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Motivated new bidders discover antique toys at Bertoia Auctions' $1.2M season opener, March 28-29
Noah’s Ark, 37in long, hand-painted details, with 91 pairs of animals and 8 people, sold for $16,520. Bertoia Auctions image.

VINELAND, NJ.- Whether high-end European productions of a century ago or mid-range boomer toys produced for the prosperous postwar American market, toys made an impressive statement at Bertoia Auctions’ first sale of the year, held March 28-29. The auction attracted a bidding audience divided equally among floor, phone and Internet participants, and grossed nearly $1.2 million. All prices quoted are inclusive of a 18% buyer’s premium.

“There were many new players whose names I did not recognize,” said Bertoia Auctions associate Rich Bertoia. “That’s always an encouraging sign, because it means there are collectors starting fresh with many slots to fill in their collections. When someone has been collecting for 20 to 25 years, they’re only looking for certain things they don’t already have. We’re seeing new interest from bidders who’ve only just discovered antique and vintage toys. They have a long and enjoyable journey ahead of them.”

Character toys – whether those representing early radio personalities or “evergreens” like Popeye and Disney favorites – showed strength across all demographic lines. “Everyone can relate to Mickey Mouse, whether they’re 18 or 88,” said Bertoia. And that they did, bidding an appealing Distler Mickey and Minnie Mouse Hurdy Gurdy to an above-estimate price of $5,900.

Three iterations of Marx’s Merry Makers Bands were offered. Both the marquee/conductor version and marquee/violinist bands achieved individual prices of $1,298; while a band designed with a marquee but no conductor reached $1,098. Other notable tin toy entries included a Marx Butter and Egg Man, $2,242 against an estimate of $600-$700, and a Henry Katz Soldiers Parade toy with extremely rare box, which marched to $3,540.

European toys came on strong, especially Gunthermann’s early hand-painted productions with whimsical themes and ingenious actions. “Those very same qualities that appealed to American buyers in the 1890s are what continue to attract collectors to Gunthermann toys today,” Bertoia said. Gunthermann highlights in Bertoia’s sale included a Gordon Bennett racer, $9,440; and a performing clown with flying boats, $2,950.

Other European standouts ranged from a clockwork biplane based on a Wright Brothers design, $1,652; a clockwork boat, possibly of French manufacture, with two bisque-head, cloth-dressed rowers, $3,835; and a Doll et Cie. Ferris wheel, $4,720. A circa-1910 hand-crank-operated automaton of a gentleman in tails with performing dogs on a musical Ferris wheel fetched $4,720.

A fleet of nicely scaled, well-detailed Marx vehicles followed. A scarce red and white circa-1930s pressed-steel ambulance doubled its estimate at $944, while a Marx lithographed-tin Mack steam shovel with original box powered its way to $2,950 against an estimate of $250-$300. Many of the Marx toys came from the collection of the late Dr. Malcolm Kates, who was known for his excellent eye for color and design.

The parade of European toys resumed with a strong performance from the Lehmann corner. A boxed Tut-Tut sped to $2,950; a Zig Zag commanded $2,006; and a Man-Da-Rin made $1,770. A fine selection of French Martin characters included a Barrel Roller, $1,121; and an Advocate, which successfully made its case at $2,950 against an estimate of $800-$1,000. The Martin that “cleaned house,” however, was the perennially popular Washer Woman, which more than quadrupled its high estimate to settle at $6,490.

Of all the categories featured in Bertoia’s Spring Opener, none realized more money per centimeter than the choice grouping of tiny penny toys. On average, they sold for $300-$700, but several earned remarkable four-figure sums, including a 3-inch articulated Gnome on Egg, which rose to $4,720 (est. $500-$600); and a 3-inch Meier double-decker bus, $2,242 (est. $400-$600). A boxed Parker Bros. Toy Town Airship Meet with a lithographed hangar and a Bleriot penny toy dirigible and two airplanes was bid to $1,880.

Cast-iron collectors stepped up to the plate to bid aggressively on a Hubley reindeer-drawn sleigh, $5,310; and a Kenton oversize Caisson, possibly a prototype, $9,440. Ideal’s Bicycle Riders, consisting of three riders joined together on bikes, wheeled their way to $3,540.

Rare and beautiful Erzgebirge carved-wood toys rarely appear at auction, but several wonderfully detailed examples were offered at Bertoia’s sale, including a boxed set of Townspeople, $3,540; and a Logging Encampment, $2,006. Another German highlight was a 24-inch Steiff golden mohair bear with leather muzzle, which handily surpassed its $4,000-$6,000 estimate to reach $10,030.

The magical Tom Fox collection and other select consignments drew antique Christmas ornament collectors from far and wide. Dresdens included a boar’s head “popper,” $4,130; a monkey jockey on horseback, $2,360; and a Bugatti-type roadster, $1,534. A nodding polar bear with Santa achieved $5,605, and a clockwork reindeer nodder pulling a frosted lichen sleigh with a bisque Santa rider topped the group at $11,210 against an estimate of $6,000-$8,000.

Bertoia’s May 9-10 Spring Toy Break Auction will feature the Frank Loveland collection of early American trains and the Harvey Funderwhite horse-drawn cast-iron toy collection.

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