VINELAND, N.J. – The holiday spirit could be felt throughout Bertoia Auctions’ gallery even weeks before their $2.6 million Fall Signature Sale commenced. The spacious auction venue looked like an upscale toy store from a classic film, with pristine playthings lined up in sparkling glass showcases, aviation toys artfully suspended from the ceiling, and, of course, Christmas antiques enhancing the decor and signifying the start of the holiday season.
Global competition for top lot: $192K Marklin Battleship Sankt Georg, as well as early Santas, elusive Martin wind-ups and other early tin toys
On opening day of the Nov. 11-12 sale, the excitement was palpable as hopeful bidders browsed the cases and scribbled private notes in their auction catalogs. Even to the casual observer, there were no weak links, category wise, and with provenance from prestigious collections accompanying so many of the lots, the consensus was that it would likely be a sellout.
The European section dazzled with a fleet of 40 antique boats led by an imposing 28-inch-long Marklin Battleship Sankt Georg (shown at top of page). Transatlantic bidding helped drive it to a final bid of $192,000, making it the top lot of the sale. Another early nautical toy, a 19-inch Gunthermann tin scull with eight-man racing team, swept past its $6,000-$8,000 estimate to cross the finish line at $18,000.
A highlight of the opening session was the enviable array of 30+ French-made Martin clockwork toys that had been amassed by a New York collector and world traveler. Each was untouched and pristine, and several were so rare that even seasoned collectors had never seen them before except in books. Many paddles were airborne for a circa-1905 Le Gymnaste, $16,800 (est. $7,000-$9,000); circa-1900 Soldier with original box, $15,600 (est. $5,000-$7,500); and circa-1901 Sandwich Man (shown above) with billboard advertising on his back, which was bid to $13,200 (est. $4,000-$5,000).
“Collections like the one containing the Martins don’t come along very often,” said Bertoia Auctions’ owner Jeanne Bertoia. “Yes, it would have been easier to put the entire collection in our November sale, but that would not have been the responsible way to do it, so we split the collection in half to give it the importance it deserves. That way collectors are not overwhelmed, and it helps to achieve the strongest prices for the consignor.” Part II of the Martin collection will be offered in Bertoia’s spring auction.
Every category had its superstars. In the figural cast-iron doorstop section, it was a Bradley & Hubbard Wetland Heron (shown above) measuring 141/2in high, which sold for $11,400. A J. & E. Stevens Boy Scout mechanical bank (shown below) made a buoyant $8,400; and a boxed Linemar Superman Tank reached $6,600.
The fine array of trains included an American-made Lionel 381 U Kit, $27,000; and boxed 1912 Lionel locomotive (shown below), $10,200; as well as coveted German-made Marklin trains and accessories. Marklin highlights included a Churchbury Station, $36,000 (est. $18,000-$22,000); and O gauge Schlitz Beer car, $22,800 (est. $7,000-$10,000).
There was such a wealth of quality material in the featured Christmas antiques collection that Bertoia’s decided to select 100 of the top pieces for inclusion in the Saturday Signature Sale and to add a bonus Sunday session to accommodate the rest.
In the Saturday session, there were 10 Santas that stood 2ft high or taller – an absolute rarity at auction – as well as belsnickles, large Father Christmas figures, a sizable Krampus, chalk Santas, and Heubach figures. A 20-inch-tall Santa Claus candy container with its original felt robe and toy-filled basket on its back (shown below) rose to $12,000, more than double the high estimate.
Reaching even greater heights was a wonderful 18-inch-tall belsnickle candy container with the Santa figure standing on a snow mound and holding a feather tree. Formerly in the collection of Tom (Sr.) and Lori Sage, it realized an outstanding auction price of $21,600 against an estimate of $4,000-$6,000.
A more-affordable selection of Christmas ornaments and antiques was offered during the bonus Sunday session. “It attracted many new collectors looking for an entry point into the hobby, but there was also a lot of crossover participation from Christmas buyers who had attended the Signature Sale,” Jeanne said. “It’s a similar principle to the one behind our popular new series of online-only auctions known as Bertoia Basics. We have a vested interest in keeping the toy market strong, and one way to do that is by giving new collectors a way to get their feet wet and learn about antique toys before advancing to the higher end. When they bid on toys in our Bertoia Basics sales, or bonus sessions like the one we held on November 12th, they’re still dealing with Bertoia’s, which is a company known for its integrity and honesty. They can be certain their purchases are going to be exactly as described in our catalogs.”
Something else that is not lost on Bertoia’s customers is the solid family bedrock on which the company operates. Founded by Jeanne Bertoia and her late husband, Bill, the business is now well into its second generation, with the couple’s auctioneer son Michael and daughter Lauren both involved in customer relations. Bertoia’s efficient staff adds to the stable presence felt by those who buy from Bertoia’s. Many are long-time employees, including one person has been with the company since the 1980s and auctioneer Tim Luke, who celebrated his 20th year with Bertoia’s in 2017.