Marklin brand was king at Bertoia’s $2.28M toy & train auction


Marklin clockwork Battleship La Plata, 28in long, German-made for the Argentine market. Provenance: Bill Bertoia collection, Sam Downey Jr., collection. Top lot of the sale at $204,000

VINELAND, N.J. – The second and final installation of the late Sam Downey Jr.’s prized toy and train collection crowned three days of heated competition at Bertoia’s November 14-16 Annual Fall Auction, which totaled $2.28 million. The revered multigenerational collection was established by pioneer toy collector Samuel Downey Sr., and eventually was bequeathed to Sam Jr., who expanded the holding considerably with carefully chosen, premium-quality pieces acquired over several decades.

Fleet of 35 top-class European boats was led by Marklin La Plata battleship made for Argentine market, ex Sam Downey Jr. and Bill Bertoia collections

Auction days one and two were filled with rare toys and banks from other prestigious collections, while day three was allocated exclusively to the Downey consignment, which dazzled collectors with its abundance of German-made Marklin rarities. The top lot of the sale (shown at top of page), a Marklin Battleship La Plata, was reportedly one of Sam Downey’s most treasured nautical toys. Made in Germany for the Argentine market, it was previously held in the private collection of Bertoia Auctions co-founder and Argentina native Bill Bertoia (1950-2003). A museum-grade example, the 28-inch multilevel clockwork battleship sold for a roof-raising $204,000 against a pre-sale estimate of $50,000-$75,000.


Marklin Battleship Maine. 1st Series, 40in overall length. Sold above estimate for $38,400

The fleet of fine Marklin clockwork ships continued with a 40-inch-long 1st Series Battleship Maine, $38,400; a near-mint 16-inch-long Battleship Indiana, $22,800; and a circa-1904, 16½ inch-long Gunboat Olympia, $16,800. The latter craft boasted blue-chip provenance that included the collections of Malcolm Forbes and Dick Claus in addition to the Downey collection.


Closeup view of two clockwork trolleys from circa-1904 Marklin Electric Tramway trolley set with track, keys, instructions and original box. Sold for $60,000 against an estimate of $30,000-$50,000

As the old saying goes, “A rising tide lifts all boats,” and the surge of interest from Marklin enthusiasts worldwide also upped the ante on train lots entered in the sale. A boxed circa-1904 Marklin Electric Tramway trolley set with track, keys and instructions had been acquired from the granddaughter of an American soldier who brought it back from Europe after World War I ended. “It was incredible to see how complete and original it was, with a nice patina and still dusty, which is the way you want to find them,” said Bertoia Auctions president and auctioneer Michael Bertoia. The set swept past its estimate range to sell for $60,000.


Marklin circa-1904 Electrische Strassenbahn clockwork gauge 1 trolley with four interior figures, end-ramp signs. Sold for $21,600

Another crowd-pleasing Marklin production was a circa-1904 Electrische Strassenbahn clockwork gauge 1 trolley with four interior figures and end-ramp signs. The scarce and desirable 12-inch-long trolley was bid beyond its high estimate and picked up a new owner for $21,600.

Christmas antiques put in a stellar performance, and it wasn’t just because of the fast-approaching holiday season. “To Christmas collectors, buying is a year-round pursuit,” said Michael. “The Christmas category is stronger than ever, and just when some may think they’ve seen the height of the market, it’s off to new levels. In this sale, many lots brought two, three, even four times the high estimate.”


Santa on polar bear growler toy, 22in long, bear wears leather harness and has brown glass eyes. Head moves. Sold for $43,200, over 10 times the high estimate

The object of many bidders’ attention was a delightful 22-inch-long Santa on a glass-eyed polar bear growler toy. Wearing a leather harness and mounted on metal wheels, the bear was designed so its head could be pushed to activate the growler mechanism. Cataloged with an estimate of $3,000-$4,000, the amusing holiday duo ignited a bidding war in the room and finished at an astonishing $43,200.


Nodding-head Santa with lantern and walking stick on wheeled platform, papier-mache and composition; rare green-robe variation. Sold for $20,400, more than triple the high estimate

Another top performer was a nodding-head papier-mache and composition Santa on a wheeled platform. Carrying a lantern and walking stick, the figure was “dressed” in a green robe – unusual, Michael noted, because any that have appeared in previous Bertoia sales have worn blue robes. The rare color variation sold for $20,400, more than triple the high estimate.

Among the many other Christmas lots that garnered unexpected prices were: a very pretty clockwork nodding snowman trade stimulator, $14,400 (est. $2,000-$3,000), a nodding Santa driving a wicker auto, possibly a trade stimulator, $22,400 (est. $4,000-$6,000); a magnificent 12-inch-high clockwork nodding reindeer with leather harness and collar, $7,200 (est. $2,500-$3,500); and a group lot of four reindeer-form candy containers, $8,400 (est. $2,000-$3,000).


Martin (French) Don Quichotte (Quixote) flywheel toy, circa 1890, one of few known. Sold for $9,600

Across the board, bullish prices were the norm and not the exception. Comic character toys included many boxed Popeye toys in exceptional condition, and early examples of Black Americana, such as a bright and glossy Marx “Spic The Coon Drummer” with its extremely scarce original box, $9,600 (est. $2,000-$3,000). A circa-1890 Martin (French) Don Quixote on horseback flywheel toy rose to $9,600; and a Flemish Dog Cart by the same maker closed at $7,200.


Meier (German) ‘Boy Scout and Dog’ penny toy, circa 1900, articulated axle facilitates rocking motion. Sold for more than twice the high estimate at $6,600

Good things came in small packages, as well. A Meier (German) articulated penny toy known as “Boy Scout and Dog” was bid to $6,600, more than twice its high estimate; while a diminutive early American toy made by George Brown – a tin depiction of a steam-powered paddlewheeler – sailed to an above-estimate $8,400.


7in-long George Brown (American) tin depiction of a paddlewheeler steamboat. Sold well above high estimate for $8,400

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