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German Santa car leads the parade of highlights at Bertoia's $2.1M Toybox Treasures auction
Circa-1928 Tippco tinplate Santa car with revolving Christmas feather tree, $28,910. Bertoia Auctions image.

VINELAND, NJ.- Santa made an early appearance this year, arriving behind the wheel of a Tippco clockwork roadster that finished as top lot in Bertoia Auctions’ Sept. 21-23 Toybox Treasures sale. The jaunty circa-1928 tin convertible, profusely decorated with images of toys, teddies and colorful balloons, even toted a revolving Christmas feather tree on its trunk. In his “fur”-trimmed crimson robe and cap, Tippco’s Santa was the perfect grand marshal for the 2,246-lot parade of toys, banks and doorstops to follow, leading prices realized at $28,910. All prices quoted include buyer’s premium.

The much-anticipated event drew a full house of bidders who were kept on their toes by Internet and phone competitors during all three sessions. As the hammer fell on the last lot, the sale total was confirmed at $2,082,000.

Finishing in the second-place slot behind the Tippco Santa car was a circa-1925 Gendron Pioneer Line Packard pedal car. In original condition with a retractable soft cover and rear panel that opens to reveal a rumble seat, the 66-inch-long car was described in the catalog as possibly being the finest known example. Against an estimate of $10,000-$15,000, it was whisked out of the saleroom for $23,600.

The power of the Marklin name was evidenced by the strong interest in Lot 929, a circa-1910 painted cast-iron accessory lamppost. Its fine details included candle-powered glass globes and ornate Art Nouveau styling. Entered with a $4,000-$5,000 estimate, the 16¾-inch triple lamppost (one globe missing) lit the way to a final phone bid of $21,240.

Another example of Marklin’s fastidious attention to detail was Lot 864, an 11-inch circa-1890s Tilbury coach with wicker-type sides, large spoke wheels and pair of side lamps. In pristine condition, it sped past its $10,000-$12,000 estimate to settle at $20,060.

Making it a Marklin trifecta, Lot 1276, a compound steam engine with many intricate nickeled parts, led its category at $11,800, near the top of its estimate range. Bertoia’s catalog noted that it would have been an expensive item in its day, having an original retail price of $1.75.

Many European tin toys met or exceeded expectations. A grouping of French Fernand Martin toys was kept in line by a circa-1901 clockwork Policeman in full blue felt uniform with painted tin helmet. Against an estimate of $1,200-$1,500, the mustachioed officer commanded a final bid of $6,490. Other Continental charmers that finished well in the money included a circa-1895 Gunthermann sky blue vis-à-vis with liveried driver, $7,080; and a quintet of early carved and painted wood figures depicting Austrian troopers on horseback (Estate of Paul Ingersoll collection), $3,835 (est. $900-$1,200).

Train collectors were on board for a Marklin hand-painted tin gauge 1 passenger set with 0-4-0 clockwork locomotive and cobalt blue and brick-red cars with stepped pea green roofs. Estimated at $1,500-$2,000, it pulled out of the station at $8,260.

The primitive appeal of a George Brown tinplate clockwork paddlewheeler “New York” encouraged a winning bid of $8,850 (est. $2,000-$3,500). “The lot opened at $1,000, and all the way to the end, there was a triangle of bidding between the phone, the floor and an absentee bidder. Eventually the phone bidder won,” said auctioneer Michael Bertoia, who shared the podium duties with veteran auctioneer Tim Luke.

From a much later period of American toymaking, a circa-1941 Buddy ‘L’ Allied Van Lines orange and black pressed steel moving van with boxed sets of miniature furniture, was pushed to $5,310 (est. $2,000-$2,500); while a foot-long yellow Kingsbury pressed steel roadster with white rubber tires and red hubs coasted to $5,310 (est. $800-$1,000). Although made in Germany by Fischer, the whimsical Hi-Way Henry auto may well have been inspired by the comic strip “Katzenjammer Kids” and is a favorite with American toy collectors. The example in Bertoia’s sale, complete with clothesline and laundry above the car’s roof and a doghouse comprising the front portion of the vehicle, made $3,540 (est. $1,200-$1,500).

A sizable contingent of cast iron toy buyers was in attendance, knowing some prized pieces would be crossing the auction block. A Hubley cast-iron “Truk Mixer” in near-mint condition boasted a red and green color scheme on its stout, well-molded body, with a nickeled water tank just behind the driver’s Mack cab and a revolving drum that, in real life, would have held cement. It rumbled away on its super-clean white rubber wheels to the bidder who paid $14,160 (estimate $3,500-$4,500).

Not far behind the Truk Mixer was another cast-iron automotive gem – Kenton’s depiction of a 1936 Nash Lafayette coupe pulling a primitive silver house trailer. The toy is the only example known to exist outside the Kenton Toy Museum in Ohio. It was offered at Bertoia’s with an advertising booklet depicting the car and trailer, titled “Travel by Covered Wagon – The Complete Steel Trailer Home.” Estimated at $7,000-$9,000 the roadworthy set was ready for adventure after knocking down a hefty $11,210.

A beautiful selection of figural cast-iron doorstops drew collectors who bid confidently on the many forms knowing each had been personally vetted by Bertoia Auctions’ owner, Jeanne Bertoia, an expert in the doorstop field. Lot 468, a 16¼ inch Bradley & Hubbard “Whistling Jim” topped the group at an above-estimate $7,080. Another desirable doorstop design by Bradley & Hubbard, a Rooster with finely delineated feathers and realistic detailing to its face, comb and feet, surpassed its high estimate at $4,720. Among the doorstops depicting buildings, a quaint Cape Cod Cottage with Hollyhocks dominated the upper end of the real estate market, closing at $3,540 (est. 750-$1,000).

The cataloged portion of the auction concluded with a fine selection of holiday items, including Christmas belsnickles, Dresden, glass and pressed-cotton ornaments; and a number of early Halloween candy containers and other novelties. A magnificent 16-inch-high German Santa on reindeer candy container was a highlight, selling for $5,900. The selection was followed by an uncataloged offering of holiday surprise boxes, which kept many bidders – including members of The Golden Glow of Christmas Past collector club – firmly in their seats till the very end.

“Everyone seemed to enjoy our September auction immensely,” said Jeanne Bertoia. “With toys from the Paul Ingersoll estate collection and steam engines from the collection of the late Klaus Grutzka, we could hardly go wrong. Both were very well-refined collections built by knowledgeable people who never settled for less when it came to quality and condition.”

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