VINELAND, N.J. – A holiday atmosphere enlivened with the colors and iconic characters of Halloween and Christmas greeted guests to Bertoia’s Nov. 9-11 Annual Fall Auction. The cataloged Friday and Saturday sessions were followed by an uncataloged bonus session brimming with excellent toys at moderate price points. Online bidding was nonstop on all three days through LiveAuctioneers.
The $1.5 million event, which attracted gallery bidders from as far away as Texas, featured more than 1,400 high-quality lots across dozens of categories. “Many people came to bid on day one but ended up staying for all three days. We were very pleased about that because it means they were enjoying our hospitality and the company of other collectors,” said Jeanne Bertoia, owner of Bertoia Auctions.
Unquestionably, Halloween was the “hot ticket” of the Nov. 9-11 weekend. New highs were recorded in both the number of bidders and prices paid for Halloween merchandise, which was fresh to the market from a 40-year Pennsylvania collection. A fabulous circa-1920s German witch riding atop a wheeled mechanical black cat, 16.5 inches tall, swept past its $3,500-$5,500 estimate to settle at $21,600. “The buyer was a Christmas collector who is now buying Halloween, but only the great, very rare pieces,” Jeanne said. Along the same lines, a witch on black cat candy container, complete with broom in hand for standby transportation, more than doubled its high estimate at $9,500.
An extremely rare composition vegetable man holding an apple-green jack-o-lantern made $10,200 (est. $3,000-$5,000), while a composition candy container in the form of a standing pumpkin man with a removable jack-o-lantern head was a magnet for bids. “We always have a lot of requests for phone lines, but for this one we had 15 requests. We couldn’t accommodate them all, so a few people opted to leave absentee bids with us,” Jeanne said. The sought-after candy container tripled its high estimate at $9,000.
Halloween highlights continued with a boxed set of rubber Halloween musician nodders, $7,200 (est. $3,000-$5,000); a devil and witch double-face lantern, $4,200 (est. $500-$800); a witch candy container with lantern face, $3,300 (est. $800-$1,200); and a 17-inch-long die-cut of a cranky-looking owl inside a pumpkin, $3,300 (est. $200-$350).
The bullish prices paid for the early Halloween items can be explained by the ages-old ratio of supply versus demand, Jeanne said. “Not everyone decorates for Halloween the way so many do for Christmas, so over the years there hasn’t been as great a supply of vintage Halloween pieces available to buy. When a collection comes to auction that is as fine as the one we just presented, buyers don’t hold back.”
The Christmas selection included a stellar array of Christmas fur-robed Santas, Santas in sleighs, reindeer, nodders and candy containers; display pieces and kugels. A 20-inch German belsnickle with a glass-icicle beard, kindly blue eyes and ruddy cheeks dominated the group at $15,600 (est. $7,000-$10,000). Another crowd-pleaser, a Santa on polar bear growler, was bid to $10,200 (est. $3,000-$4,000). A 25-inch fur-robed Santa figure with a basket of toys suspended from his waist realized $7,800 (est. $4,000-$6,000), and a Pelz Nichol candy container depicting a stern-faced Saint Nicholas in a fur hat and long coat made $3,600 – more than four times its high estimate.
Many types of trains crossed the auction block, but the one attracting the most interest was a circa 1905-1907 Carlisle & Finch derrick and crane flatbed car, which sold for nearly four times its high estimate at $19,200. Marklin, the brand that usually “rules the rails” at Bertoia’s, was well represented by an FE 2 gauge locomotive and tender, $6,600.
Top mechanical banks included a J & E Stevens Girl Skipping Rope, blue-dress version, $21,600; and a circa-1915 Boy Scout Camp bank, $11,400 against an estimate of $4,000-$7,500. A 16.5-inch Bradley & Hubbard Huckleberry Finn cast-iron doorstop in super-mint condition rose to $6,600 (est. $2,000-$4,000).
Continuing in the cast-iron category, farm toys were in high demand, especially a Vindex Case combine that “harvested” $6,600 (est. $2,500-$4,500). A Wilkins hay rake with provenance from the prestigious Max Berry collection exceeded its high estimate, selling to a Midwestern farmer and collector for $5,400.
Premier brands of pressed-steel toys rolled across the auction block and earned above-estimate prices. Category leaders included a Buddy ‘L’ Jr Airmail truck, $4,200 (est. $1,300-$1,700), Kingsbury clockwork dirigible, $4,200 ($2,500-$4,500), and a light-pressed-steel Hoge Traffic Car delivery ’cycle, $3,000 (est. $700-$1,000). A Packard Series 5 Tandem pedal car sold for $5,100 (est. $1,500-$5,000), while a Bugatti boattail racer pedal car commanded $5,100 (est. $2,000-$4,000).
There was strong transatlantic interest in the grouping of French-made Fernand Martin clockwork toys. A rare and desirable Roller Skater hammered in the room for an above-estimate $13,200; while a circa-1901 “Le Charbonnier” (Coal Man) soon departed to its new home in Germany after selling for $4,800 (est. $1,500-$3,000). Other European tin highlights included a beautiful Buchner 12-inch horse-drawn carriage with composition driver and passengers, $7,800 (est. $2,500-$3,500); and a circa-1910 Hans Eberl Whimsical Clown Porter, $10,200 (est. $4,000-$6,000). A Boy on Hobby Horse penny toy quadrupled its high estimate at $4,800; and an Orobr racing scull glided to $4,800.
The comic character tin toy category was topped by a set of Linemar Popeye-character nodder/walkers that included the punchy sailor and his pals Olive Oyl, Brutus and Wimpy. Estimated at $600-$900, the cartoon quartet was chased to $6,600.
A set of glass-eyed dog skittles was very similar to a set that sold in 1988 at the famous Perelman Toy Museum “Great Grab” tag sale, co-produced by the late Bill Bertoia. Estimated at $2,500-$3,500, the kennel mates found a new home for $12,000.