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George Brown Company Excelsior Paddlewheel River Boat, estimated at $55,000-$75,000 at RSL.

One of two-known George Brown Excelsior tin paddleboat toys featured at RSL June 29

WHITEHOUSE STATION, NJ — One of only two surviving examples of the George Brown Company Excelsior paddleboat toy arrives at RSL Auction Company on Saturday, June 29. The Banks and Toys of Summer catalog is now available for review and bidding at LiveAuctioneers.

The toy comes to market as a single family-owned example. It was originally purchased directly from the Forestville, Connecticut toymaker by Rhode Island dry goods magnate Thomas Cosgrove (1805-1885) as a present for his grandson Richard McNeely Jr. (1863-1908) for Christmas in either 1872 or 1873. The boat was exclusively in McNeely’s possession, first as a child in Providence, Rhode Island; then briefly, as a working married man in Bronx, New York; and later as a prominent realtor in Bradley Beach, New Jersey. He died in 1908 after a day of furious gin-drinking and was found deceased inside a Manhattan hansom cab.

For the next many years, the toy resided in the attic of the Bradley Beach residence. It was passed to Mary (Bessie) McNeely and her husband Stanley Harvey sometime in the 1930s. Soon thereafter, it went to their son Richard Harvey, who, for a short while in the 1960s, displayed it in the front window of the McNeely Realty Company in Bradley Beach. Upon his death in 2016, his widow Sheila and their daughter Anne Harvey have been the rightful owners of the Excelsior.

The Mississippi-style river boat is unquestionably one of the most significant American tin toys ever produced. Its sheer size and the complexity of its design with multiple decks, ornate trim, and its peerless use of stenciling and decals make it a visual wonder. The only other example known was in the folk art collection of renowned modernist sculptor Elie Nadelman. His entire holdings of folk art were acquired by the New York Historical Society in 1937. RSL estimates the Excelsior at $55,000-$75,000.

This sketch of the Excelsior, which will also be offered in the June 29 sale, was made for the George Brown Company. Edith and Barney Barenholtz were well-known toy collectors who in the 1960s discovered an antique book detailing items as made by the toy firm in the 1870s. This was the first glimpse toy collectors had into the complex world of tin toy manufacturing in the late 19th century. The framed sketch is estimated at $12,500-$17,500.