Antique toy collection of Curtis and Linda Smith heads to Bertoia March 16

VINELAND, N.J. – Antique toy collectors who dream of time-traveling to the 1970s and ’80s when now-legendary toy shows and auctions took place have an opportunity to bid on items originally collected then. The breathtaking collection of Linda Smith and her late husband Curtis Smith will be offered in a single-owner auction (the first of two) on Saturday, March 16 at Bertoia. The catalog is now available for bidding at LiveAuctioneers.

“Curt and Linda Smith were prominent in the toy-collecting fraternity for decades,” said Michael Bertoia, president of Bertoia Auctions. “Both were active members of the Antique Toy Collectors of America (ATCA) and served on numerous committees over the years. Curt even served as the club’s president.”

The Smiths’ decades-long collecting adventure would take them to now-historic East Coast and European auctions, shows, and markets, where they acquired pieces with provenance from such fabled pioneers of the antique toy hobby as Louis Hertz, Bernard Barenholtz, Athel Spilhaus, Covert Hegarty, and Leon Perelman.

Top billing in this month’s auction goes to a Carpenter cast-iron Tally Ho horse-drawn coach. All-original, including its removable, often-missing figures, the dashing 26in-long vehicle is described by Michael Bertoia as being “the finest of all known examples.” Its estimate is $50,000-$75,000.

Curtis Smith made no secret of the fact that he especially loved firefighting pieces. The Smith collection includes a large-scale German horse-drawn fire pumper of hand-painted tin with painted wooden horses and composition fireman figure at the reins. Remarkably, it retains its original rubber fire hose and hand lever for pumping water. In excellent condition, the 14in-long toy is estimated at $15,000-$25,000.

Linda Smith has always favored the hand-lever velocipedes in their collection, in particular a circa-1880 Uncle Sam clockwork perambulator that is believed to be one of only two surviving examples. The Uncle Sam figure is dressed in its original cloth jacket and ‘American Flag’ striped pants. This famous toy is pictured in two esteemed reference books: American Clockwork Toys by Blair Whitton and American Tin Toys by Bernard Barenholtz. It was owned by both authors, consecutively, before joining the Smith collection and now comes to auction with a $40,000-$60,000 estimate.

A grand Althof Bergmann circus roundabout, measuring 17in in diameter, is unquestionably one of the finest early American clockwork toys ever to reach the marketplace. It has a storied background, having been discovered in a Pennsylvania attic by a picker. According to Linda Smith, the picker had been given permission to “clear out the attic and keep anything he wanted.” He was not a toy expert, so he listed it on eBay, where it was purchased by Steven Weiss of Gemini Antiques Ltd, then resold to the Smiths. In pristine condition and in fine working order, it is the only known example of its type. It carries an estimate of $30,000-$50,000.

Politically significant, a circa-1890s George Brown clockwork hoop toy depicts a William Goodwin-made girl with a hand-painted head pushing a wheeled vehicle with a suffragette balance-figure at its center. The 11.5in toy is pictured in Whitton’s American Clockwork Toys and has a $10,000-$15,000 estimate.

Michael Bertoia said: “The Curtis and Linda collection is a classic, and the March auction – part one of a two-part series – is an event the world will want to watch. The high condition that distinguishes the entire collection is unrivaled. Many of the best of all known examples, whether tin or cast iron, are included in the Smith collection. Some of the primitive American tin pieces, which are so desired by collectors, have thick, bright, original paint. These are the types of toys you just never see. They were acquired by collectors 40 to 50 years ago, and unless a collection is auctioned as a whole, there aren’t many opportunities to buy toys of this caliber.”

Bid Smart: Antique bell toys possess unmistakable ap-peal

This late 1880s surf boat bell toy by the Gong Bell Mfg. Company achieved $9,500 plus the buyer’s premium in August 2021. Image courtesy of the RSL Auction Company and LiveAuctioneers.
This late 1880s surf boat bell toy by the Gong Bell Mfg. Company achieved $9,500 plus the buyer’s premium in August 2021. Image courtesy of the RSL Auction Company and LiveAuctioneers.
This late 1880s surf boat bell toy by the Gong Bell Mfg. Company achieved $9,500 plus the buyer’s premium in August 2021. Image courtesy of the RSL Auction Company and LiveAuctioneers.

NEW YORK — Toys that make noise are not new. The beeping, squawking, headache-inducing modern renditions are invariably made from plastic, but antique pull toys featuring bells seem (and sound) positively sedate by comparison, and the passage of time has rendered them charming rather than annoying. Examples fashioned from cast iron or tin call to mind the times when such things were handmade, and their craftsmanship and sense of whimsy renders them delightful to collectors.

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