Bertoia’s to auction Paul Cole’s 50-year collection of fine American and European trains, early tin and pressed-steel toys, May 21-22

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Featured: Marklin rarities including ‘Circus Oriental’ caravan car and Newark Passenger Station; Ives trains and toys, George Brown classics, Arcade, Dent and Kenton automotive toys

Circa-1908 Marklin ‘Circus Oriental’ train wagon, 8in long with exquisite detail, hand-painted shutters. Estimate $20,000-$30,000
Circa-1908 Marklin ‘Circus Oriental’ train wagon, 8in long with exquisite detail, hand-painted shutters. Estimate $20,000-$30,000

VINELAND, N.J. – The exceptional antique toy and train collection of the late Paul Cole (1931-2020), a man whose career distinctions were rivaled only by his passion for hobbies and athletic pursuits, will be auctioned at Bertoia’s on May 21-22. Attendance at the live auction will be limited and by reservation only, and in-person previewing will be made available by appointment only. Bidders may participate remotely through a variety of methods, including absentee, by phone, or live online through Bertoia Live or LiveAuctioneers.com.

As his many friends in the toy-collecting world would attest, the late William Paul Cole Jr – known simply as “Paul” – was a man of great intellect and integrity. A Harvard MBA and US Army captain, Paul worked as a systems engineer for IBM in New York until his father’s unexpected passing in 1965, at which point he returned home to his native Bluefield, West Virginia. There, he took over his father’s International Harvester dealership, established an automotive parts firm and later purchased a Chevrolet and Cadillac dealership. In addition, he was Bluefield’s longest-serving mayor, holding the office from 1981 through 1993. His long list of awards and recognitions included an honorary doctorate from Northwood University and induction into the Automotive Hall of Fame. He was the first West Virginian ever to be chosen for that prestigious honor.

As engaged and successful as he was in the business world, Paul always found time for family and leisure pursuits. He was a licensed pilot, a bridge life master, and an avid athlete who enjoyed jogging, golf and tennis. But of all his hobbies, none captured Paul’s imagination quite like antique toy and train collecting.

“Paul started collecting Lionel trains in the early 1970s. When he discovered the York show, it opened a whole new world to him,” said Michael Bertoia, president of Bertoia Auctions. “He started attending many of the shows on the train circuit as well as the swap meets that preceded those shows, where collectors networked and socialized.” 

The Cole American train collection features an Ives (Connecticut) standard-gauge electric National Limited passenger set, $5,000-$6,000; a rare and very early Knapp (New York) No. 221 steeple cab locomotive and gondolas, $3,000-$5,000; and a Hafner (Chicago) eight-wheel passenger set with SP, Illinois Central, UP and Northern Pacific cars, $2,000-$3,000. 

Dorfan, based in Newark, N.J., was the first U.S. train manufacturer to use zinc die-casting methods on a large scale in its manufacturing process. Their trains were made primarily of a copper-zinc alloy called Dorfan Alloy, which was strong and lightweight. A Dorfan 3930 “Floridian” three-car set in pristine condition will be offered with a $3,000-$4,000 estimate.

In the early 1980s, Paul’s interest in railroad handcars led him to the next phase of his collecting journey: antique toys. He and his wife of 61 years, Carol, wholeheartedly embraced toy collecting and went on to become active members of the ATCA.

The Coles’ American toy collection is highlighted by several coveted Ives productions, including a horse-head perambulator in excellent to pristine condition, $6,000-$9,000; a General Grant smoker, $5,000-$7,500; and a very high-condition monkey platform toy, $6,000-$9,000. Additionally, one of very few known examples of an Ives seesaw on a housetop is estimated at $4,000-$6,000, while an Ives Jubilee Trotting Course with its rare original box, could command $4,000-$7,000. George Brown toys are beautifully exemplified by a boy in a mechanical hoop toy, $3,000-$4,000. An elusive cast-iron “Alphabet Man,” patented in 1889 and possibly made by J&E Stevens, is one of only 10 or so known examples. Estimate: $6,000-$10,000.

The arc of Paul’s collecting, which started with American trains, headed down a different “track” in the 1990s with his newfound interest in Marklin and other European train marques. “Over time, Paul built what is arguably one of the finest European train collections in this country,” Michael Bertoia said.

The premium-quality Marklin trains and cars in the Cole collection are led by an all-original, excellent-to-pristine O-gauge “Circus Oriental” caravan car, $20,000-$30,000; a circa-1900, gauge 1 Eagle set, with cow catcher and bell, made for the US market, $15,000-$25,000; and a circa-1904 O-gauge “Draisine” track-inspection car with cloth-dressed figures, $12,000-$16,000. A wonderful hand-painted O-gauge Newark Passenger Station in pristine to near-mint condition is entered with a $20,000-$30,000 estimate, and both a “Kaiser” dining car and hand-painted gauge 1 electric CLR tunnel locomotive carry individual estimates of $4,000-$6,000.

Trolleys and trams brought whimsy and color to Paul’s collection. Highlights include an all-original circa-1904 English-market Marklin No. 2361 “Electric Tramway,” $12,000-$16,000; and a circa-1904 “Electrische Strassenbahn” trolley trailer with six original figures, also estimated at $12,000-$16,000. American-made trams include an Ives #800, $2,000-$3,000; and a rare Smith & White trolley made only in 1901-1902, $2,500-$4,500.

Because of his many automotive-related business interests, it was no surprise that Paul was drawn to vehicular toys. His diverse fleet included several Arcade classics: a Yellow Cab panel van with exceptional paint, $4,000-$7,000; a “White” U.S. Co., moving van in pristine condition, $4,000-$6,000; and a boxed, near-mint Coe stake truck, $1,500-$2,000. A Dent Bulldog Mack supply truck could roll to $2,000-$3,000; while a desirable boxed Metalcraft Esso stake truck is ready to deliver with a $1,500-$2,500 estimate.

Other categories in the collection run the gamut from German limos and autos, cast-iron toys, motorcycles, airplanes and wind-up toys to Erzgebirge toys, shooting gallery targets and nearly 100 penny toys, including articulated, transportation, and money-box types. 

Bertoia’s May 21-22, 2021 auction featuring the Paul Cole antique toy and train collection will take place at the company’s gallery in Vineland, N.J. Live attendance is limited and by reservation only, with masks and social distancing mandatory. In-gallery previews are by appointment only. Bid absentee, by phone, or live online through Bertoia Live or LiveAuctioneers. For additional information, call 856-692-1881 or visit Bertoia’s online: www.bertoiaauctions.com