VINELAND, N.J. – Premium-quality pieces from prestigious toy, bank and train collections attracted a strong contingent of bidders to literally every category represented in Bertoia’s May 23-24 Annual Spring Toy Sale. Just over 1,000 lots crossed the auction block, taking in $1.3 million. Absentee and Internet live bidding was available through LiveAuctioneers. The star of the two-day event was a spectacular Althof Bergmann stenciled tin Columbia ferry boat (shown at top of page) that swept past its $20,000-$30,000 estimate to dock at $40,800 (all prices quoted in this report are inclusive of 20% buyer’s premium). The buyer was an American collector known for his discerning eye and preference for especially fine tin toys.
“We had a nice turnout in-house, especially for still banks. The distance some collectors drove to compete in person was quite surprising to us,” said Bertoia Auctions’ owner Jeanne Bertoia.
The impressive array of still banks included more than 300 items from the estate collection of Ohioan Ned Bauer, a past host of the Still Bank Collectors Association convention. High-condition architectural and “safe” banks led the group, some displaying original paint so well preserved, it could only be described as “factory fresh.” A small-version Bay Window bank topped the list at $7,800 against an estimate of $2,000-$3,000; while a gorgeous 9-inch Kenton Statue of Liberty bank realized $6,000.
Cast-iron mechanical banks put in a powerful performance, as well. A Girl Skipping Rope estimated at $6,000-$8,000 achieved $14,400, while an extremely rare Bowling Alley bank satisfied pre-sale expectations at $19,200. “The winner of the Bowling Alley bank was new to bank collecting and ended up buying at least a half-dozen more mechanicals at the sale. It’s the beginning of a great collection,” Jeanne said, adding, “He has bought doorstops from me in the past, so he knows and recognizes great cast iron. It stands to reason that he would now move into mechanical banks, which are a much earlier form, with action.”
On the subject of doorstops, there were many desirable examples in the sale. Leaders included a very seldom-seen full-figure frog of unknown manufacture, $5,100; a pristine Bradley & Hubbard Standing Rabbit, $4,200; and a classic Hubley Bugle Boy in very fine condition, $3,600.
Train collectors were out in force and didn’t hold back when rare productions were introduced. A Marklin fruit freight car made for the English market finished at the high end of its estimate range at $19,000. Another German prize, a large Bing gauge 4 locomotive, blazed past its $1,500-$2,500 estimate to reach $7,200.
In the American category, Voltamp entries attracted their usual strong following, with a Pennsylvania locomotive in unapologetic near-mint condition chased to $12,000 against a $5,000-$7,500 estimate. Also, there was no shortage of bidders for a 1930s custom-built brass standard gauge model locomotive. A hefty piece crafted to perfection, it sold for $9,000, nine times its high estimate.
French-made Martin antique wind-up toys have been a mainstay in Bertoia’s last few auctions, and it was obvious that collectors on both sides of the Atlantic were ready for more. “They’re a global collectible,” Jeanne remarked. Highlights included a Woman Jumping Rope, which more than tripled its high estimate at $7,800; and a Bulgarian soldier, $7,200 against a $2,500-$3,500 estimate.
Tin toys crossed many genres, including the ever-popular motorcycle subcategory. A comical Fischer (German) motorcycle toy with a clown driver and smaller clown passenger was bid to $6,000, twice its high estimate; while diminutive penny toys proved that good things come in small packages, with a Kellerman Dude on Motorcycle rolling to $2,160 and a Meier Spanish military motorcycle with helmeted driver racing to $2,040.
The flagship among European nautical toys was a medium-size (34-inch-long) Battleship Pommern from Marklin’s live-steam second series. Dating to 1918, the handsome vessel settled within estimate at $21,600.
Always popular pressed-steel pedal cars found favor with bidders. A 52-inch American National convertible fared best at $9,600. American National pressed-steel toys drew many determined competitors, as well. Finishing well above estimate, a substantial 27-inch-long dump truck – always high on collectors’ wish lists – rumbled out the door at $7,200, as did a 25-inch-long 1920s oil tank truck.
Leading a colorful parade of character toys, a boxed Linemar Superman Tank commanded $6,000; while a near-mint Ramblin’ Mickey Mouse celluloid waddler with a gorgeous pictorial box followed closely behind at $5,400. Another comic-character knockout was the boxed Chein Popeye Overhead Puncher that claimed $4,800.
A delightful selection of dolls was led by a very early Izannah Walker production that more than doubled high estimate at $7,800; and a Martha Chase George Washington, which brought $4,500 against an estimate of $1,500-$2,500. Steiff teddies held their own, with a 20-inch cinnamon bear ignoring its $1,200-$1,800 estimate to reach $6,000.
Holiday collectors had been waiting with great anticipation for Part II of the Halloween collection Bertoia’s introduced last fall. A long-held private collection from Pennsylvania, it included such early German gems as a pre-1920s composition witch atop a black cat candy container, $6,000; and a rare life-size witch-head jack-o’-lantern with a broad, toothy grin and green eyes, $3,750.
On August 22-23, Bertoia Auctions will host its next online, phone and absentee-only Bertoia Basics sale. The company’s next Signature Sale, which is slated for October 11-12 at Bertoia’s gallery, is titled “The Gentleman’s Collection” and will exclusively feature the renowned Tony Annesse lifetime collection of Christmas antiques.