DENVER, Pa. – Morphy Auctions’ gallery was a hive of activity prior to the company’s May 11-15 marathon auction series that grossed $5.4 million. The attraction was a 3,400-lot array of rare antique and vintage items that ran the gamut of American amusements, from 19th-century railroad memorabilia and coin-op machines to mid-20th-century petroliana and automotive signs.
3,400 amusement-themed lots included mechanical music & slot machines, railroadiana, petroliana, antique advertising
The five-day event, with Internet live bidding through LiveAuctioneers, opened with 937 high-quality lots of railroadiana. Offerings included train and station signage, lanterns, whistles, bells, clocks, waiting-room furniture, and every imaginable item used in transit, from railroad-branded dining car tableware to smoking accessories. Bidders competed aggressively for a Union Switch subway/transit signal with green, amber and (two) red lenses. It ended up selling for $14,400, 18 times its high estimate.
A steam locomotive headlight No. 469, with photos, brought $7,800; while an ornate steam locomotive bell attributed to Manchester Locomotive works rang up $8,400. An Erie Railroad/Southern Railway Baldwin Locomotive Works circular builder’s plate dated November 1912 sold for $5,760; while a beautiful Great Northern Railway porcelain sign (shown at top of page) featuring the company’s trademark mountain goat mascot climbed above its estimate to reach $6,600. Even items as functional as a passenger step stool for boarding a train found favor with multiple bidders. An example branded for Chicago & Alton well surpassed its $300-$500 estimate, closing at $4,320.
Our nation’s long love affair with cars and the open road was revisited during the second and third days of the auction series. The eye-catching lineup included nearly 300 gas and oil signs, plus cans, gas-pump globes, and 32 gas pumps, one of which was the top lot of the sale – an outstanding 10-gallon visible gas pump with a built-in oil dispenser. The pump had been masterfully restored in Stanocola Gasoline livery, and its blue-tint glass cylinder displayed unique metal gallon markers and 16 individual glass cylinders for oil disbursement. Against an estimate of $25,000-$50,000, it secured a winning bid of $87,600.
Among the automotive signage highlights, a rare and outstanding porcelain neon dealership sign fared best. Earlier in its life, it had done double duty, advertising Chevrolet Super Service on one side and Buick Authorized Service on the other. Estimated at $15,000-$30,000, it had no trouble sparking competition and achieving a strong $45,600 price. An excellent and complete vertical double-sided porcelain dealership sign for Packard automobiles swept past its estimate to realize $26,400.
With as broad a choice as of coin-ops as collectors had available to them, who could have predicted what the category’s top lot would be? Perhaps the group’s top lot “herself” – an extremely rare Esmeralda 5-cent fortune-teller, which commanded $78,000 against an estimate of $20,000-$35,000. Unlike other fortune-teller machines, Esmeralda speaks the user’s fortune through an external earpiece as opposed to dispensing it on a printed card. The machine is driven by an Edison cylinder record player, and in the case of Morphy’s superior example, came with a playable record.
Mechanical music, slot, vending and other amusement machines were ready to entertain and offered tremendous variety to those hoping to add something special to their collection or man cave. A Wurlitzer Style No. 146A military band organ, a model manufactured in the second and third decades of the 20th century, featured 49 keys and accompanying bass and snare drums, trumpets, and a medley of various pipes. It came with 41 player rolls and sold above estimate for $21,600.
An impressive and well-carved three-dimensional cowboy slot machine known as “The Westerner” went for more than 4 times the high estimate, reaching $18,000. He was in good company with a Page Mfg. Co., “Drinks on the House” trade stimulator, which sold for $9,600 against an estimate of $1,000-$2,000.
A grand Brunswick back and front bar served as a testament to the peerless artistry of a bygone era. Columned and mirrored between its triple arches, the stately unit was crafted to perfection, with applied lion-head carvings and Art Nouveau floral sprays. It landed within estimate for $66,000.
Vending and arcade machines in tip-top condition included such highlights as a Grove’s Pepsin Gum 1-cent vending machine emblazoned with an image of the early comic character ‘the Yellow Kid,’ $18,000; and a circa-1940 Ruffler & Walker 10-cent Helicopter Race arcade game in a light oak case with original glass marquee. One of very few of its type known to exist, it was chased to $13,200 against an estimate of $2,000-$6,000.
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