Bertoia’s gears up for Mar. 27-28 auction of Max Berry toys, banks

VINELAND, N.J. – In describing what awaits bidders on March 27-28 when Bertoia Auctions presents Part II of Washington attorney Max N. Berry’s antique toy and bank collection, gallery associate and auction coordinator Rich Bertoia offered an analogy from the motion-picture world.

“When they do a sequel in Hollywood, it’s never as good as the original, but the follow-up to Part I of Max’s collection, which we auctioned last November, will be a blockbuster,” he said.

The auction of just over 500 lots, with absentee and Internet live bidding through LiveAuctioneers, is devoted exclusively to selections from Berry’s extraordinary lifetime assemblage of rare mechanical banks, early American tin and horse-drawn toys, as well as bell toys and penny toys. Additionally, the lineup will be peppered with other toys that captured Berry’s fancy over the years, like hand-painted German tin toys, a Mickey Mouse Hurdy Gurdy and other comic character rarities. “If it appealed to Max, he bought it – but it had to be something really special for that to happen,” Bertoia said.

Almost 200 mechanical banks are entered in the March event, many come with provenance from legendary bank collections. Some are of a caliber so high, they don’t show up at auction more than once in a 20-year stretch, Bertoia said. “This will be one of those very unusual sales where even advanced collectors can find some of those near-apocryphal banks that have eluded them for so long,” he said.

A top highlight is a Stevens “Darky Kicking Watermelon” bank, one of only three known to either Bertoia’s or the experts who were called in to assess and catalog the collection (Oliver Clark, Russ Harrington and Mike Caffarella). The bank was formerly held in the Stan Sax collection and will be auctioned with a $200,000-$300,000 estimate.

Another high-profile bank is Berry’s Jerome Secor Freedman’s Bank, which has a rich trail of provenance, starting with its purchase in 1939 from dealers in Mexico. The buyer, who paid $8 for it, was a pioneer collector and banker from Fostoria, Ohio, named Andrew Emerine. From Emerine, the African-American-themed bank passed to another legendary collector, Mosler Safe Company president and CEO Edwin H. Mosler Jr. After Mosler, the bank’s next owner was Stanley P. Sax, whose collection was auctioned by Bertoia’s in 1998. It was at that auction that Max Berry acquired the bank, and it instantly became one of his most treasured possessions. It is cataloged in the March 27-28 auction with a presale estimate of $150,000-$200,000. All existing receipts and other written provenance will convey with the bank.

Other top-notch cast-iron banks set to cross the auction block include a Santa-themed Zig-Zag bank – a possibly unique survivor of cast-iron, tin and cloth that Bertoia described as having “a very clever action. You put a penny on top of Santa’s head, the coin zig-zags down, and a jack-in-the-box springs up. There should be hands up in the air all over the auction room for this bank. It’s a favorite with collectors.” Zig-Zag is estimated at $125,000-$175,000.

A red-version Mikado bank is expected to sell for upward of $75,000, while an Organ Grinder and Bear, possibly the only extant example with a movable arm on the grinder, is estimated at $10,000-$12,000.

Three extremely desirable banks made of lead are found in the Berry collection, including two designed by Charles A. Bailey: A Chinaman in Rowboat, estimate $80,000-$90,000; and a Cat and Mouse in beautiful condition. A third lead rarity, patented in 1905 but of unknown manufacture, is the Blacksmith bank. It will be offered together with a 1940 photo of its designer, Ohioan Fred Plattner, then age 80, seated and holding the bank.

An array of wonderful tin banks includes an Empire Cinema, $15,000-$20,000; a colorful, hand-painted William Weeden Ding Dong Bell, $60,000-$75,000; and two more Saalheimer & Strauss Mickey Mouse banks that complete the coveted four-bank series that was introduced during last November’s sale.

Horse-drawn cast-iron toys include several variations of Spyder Phaetons, by Hubley and Kenton, respectively, that typify luxury auto travel of the early 20th century. The selection also includes an elegant Pratt & Letchworth Barouche, $10,000-$12,000; a fleet of Hubley Circus wagons and bandwagons; a Kyser & Rex Cage Wagon with a bear, lion and other animal figures, $8,000-$10,000; and a very rare Kenton Uncle Sam nodder horse-drawn toy, $6,000-$8,000. A 28-inch-long Pratt & Letchworth Caisson drawn by four horses is the only example known to Bertoia’s. “It’s in jaw-dropping condition,” Rich Bertoia said. “We expect it to sell above $50,000.”

Max Berry’s fondness for American cast-iron bell toys was always common knowledge amongst collectors, said Bertoia. “His is one of the most complete collections of its type, and it includes a number of toys with amusing themes.” The collection’s early American hand-painted tin “pull” bell toys create a virtual menagerie of animals – horses, dogs, sheep, goats, elephants and more. Also, there are many that depict ladies riding horses.

American hybrid toys of hand-painted tin with cast-iron wheels include J & E Stevens velocipedes, Althof Bergmann goat-drawn wagons, and an especially nice figure of a girl pushing a suffragette on wire wheels. The latter toy could reach the $15,000 range.

Many years ago, Max Berry purchased a major collection of penny toys. He continued to build on to it, increasing not only its volume but also the breadth of subject matter depicted by the miniature tin artworks. Part II of Berry’s penny toy lineup includes two different styles of Bavarian Dancers, Girl in a Swing, Girl in a Gondola, Boy Catching Butterfly, a rare Rabbit Pushing a Basket, and a Roundabout amusement park ride.

In summarizing what lies in store on March 27-28 when Bertoia’s hosts the second exciting sale of Max Berry’s collection, auction company owner Jeanne Bertoia commented: “If you liked Part I, you’ll love Part II. And just as before, we’re making sure the auction is a fitting tribute to Max, who has done so much for the toy and bank-collecting hobby. Our gallery will be a hospitable setting where everyone can enjoy good food and conversation as they browse and preview one of the all-time great collections, which we are so honored to present at auction.”

To contact Bertoia’s about any item in the March 27-28, 2015 auction of the Max N. Berry collection, Part II, call 856-692-1881 or email

View the fully illustrated catalog and sign up to bid absentee or live via the Internet at


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