The late Donal Markey was one of an elite circle of illuminati who bought and sold the rare antique toys 25 years ago that are now considered masterworks of their category. Markeys own immaculate personal collection of antique toys, folk art, and mechanical and still banks is now headed to auction in a March 25-26 sale organized by Bertoia
s, the firm his old friend the late Bill Bertoia co-founded. More than 1,000 lots will be presented in the two-day auction.
The common thread in all of Markeys collections was color, especially reds, various shades of green, and yellow. Multicolored pieces were his favorite. Every item Donal bought was for display. He lived with all of it in his home, and the cardinal rule was that it had to have color and visual appeal, whether it was a clock, a whirligig or a framed mirror and the condition had to be as close to perfection as possible, Bertoia said.
Markey also favored pieces with a folk art quality. His collection includes such highlights as a cabinet and small 4-drawer chest with carved floral and botanical designs; tramp art picture frames and mirrors with delicately carved floral corners, amusement wheels, trade signs and hand-painted sleds with exquisite images of pelicans and other birds. A desirable horse theme typical of early folk art is seen on Markeys early, decorative wall shelves and other pieces.
Also among the folk art highlights is a framed, carved-wood die-cut of a hand holding a placard that says Made by J.P. Brown, Invalid. Its decorations include butterflies, a dog, and a cat blowing a horn. Another unique article is the early hand-painted ballot box with four candidates names and slots for depositing ballots. Probably late 19th century, the ballot box is an exceptional work of art whose detailing is of a very high standard.
Before he became a full-time antique dealer, Markey was a menswear retailer in New York. Many of the old painted-wood advertising signs in his collection are an homage to his previous profession and publicize clothing, shoes and other products aimed at 19th-century men, e.g., cigars and other tobacco products. An imposing highlight is a 6½ft.-long, double-sided sign that says Positively No Smoking. Originally displayed in a train station, the sign features bright, eye-catching Donal colors.
A prized 19th-century sign in the collection is painted on canvas and advertises a hat shop. On each side, its design includes an elaborate ladies hat and a pair of scissors, and is edged with a painted faux frame.
Donal Markeys name was always closely associated with mechanical banks. Bertoias will present approximately three dozen examples in the auction, even including a few banks that Markey was in the process of buying or had committed to buy at the time he fell ill last year. Condition wise, theyre so beautiful, they look like their paint is still wet from the production line, Bertoia remarked. Highlights include a superb yellow-dress version Mammy with Child, old store-stock Elephant banks in super-mint condition, and an unbelievable example of an Uncle Sam bust bank.
More than 100 still banks all in pristine condition also will be auctioned. I think Donal collected them before he got into the mechanicals because they were so affordable then, Bertoia said. He was Mr. Still Bank for many years. People would line up at bank conventions, waiting for him to open his doors to sell.
From the moment Markey discovered American antique toys, they became his passion, and he set his sights on acquiring only the finest horse-drawn cast-iron examples. His collection contains one of the very best: an Ives Cutter Sleigh. Ornately detailed and precisely cast, the 1880s toy measure 18 inches long and features embossed pink seating. Very few Ives Cutter Sleighs exist. This one is the crème de la crème, Bertoia said. Also to be auctioned is the ultimate example of a Pratt & Letchworth 4-seat brake, ex Hegarty collection, estimate $25,000-$35,000.
The wild card section of the sale, which accommodates the items Rich Bertoia described as the beautifully unusual, includes a counter-size, 24-inch-tall cast-iron Indian on a wood podium marked Cigars, a large painted cast-iron ashtray crafted as a parrot hovering over a bucket, a cardboard advertising box for Rich Fur Goods that actually contains a new and unused fur muff, and a brightly painted presentation baseball bat dated 1863 and emblazoned with the name G. Hall. In a league of its own is an oval mirror held by two women standing on branches, with an American Flag and boat on its base.
This is going to be a phenomenal sale that will get the market buzzing, said Bertoia Auctions owner and co-founder, Jeanne Bertoia. We believe there may be many Americana and folk art collectors who arent aware of Donals collection, and theyre in for quite a surprise. It took Donal many years and a great deal of travel to accumulate the pieces he so loved. His collection is unique by anyones standards.
All forms of bidding will be available for Bertoias March 25-26 auction, including live via the Internet through LiveAuctioneers.com.