Purchase Story

Collectors Propel Fall Signature Toy Sale to $2.6

Bertoia Auctions, Vineland, New Jersey

Photos courtesy Bertoia Auctions

Bertoia Auctions signed off on its November 11 and 12, 2017, Signature sale with the company’s highest-grossing sales figures since the glory days of the sale of Donald Kaufman’s collection (five auctions held from 2009 to 2011). The 1470-lot barrage of toys, banks, and trains mustered a rollicking $2.6 million. To paraphrase Caesar, they came, they saw, they bought. Uninhibited buyers clamored for upper-tier toys, reconfirming that exceptional fare knows no limits while midrange entries still languish.

A key to success were the more than 300 sparkling holiday display decorations and amusements led by the jolly old elf himself. Star companies such as Märklin, F. Martin, J. & E. Stevens, Lionel, and Voltamp also dominated. A number of toys made by the above have enthralled many generations of youngsters. In contrast, the average shelf life of a fad toy is only eight months, according to a December 9, 2017, New York Times Christmas toy preview article titled “How the Fingerling Caught On (Robot Grip and All) as 2017’s Hot Toy.”

This Märklin Sankt Georg battleship has many cannons of different sizes, two exhaust stacks, and two separate deck cranes with winches and chains. In classic warship paint, 28" long, with cranes and lifeboats replaced, it made the sale’s biggest splash at $192,000 (est. $100,000/140,000).

Despite little presale fanfare, a flotilla of 40 clockwork tinplate ocean liners ruled the high seas. The sale’s high achiever, the Märklin British warship Sankt Georg, spanning 28", churned to $192,000 (including buyer’s premium), trailed by a Märklin pocket battleship, Bouvines, 16" long, that steamed to $60,000. The top-ten nautical entries consistently met or exceeded expectations and totaled $447,600.

Michael Bertoia allowed that beyond expectations, the clockwork tinplate petits bon hommes by Fernand Martin, France, gave the most jaw-dropping performance. Over 30 engaging and amusing little people representing all walks of social and professional life from late 19th-century Paris hailed from a collection amassed by a discerning Manhattan art dealer over a span of several decades, and they remained intact, perfect, and pristine. According to Jeanne Bertoia, the collection included rarities that had never before seen the auction block and were known only in books or were familiar only to those who had visited a Paris museum.

F. Martin Au Parfait Pecheur (The Perfect Fisherman), circa 1908, with a classic angler reeling in a catch, 8" tall, $14,400 (est. $7000/9000).

F. Martin Le Gymnaste acrobat in formal uniform performing on parallel bars, 14½" long, $16,800 (est. $7000/9000).

 A Martin Cakewalk Dancer, circa 1903, part of a series of dancing figures, is a 5½" high woman that kicks up her heels and waves her arms. It brought $12,000. A khaki-cloaked Boer War guard, circa 1900, boxed, holding a rifle, fired off to $15,600. A Boxers platform toy, one of Martin’s earliest avatars, circa 1891, rubber band-activated and 5¼" long, came out swinging and sold for $13,200.

One Martin creation that epitomizes the “king of toys” mystique is the Sandwich Man, a street vendor with a backpack-style billboard promoting, appropriately, games and toys. At 10½" tall, it brought $13,200. Competing with it, a Gymnast, circa 1905, an athlete in a formal uniform muscling his way down parallel bars, 14½" long, was the winner at $16,800.

Rail fans have grown spoiled or jaded by the seemingly inexhaustible trains, rolling stock, and rail side accessories tracked down by Jerry and Nina Greene and seen in recent Bertoia sales. Alas, this was the Greenes’ last hurrah, and abetted by another noted consignor, European and American standard gauge and 2" trains hummed along at full throttle.

Threatening to steal the show was a 1906 deluxe British Churchbury station by Märklin that came from a long-held family estate in India. It had meticulous detail, with a brick facade, signage, awnings, and detached walking ramps. It completely eclipsed estimates at $36,000 (est. $18,000/22,000). Another Märklin standout, a Central-Bahnhof (Station), with gothic styling, nicely cast gates, a replaced bell, and base touchup, rallied to $16,800.

Advertising refrigerator cars and stock cars invariably arouse crossover interest. All eyes were on a Märklin O-gauge Schlitz beer car, no. 8236, bearing the Milwaukee brewers logo. Only 6½" long, it went for $22,800 (est. $7000/10,000).

Lionel “Bild-A-Loco” 38IU train set kit, boxed, 17" long locomotive, $27,000 (est. $18,000/26,000).

Over 50 Lionel sets, kits, racecars, and trolleys excelled during bidding, which trumpeted the Chicago giant’s eminence among the top three in American toy trains (along with Ives and American Flyer) and underscored Lionel’s dominance in American toy railroading. Rating special scrutiny, a Lionel Special Outfit 6, with a red locomotive, 12" long, was confirmed as one of the finest examples known when it sold for $9000. A Lionel 381U “Bild-A-Loco” boxed kit, with a 17" long engine, bedazzled at $27,000. A stunning classic 396E 400E Blue Comet train set with original boxes, an 18½" long engine, and the no. 420 car missing a hand rail, rounded the bend to $8400.

There was much ado over a PO 50 prewar set with 9U, 428, 429, 430 cars that came with the original set box and two car boxes, and a 15" long locomotive. Pictured in Greenberg’s Guide to Lionel Trains: 1901-1942, Volume 4, Prewar Sets(1995), the stunning orange train set brought $14,400 (est. $12,000/16,000). A Voltamp #2115 Interurban trolley, cited as the finest original first series example, 1907-12, ex-Dick Claus, 18" long, pushed to $19,200.

