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Spirited gathering of collectors turns out for Bertoia's May 8-9 toy, train & bank auction
Hubley Packard Straight-Eight sedan, cast iron, $16,520. Bertoia Auctions image.

VINELAND, NJ.- There was something special to view with every turn of the page in Bertoia’s May 8-9 “In May We Play” auction catalog. The especially diverse 1,521-lot sale crossed the entire panorama of antique toys and banks, a factor that kept the level of interest – and bidding – lively from start to finish. By the end of the Saturday session, the event had tallied a healthy $1.57 million, inclusive of buyer’s premium.

Trains, trolleys and automobiles led the auction parade, with strong prices paid for both German- and American-made rarities. Finishing in the No. 1 slot was a circa-1910 Voltamp No. 2116 “Edna” interurban tram. An early version with an olive-green painted tin body and wood floor, the 16½-inch-long toy rushed past its $10,000-$12,000 estimate to settle at $21,240.

The premier name in German toy manufacturing, Marklin, took its well-deserved place in the spotlight, claiming three out of the top five prices realized. A circa 1909-1915 “Lorraine” steam-powered ocean liner, 28 inches long and extensively appointed with lifeboats, stairs, multiple observation decks with planked floors, dropped its anchor at $17,700. Two early 20th-century Marklin O gauge trains secured identical winning bids of $15,340. One was an incline engine with cars modeled after those seen in Swiss mountain railways, while the other was a “Crocodile” locomotive, ex Borowski collection.

The pace car for the auction’s stately fleet of toy automobiles was an 11½-inch Hubley cast-iron Packard Straight-Eight sedan. Depicting a classic luxury car of the 1920s and executed in a handsome Kelly green and black motif, the toy even retained its original Hubley factory decal on its bonnet. Pursued by a number of bidders, it sold for $16,520 against a pre-sale estimate of $1,500-$2,000.

One of the most talked-about lots was a Hispano-Suiza demonstration model that enabled a view of the full interior of the car’s body frame. One of only a few made and a prized entry from a collection of several Hispano-Suizas consigned by a European source, the model nearly doubled its high estimate in selling for $12,980.

A huge selection of pressed-steel toys attracted collectors in droves. “And what a nice group of people they are,” said Bertoia Auctions associate Rich Bertoia. “I don’t know why, but pressed steel collectors share a great camaraderie. They have a lot of fun with their hobby, and they’re always excited to know what’s in our next sale.”

Among the pressed steel highlights was a rare red-painted version of a 27½-inch-long Buddy ‘L’ Tugboat that sailed off to a new owner for $11,800. “We know of only one other example of this toy. They’re thought to have been salesmen’s samples,” Bertoia said.

Fine, early toys from both sides of the Atlantic kept bidders engaged. A Martin (French) Fisherman in Boat made its debut at Bertoia’s alongside an array of amusing contemporaries from both the Martin and Lehmann (German) factories. Estimated at $4,000-$6,000, it was catch of the day in its category, landing a winning bid of $11,210.

From the last of the late Frank Loveland’s revered toy collection, a George Brown hand-painted and stenciled horse-drawn omnibus in extraordinarily beautiful condition trotted down the road at $10,620. Another American beauty, a circa-1875 Ives Perambulator that Bertoia said had “walked through the gallery door,” made $10,030. “The consignor was very happy,” Bertoia said.

One of the most popular categories over the two days of focused bidding was comic character toys. “There were some very nice pieces from several excellent private collections. Many were boxed, and whenever you find boxed comic character of a certain level of rarity, the auction interest increases,” said Bertoia. “The mentality of collecting is to look backwards, never forwards. For instance, if you collect postwar Disney toys, eventually you’ll become more curious and interested in prewar Disney. That’s always how it works.”

An exceptionally rare original box with primitive depictions of Batman, Robin and the Batmobile was the “X” factor that led to the $10,030 price paid for a Yanoman (Japanese) Batman Car. The lithographed-tin friction car with a half-body depiction of the Caped Crusader in the driver’s seat had been estimated at $4,000-$5,000, “but prior to the auction, we had been tipped by a couple of very interested bidders that it might double that price,” said Bertoia. “Batman has held very strong in the marketplace for decades, now.”

Everyone’s favorite cartoon sailor, Popeye, appeared in various iterations, from wind-up to battery-op and engaged in a variety of occupations and pastimes. They included: a boxed Linemar Smoking Popeye, $1,770; boxed Popeye Express, $1,888; and a small, mixed grouping that included a scarce, boxed Tumbling Popeye, $1,652.

Earlier classics included a boxed 1930s Blondie’s Jalopy, $4,425; and a 1939 boxed Louis Marx Charlie McCarthy & Mortimer Snerd Coupe, $5,900. “Both came from the same collection and were truly mint. There was a lot of interest in them,” Bertoia said.

Of the grouping of cast-iron banks entered in the sale, leaders included a Boss Tweed “Tammany Tiger” still bank, $5,310; and a Paddy & the Pig mechanical bank, $2,950.

Always a highly anticipated category at Bertoia’s sales, premium-quality figural cast-iron doorstops showed off their condition and rarity while fetching excellent prices. An elusive Golf Caddy “dressed” in plaid knickerbockers, jacket and cap, and toting a bag of clubs, was crisp and bright, and described in the catalog as “leftover store stock.” It sold for $3,540. An extremely rare Bradley & Hubbard Sitting English Bulldog with lifelike facial details achieved $2,950; and a colorful and pristine standing Popeye doorstop with original pipe was bid to $3,835.

On October 3, 2015, Bertoia’s will host an important single-owner auction that exclusively features the 40-year personal bank collection of Clive Devenish. Then, on November 13, 14 and 15, Bertoia’s will conduct a toy sale of exceptional variety, featuring Part II of the Michael Cann train collection, Part II of the Bill Moody Metalcraft advertising truck collection, and much more.

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