Bertoia's wraps stellar year with $2.7M November auction of toys and Christmas antiques from prestigious collections

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Bertoia's wraps stellar year with $2.7M November auction of toys and Christmas antiques from prestigious collections
Yonezawa 27-inch Atom Jet racer in museum-quality condition with its very rare pictorial box. Sold well above estimate for $40,800, a possible world record price.

VINELAND, N.J..- Bertoia Auctions concluded a memorable year of high-profile events with a $2.7 million sale of toys, banks and Christmas antiques held on November 17-18 at their New Jersey gallery. The 1,179-lot selection presented on November 17-18 was steeped in toy-collecting history, with an abundance of exquisite, well-provenanced pieces coming from the lifetime collections of Bob Brady, Jack White, and Curtis and Linda Smith.

“The interest was tremendous. The number of bidders who signed up for this sale surpassed that of many of our past auctions,” said Michael Bertoia, president and principal auctioneer at Bertoia Auctions. “There was a lot of international participation, including from countries where we had not seen bidders come from before, like Russia, Thailand and even Ukraine.” Regardless, the majority of the auction’s contents went to US bidders in the room or on the phones, with additional successful buyers competing via the Internet.

A very rare and iconic tin toy, a Marklin Fidelitas clown train, topped the list of prices realized during the busy two-day event. The 37-inch-long convoy of clowns riding in early vehicles was complete with all original paint – an astonishing level of perfection for a toy so rare that even the most advanced European toy collectors have never actually seen one in person. The Fidelitas came from a British consignor who had received it as a child but was never very fond of it. Because it was not chosen for display in her bedroom, the toy was stored away and forgotten for the next 50 years, only to resurface after a clearing-out of the family home’s cellar. At auction, it more than redeemed itself by landing a within-estimate price of $84,000.

The magical Marklin name pulled in the big bids once again when a canopied O-gauge trolley crossed the auction block. Made circa 1904, with hand-painted French lettering on its side panels and roof placards, the 12-inch-long clockwork-driven toy in pristine/near-mint condition sold above estimate for $32,400.

Another German-made toy that created a stir was an “Indian Scout” skittles (bowling pins) container. Beautifully hand-painted in vibrant colors, the 28-inch-long piece was intended to serve as the nesting receptacle for a set of skittles formed as Native American figures. A happy reunion lay ahead for the scout, which was purchased by a bidder who already happened to own the corresponding set of skittles in perfect condition. Against stiff competition, he prevailed with a $36,000 bid that went eight times over the high estimate of $4,500.

The Christmas spirit permeated the top 10 in a bevy of enjoyable forms. A 12-inch-long German Tippco Santa car was one of many great treasures offered from the holiday collection of Linda Smith and her late husband Curtis Smith. With a brightly liveried Father Christmas at the wheel, the jaunty tin convertible was designed as a traveling “billboard” for what good boys and girls might receive for Christmas, with lithographed images of teddy bears, dolls, trains and airships. Estimated at $12,000-$18,000, the colorful wind-up auto raced all the way to $60,000.

Another showstopper was the 37-inch-long Santa and reindeer sleigh platform pull toy that had been found in the attic rafters of a Victorian estate. Fastidiously detailed, each reindeer’s head was positioned differently, thus rendering an impression of movement even when standing still. Michael Bertoia said the toy’s phenomenal condition was no doubt attributable to the fact that it had been safely tucked away in a wooden transportation crate in which it fit perfectly. Against an estimate of $20,000-$30,000, it sold for $50,400.

The last, and very best, of the Bob Brady American toy collection commanded the prices deserving of such a legendary collection. A past president of the Still Banks Collectors Club of America (SBCCA) and Mechanical Bank Collectors of America (MBCA), and a 40-year member of the Antique Toy Collectors of America (ATCA), Brady had sold some of his toys in past years but had retained a private reserve that he considered to be the crme de la crme of his holdings. The common thread was that each of the remaining toys was the best example he had ever had the chance to buy.

One such toy was a Hubley cast-iron Hill Climber motorcycle, olive green with nickel wheels, in near-mint condition. Brady had spent many years chasing the toy and was always one step away from owning it, for one reason or another. The nicest of any of its type known to exist, Brady’s Hill Climber was 100% original and even had a September 29, 1929 Hicks Farm Hill Climb cardboard tag from the Waverly Motorcycle Club. With provenance from the late Andy Huffer’s collection, it sped to $48,000 against a pre-sale estimate of $20,000-$30,000.

An early cast-iron prize from the Brady collection was the delightful Harris cast-iron double goat cart with its original driver figure. Measuring 13 inches long and in pristine to near-mint condition, it trotted off to a new owner for $22,800 against an estimate of $5,000-$7,500.

The Brady collection also housed many exceptional American tin and tin/cast-iron toys, like the Althof Bergmann Mary and Her Lambs bell toy. All original and in astonishing near-mint condition with rich paint, the toy had previously been part of the L C Hegarty collection, and later, the Max Berry collection. With Bob Brady’s name added to its illustrious provenance, Mary and Her Lambs achieved twice the high estimate, selling for $36,000.

Bertoia’s was honored to feature the entire mechanical bank collection of the late John Forrest “Jack” White, which, like the Brady collection, included many rarities that had formerly belonged to pioneering collectors of the hobby. Among the top selections were these three favorites: Initiating First Degree bank, $18,000; Professor Pug Frog bank, $15,600; and Owl Turns Head bank, $13,200.

Japanese postwar toys definitely made their mark. A 27-inch Yonezawa Atom Jet racer in super condition was twice as desirable with its ultra-rare pictorial box. It defied its $20,000-$30,000 estimate to sell for $40,800, a possible world record price for an Atom Jet car. A Yonezawa Astro Boy Cadillac car made $21,600, more than four times its high estimate; while a boxed Asakusa Mighty Atom Boy motorcycle earned $19,200, nearly five times its high estimate.

A coveted Masudaya Machine Man from the celebrated “Gang of Five” series of big, boxy robots came with blue-chip provenance from the collection of the late FH Griffith, one of the visionaries who first viewed Japanese toy robots as collectibles of the present and future. In pristine to near-mint condition, the Machine Man sold within estimate for $60,000.

Other notable auction highlights included a Holt Manufacturing salesman’s sample of a Model 75 Caterpillar bulldozer ex Ray Burgess collection, $22,800 (estimate $12,000-$18,000); and a 13-inch Hubley full-figure Giraffe doorstop, $6,600 (estimate $3,000-$5,000).

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