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Collectors Could Strike Gold when Little-Known California Toy Collection is Sold
Tin Space Fuel Station battery-operated toy, Japanese, includes original rocket, antenna and box. Estimate $2,000-$4,000.

DENVER, PA.- At the heart of Dan Morphy Auctions’ 1,300-lot July 16-17 Premier Auction is a collection of mostly mint/boxed toys that has flown under the radar for nearly three decades. Running the gamut from European, early American and Japanese toys to pressed steel, pedal cars and even two actual hot rods, the collection was amassed by retired California architect and Victorian home restorer Michael O’Hearn. It will be offered at auction “unpicked and in its entirety,” said auction company CEO Dan Morphy.

“Very few people have even heard of this truly exceptional collection,” said Morphy. “Mr. O’Hearn never sold a toy; he only bought, and in each of the 46 categories of his collection, he kept the emphasis on condition. All of the O’Hearn toys are a strong 9 out of 10 or better.”

The auction’s flagship collection came to Morphy’s as a result of the 20-year business association and friendship between O’Hearn and Morphy’s chief operating officer, Tom Sage Jr. “I started selling toys to Michael in the late 1980s or early 1990s through my magazine ads,” said Sage. “For many years I had no idea how large and impressive his collection was, until Michael extended an invitation to Dan and myself to visit his home and view the toys. It was something to behold. There were some 4,000 toys in his collection, at least 2,500 of them in their original boxes. As toy collections go, it’s a California gold mine, right up there with the very best.”

The Friday, July 16 session will open with more than 75 boxed robot and space toy lots. Highlights include boxed examples of a New Space Station (estimate $1,000-$1,500), a Space Refuel Station ($2,000-$4,000) and a friction Space bus ($1,200-$1,800). A TV Space Patrol Car is expected to make $1,500-$2,500.

More than 100 European tin toys will be auctioned in the first session. A French Gem #42 racecar is entered with a $1,500-$2,000 estimate, while a German lithographed-tin #15 Super Racer friction toy shows its rarity and desirability with a $4,000-$8,000 estimate. A Fisher windup bus with “Joyville” as its destination is expecting a fare of $2,000-$4,000.

The panoramic sub-collection of Japanese toys spans the era from pre-World War II through the boom years of postwar toymaking. “It covers quite a range – celluloid, battery ops, tin airplanes, big ’50s cars,” said Morphy. A #58 Atom Jet racecar is estimated at $2,000-$4,000.

Michael O’Hearn also gets a kick out of full-size cars, as evidenced by the two beautifully appointed contemporary hot rods consigned to Morphy’s sale. His 1927 Ford Model T coupe ($20,000-$30,000) is fitted with a Ford Cobra engine and Jaguar front and rear end. Described by O’Hearn as “a deluxe mini racecar in an antique body,” the car has air conditioning, power steering and a 50-gallon gas tank in its trunk.

“At first glance, it looks like a Model T, but it’s deceptive,” said O’Hearn. I would take it out for a spin and have a little fun when people would drive by, pointing at the old Model T. I’d hit the gas and leave them in the dust.” The second hot rod, which O’Hearn has owned for 30 years, is a 1929 Ford Roadster convertible pickup truck customized with a big-block Chevy engine ($18,000-$20,000).

The Saturday, July 17 session opens with more than 125 high-end advertising lots. A parade of pretty girls from the turn of the 20th century includes the fabled model Hilda Clark on a near-mint 1903 Coca-Cola tray; and another beauty sipping Dr. Pepper as the central image of a 1908 cardboard sign ($8,000-$12,000). Cardboard signs from the 1930s and ’40s touting Coca-Cola include a 1940s example with the image of a girl lying on the beach ($3,000-$5,000).

An early Lawrence Paint Company porcelain sign emblazoned with a tiger’s head is expected to leap to a winning bid of $2,000-$4,000; while an oval tin sign for Robert Smith Ale, Philadelphia, with a Bengal tiger’s head “breaking” through it, will require $5,000-$7,000 in order to be tamed.

Representing an American classic, a porcelain Campbell’s Soup sign in near-mint condition is mm-mm-good looking and carries an estimate of $3,000-$5,000; while a custom sign depicting a cook holding a pan and frying chicken over a fire carries an estimate of $2,000-$4,000.

In the tobacciana section, a large Mayo Cut Plug Tobacco porcelain sign with a rooster image could reach $4,000-$6,000. Smaller but no less desirable, a Hi Ho Tobacco pocket tin with a wonderful image of scullers rowing also carries a $4,000-$6,000 estimate. Three complete sets of Roly Poly tins, advertising Dixie Queen, Navy Cut and Red Man Tobacco, could realize $4,000-$6,000 per set. “These are going to fly. It took the consignor 30 years to collect them all,” Morphy remarked.

Additional lots include a large assortment of tip trays, 78 occupational shaving mugs, and 20 large, double-sided porcelain neon signs sourced from a warehouse in Duluth, Minnesota, where they had been stored for many years. “Some are 10 to 12 feet tall and weigh 300 pounds. They came off 1920s storefronts in Duluth and advertise such retail establishments as a furniture store, jewelry store, a brewery, etc.,” said Morphy. Among the more eye-catching examples is a 10-foot-long, quintessentially Art Deco, lime green and yellow neon sign for Nolander’s Furniture ($3,000-$5,000) and an 8-foot-long 1920s sign for Hotel Arrowhead ($3,000-$5,000).

Sixty mechanical and still banks, more than 200 tin toy lots and 100+ pressed-steel toys and pedal cars will be auctioned on day two of the sale. “Many of the O’Hearn pedal cars were custom made, and very unusual,” said Morphy. A1914 Ford C-Cab could bring $5,000-$7,000; and a Say It With Flowers motorcycle pedal car is entered with a $7,500-$9,500 estimate.

Dan Morphy Auctions | Dan Morphy | Michael O'Hearn |

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