It has a ram prow, lifeboats, and gun turrets on all sides lining a busy upper deck.
A true masterpiece, a circa 1915 Märklin Brooklyn Series II battleship #5130/D/9, 38" long, excelled at $103,500.
Bing (German) torpedo boat #13957/2, 1906-09, clockwork tinplate, 39" long, with original wooden box bearing paper label depicting action at sea, $23,000.
Dick Claus with a prized Märklin New York battleship.
The consignor, R.T. "Dick" Claus of Gwynedd Valley, Pennsylvania, has been collecting for over 30 years. He is the author of The Allure of Toy Ships(2005), and most entries in the sale are included among the 450 ships photographed for this indispensable reference guide. It's a given fact that examples pictured in a reference book bring a premium at auction.
We talked later with Claus, who attended the sale and was obviously pleased with the results. We asked if he were going to remain active in the hobby, and he indicated that once a collector, always a collector. Claus still retains a sizable holding of American nautical toys.
Claus has written that ships have fascinating histories, and their toy counterparts are no exception. They stir the imagination of admirers, young and old.
Originally published in the September 2012 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2012 Maine Antique Digest