Mechanical banks, 100 strong, gave bidders a run for their money, bolstered by the provenance of such notable collectors as Bill Norman, Donal Markey, Max Berry, Andy Moore, Stan Sax, and Stephen Steckbeck. Michael Bertoia told us that consignor Steve Said of Texas had a lifelong affiliation with the Mechanical Bank Collectors of America, and many fellow members had viewed his collection firsthand during a convention.

J. & E. Stevens Boy Scout Camp mechanical bank, circa 1915, $8400 (est. $7000/9000).

 Always high on the wanted list, a Boy Scout Camp bank, produced by J. & E. Stevens from 1911 to 1917, celebrates the organization of the Boy Scouts in the U.S. by Chicago publisher William Boyce in 1910. This example weathered frequent repairs over the years yet still raised the white flag at $8400.

An Afghanistan bank by Mechanical Novelty Works, circa 1885, featuring a Russian bear confronting a British lion at the Herat city gate sold for $4500. A recent fresh find from a San Francisco estate, a J. & E. Stevens Lion Hunter bank, with Teddy Roosevelt stalking his prey, packed firepower at $13,200.

One of the most coveted Disney classics, a 1930s Saalheimer & Strauss, Germany, Mickey Mouse type three bank, with Mickey pointing a finger and “Smile Please!” on the back, did a rare pratfall at $9600 (est. $14,000/18,000). Conversely, a seldom-seen German variant Tit-Bits lithographed tin vending bank and candy dispenser by Lehmann, Germany, circa 1889, sweetened the pot at $10,800 (est. $2500/3500).

Tom Hathazy, a pressed steel toy consultant for Bertoia, who cataloged the 140 motor toys (including 20 pedal cars) by Sturditoy, American National, and Buddy “L” from the collection of the late Eugene DeGraw, was hard pressed to find better examples in quality and condition. He recalled that this was the second go-around for the Texas collector. After selling his first collection years earlier, DeGraw couldn’t resist the challenge of making new discoveries and restarting his collection. Among DeGraw’s significant finds, a Mack dump truck by Steelcraft, circa 1935, with original painted decals, 50" long, rumbled to $5100. A 1920s American National Buick Juvenile Auto Line roadster with a hood ornament, number 5660 license plate, spoke wheels, and fold-down windshield, 42" long, geared up to $6600. A more widely heralded all-original Steelcraft Dodge convertible with a replaced hood ornament pedaled to $2700.

Hubley “Say It With Flowers” delivery motorcycle, classic powder blue, large size, 11½" long, $9000 (est. $12,000/18,000).

J. & E. Stevens Boy Scout Camp mechanical bank, circa 1915, $8400 (est. $7000/9000).

Bradley & Hubbard heron doorstop, 141/8" high, $11,400 (est. $3000/4000).

Showing extensive play wear, a 1920s Turner Lincoln sedan with all-original paint in the hard-to-find tan color, 26½" long, sold for $3300 (est. $2500/3500). Bidders may have missed the Buddy “L” 1920s passenger bus with pull cord, in original paint with minor scratches to the roof, 28" long, that seemed to go under the radar at $4500.

Jeanne Bertoia was especially effusive about the sale’s array of Santa candy containers, displays, and amusements. She highlighted ten belsnickels that measured 24" high or taller. If even a single large belsnickel or Father Christmas surfaces at an auction, that’s impressive, but ten? “That’s unheard of,” Jeanne attested. Endowed with the glint and sparkle of the Golden Glow of Christmas Past—a vintage holiday decorations collectors society, of which the consignors were lifelong members—a number of papier-mâché and composition belsnickels bore the provenance of Tom and Lori Sage of Allentown, Pennsylvania, a couple also steeped in toy treasures including vintage trains and clockwork motor toys.

This deluxe English version of Churchbury Station by Märklin came from an Indian family estate where it had been since its original purchase in 1906. With an elaborate awning, extensive brick facade, and a pair of detached walking ramps, it is 3½" high x 13" long overall and brought $36,000 (est. $18,000/22,000).

Märklin O-gauge Schlitz beer refrigerator car, with Schlitz logo on each side, 6½" long, $22,800 (est. $7000/10,000).

The top-selling German belsnickel candy container in the sale wears a dazzling red robe and is 18" tall. Ex-Tom and Lori Sage, it sold for $21,600 (est. $4000/6000).

The major bell-ringer, an irresistible belsnickel candy container resplendent in a gold-flecked crimson robe, 18" tall, brought plenty of cheer at $21,600. Few could resist a gold-crowned white-robed belsnickel standing atop a snowball and holding a feather tree that sold for $16,800.

Father Christmas attired in a rare brown-colored robe, holding switches for misbehavers, 21" high, missing the moss wreath on the hood, excelled at $10,800. A chalkware (poured plaster) belsnickel from Berks or Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, a rather stern-looking fellow holding a tree with red glass balls, 14½" tall, sold for $6000.

Santa’s delivery accommodations were as diverse as his gay apparel. Santa aboard a key-wind nodding reindeer sleigh glided to $13,200. Santa astride a braying donkey, 18" long, went off for $9000. A store display wicker and wood auto with Santa at the wheel, 28" long, delivered $2700, and Santa on a wicker bicycle, 10" long, pedaled to $1920.

For more information, contact Bertoia Auctions at (856) 692-1881 or go to (www.bertoiaauctions.com).


Golden-crowned, white-robed Santa candy container standing atop a snowball, 18½" high, $16,800 (est. $1800/2500).

American National Roadster Buick juvenile auto line, 1920s, license plate with number 5660, hood ornament, spoke wire wheels, fold-down windshield, 42" long, $6600 (est. $3000/3500).

Originally published in the March 2018 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2018 Maine Antique Digest

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