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Bertoia Auctions million-dollar Spring 2017 auction led by $51,000 mechanical bank
Late 18th-century Lance Queen Anne-type wooden doll with painted features, English, 21 inches, $19,200. Images courtesy Bertoia Auctions.

VINELAND, NJ.- Collectors started planning their bidding strategies weeks ahead of Bertoia’s million-dollar 2017 Spring Auction, held June 2-3 at the family-owned company’s sleek New Jersey gallery. Extra time was needed, some said, because of the auction’s large and exceptionally fine array of toys, banks, dolls and doorstops from some of the best collections to reach the marketplace in years.

Among the choice offerings were a Swiss family’s multigenerational collection of hand-painted German tin toys, the final installment of Jay Schoedinger’s pristine pressed-steel toys, and antique teddy bears from the highly regarded Catherine McKinney teddy bear collection. As if that were not enough, the sale also included several toys with provenance from the legendary Donald Kaufman collection, which was originally auctioned by Bertoia’s in 2009 and 2010.

Reaching a $1.05-million total, the nearly 1,300-lot sale left auctioneers Michael Bertoia and Tim Luke feeling as though they had run a marathon. Bidding had been fast and furious, between a packed gallery, constantly buzzing phone lines and nearly 1,200 people who took part via the Internet.

“There was interest from all over the world, including Russia, South Africa, Australia and many European countries,” said Jeanne Bertoia, owner of Bertoia Auctions. “If a collector wanted a toy, they had many ways in which to pursue it.” Absentee and gallery bidding accounted for 40 percent of the lots sold, while Internet bidders claimed 36 percent, and phone bidders, 24 percent.

The top lot of the sale was a coveted J & E Stevens Germania Exchange cast-iron mechanical bank, which sold for $51,000, twice the high estimate. A whimsical depiction of a three-dimensional painted-lead goat seated atop a beer cask and holding a mug, the bank had been discovered in the attic of a Virginia home. Other popular mechanicals included a Ferris Wheel bank (ex Max Berry collection), $6,600; and a J & E Stevens Hen and Chick, $3,600.

Still bank highlights included an Eggman, $840; a Kenton Presto bank, $870; and a Two-Face Devil, $720. Looking right at home among the banks was an array of beautiful painted cast-iron doorstops. They included a spectacular 13-inch-tall, three-dimensional Hubley Giraffe, $10,800 (against a $3,500 high estimate); West Wind Girl, $4,800; Hubley’s very rare Bugle Boy, $3,900, Little Black Sambo, $3,300; Pheasant, $3,000 (against a $900 high estimate); and a near-mint Lobster, $2,700. Many doorstops reached or exceeded their high estimates.

Bidders turned up the heat when American firefighting toys crossed the auction block. A striking Pratt & Letchworth cast-iron horse-drawn hook and ladder fire wagon with original seated drivers and accessory wooden ladders, had the unmistakable look of originality from front to back. It blazed past its estimate to settle at $5,400. From a later era but equally desirable, a circa-1920s Buddy ‘L’ pressed-steel fire pumper measuring 23.5 inches in length was also complete and original in every respect. Estimated at $2,000-$2,500, it commanded a healthy $3,900.

Many eyes were on a particular automotive prize with Donald Kaufman provenance – a late-1920s Hubley cast-iron racer finished in a bright yellow and black motif. Its details included a driver figure, nickel grille, electric lights and white rubber tires. An extra-nice detail was the hood, which could be lifted from either side to reveal a battery. In pristine to near-mint condition and accompanied by its colorfully illustrated original Hubley box, the speedy racer handily surpassed expectations to cross the finish line at $7,200.

Superior-quality European toys found favor with bidders hoping to repatriate them to the Continent, but American competition was very strong. A Phillip Vielmetter Clown Artist, whose ingenious design enables the clown figure to draw various pictures according to which interchangeable cam is installed, was bid to $6,600; while another German-made toy, a boxed Lehmann Masuyama, commanded $6,000. An elegantly attired Gustav Vichy Monkey Harpist automaton was ready to entertain bidders with a repertoire of two songs and multiple movements that included realistically strumming the harp strings, blinking his eyes, moving his head and opening and closing his hinged jaw. Formerly in the private collection of automata expert and book author Christian Bailly, it well surpassed its $2,000-$4,000 estimate, selling for $7,200.

A parade of gorgeous early teddies was led by a Steiff center-seam cinnamon mohair bear with glass eyes and original nose. Measuring 20 inches high, the long-limbed charmer sold within its estimate range for $4,200.

There was great interest in an 18th-century English painted wood and gesso Queen Anne-style doll made by Lance. With jointed hips and knees, and dressed in brocade period clothing, the 21-inch doll estimated at $2,500-$3,500 ended its bidding run at a remarkable $19,200.

“We could not have been more pleased with the outcome of our sale, or with the enthusiasm bidders showed on both days,” said Jeanne Bertoia. “The prices paid in every category showed how strong the market continues to be for antique and vintage toys, and the excitement continued even after the auction. Our phones were ringing off the hook with requests from successful bidders who wanted to organize payment immediately so their toys could be shipped.” Each parcel shipped from Bertoia’s gallery is packed with care by in-house auction-house staff.

Bertoia’s next Signature Auction will be held on Nov. 11, 2017. Among the highlights are a fresh-to-the-market Fernand Martin clockwork toy collection, Marklin boats, trains and stations; store-display Santa nodders, top-quality comic character toys, and cast-iron automotive toys, mechanical banks and doorstops.

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