NEW YORK — German toy maker Gebr. Marklin & Cie (Marklin Bros. and Company), commonly referred to as simply “Marklin,” is among the finest of all toymakers, from the mid-19th century through modern day. Its antique toys are avidly sought after by collectors, with the best of the best selling for six-figure prices.
Noted for their craftsmanship and intricate details, Marklin toys long ago set the benchmark against which all other toys are compared. Founded in 1859, the company originally focused on dollhouse accessories but soon achieved renown for its model railways and technical toys. In 1891, Marklin launched its first wind-up train with carriages running on tracks, rightly figuring that, just as dollhouse enthusiasts continue to add furnishings to each room, train collectors would want to add rail accessories on an ongoing basis to enhance their layouts. With this thought in mind, Marklin started manufacturing items to add to its boxed sets, including track and properly scaled stations. Marklin is credited with having created several popular model-rail gauges (or “scales”).
At the Leipzig Toy Fair in Germany, it introduced its first wind-up model train meant to ride on a track. While it was not the first firm to make a clockwork train running on tracks, it was the first to offer customers whole layouts that they could put together, one item at a time. Its rail gauges became international standards.
According to Collectors Weekly, “At the beginning of the 20th century, Marklin and another German train maker, Bing, dominated the toy train market — Lionel and other US manufacturers would not hit their stride until the 1920s. Early Marklin trains from this period typically feature the letters ‘MC’ on them, which stands for Märklin Company. Some of the early Märklin steam engines in the larger scales actually operated like real steam engines, with fuel, a burner, and steam power to move them along the tracks. This attention to detail extended to the doors of the passenger cars, which could be opened and closed, and roofs that users could remove to reveal papier-mâché passengers inside.”
While the company is best known for its rail toys, the company also made toy boats with a similar level of craftsmanship and attention to detail, flying toys such as zeppelins, carousels, and even a line of mechanical construction sets.
Noel Barrett, an Antiques Roadshow appraiser and veteran auctioneer of antique toys, said the most sought-after Marklin toys were the boats and trains. “They are almost handmade. They are hand-painted, just exquisite, and if they survive in original condition, they are extremely rare,” he said.
“The detail is astounding. For instance, in the trains, what I find amazing is if you open the roof, you’ll find that the train’s interiors are fully outfitted, with passengers. The dining cars even have faux-painted marble on the tables. It’s just extraordinary. Their boats are fully outfitted with lifeboats and rigging, and clockwork or live-steam engine operation. The same is true for the trains and stations — they show the same level of detail. The stations are just exquisite. Their glass-covered passenger platforms are just like the real thing. I sold a train station with glass for $199,000 back in 2005.”
Holding the current world auction record for a Marklin toy boat, Bertoia Auctions achieved a $271,400 price, inclusive of buyer’s premium, for a Marklin Amerika oceanliner in May 2016. The all-original toy measuring 38 inches still had its original lifeboats, masts, four stacks and other luxuriously detailed appointments.
“This boat was an extraordinary find,” Bertoia Auctions owner Jeanne Bertoia said at the time. “It came out of an attic where it had remained for many years. When it was removed from its storage place, the boat had layers of dust and grime, and we believe that’s what helped preserve the paint. Once it was cleaned, it was bright, colorful and absolutely pristine.” The former world auction record for a toy boat had been held by a Märklin Chicago paddlewheeler from the well-known Dick Claus collection. That boat sold at Bertoia’s on November 10, 2012 for $264,000, including the buyer’s premium.
Whether it’s a “crocodile” locomotive, a paddlewheeler, or a construction set, the common theme in all Marklin productions is superior quality and attention to detail. It’s the reason Marklin toys have been loved around the world for nearly 160 years. Barrett summarized the brand’s enduring appeal: “Marklin is the gold standard in trains and boats.”
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