Divide and conquer: Bertoia’s smash two-part series offering toys on Nov. 17-18 and holiday antiques on Dec. 1 drew raves from the hobby and totaled $2.645M

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No-holds-barred bidding drove 5-figure prices across numerous categories, from exotic space toys to seldom-seen Santas

VINELAND, N.J. – In the bustling days leading up to their final sale of the year, Bertoia Auctions faced an unusual problem – if you can call it a problem at all. More than 1,000 outstanding consignments of American and European toys and banks were in the process of being evaluated and photographed, while many hundreds of dazzling Christmas, Halloween and other holiday antiques waited in the wings to receive their own star treatment. After a studious assessment, it occurred to Bertoia’s president, Michael Bertoia, that the best way to proceed might be to host two separate events, each with its own distinct focus, and with a two-week break in between. 

It was decided that the November 17-18 Annual Fall Auction would showcase magnificent toys and banks, while the December 1st sale would feature holiday treasures of all types. This arrangement, a first for Bertoia’s, ended up drawing rave reviews from bidders, who reveled in the convivial “collectors convention” atmosphere at the firm’s New Jersey gallery. When all was said and done, the toy and bank sale closed the books at $1.8 million and the holiday specialty sale chalked up $845,000, for a grand total of $2,645,000. 

Linemar friction-powered Space Explorer rover, near-mint with very crisp box. Sold for $30,000 against an estimate of $1,200-$1,800

The opening session on November 17th validated the ongoing interest in vintage Japanese robots and space toys, with estimate-defying prices paid for super-clean examples with rare boxes. The group was led by a Linemar friction-powered Space Explorer rover in near-mint condition with a crisp, clean box. It rose to the stratosphere, commanding $30,000 against an estimate of $1,200-$1,800. A boxed Aoshin (ASC) Tremendous Mike robot in pristine to near-mint condition sold for $16,800 against an estimate of $7,000-$10,000; while a boxed Nomura battery-operated Space Patrol Car was bid to $15,600 against an estimate of $7,000-$10,000.

The cast iron category encompassed rare, high-condition toys of many forms. The room lit up when a Hubley red and mustard-colored cast-iron Fire Engine House appeared. One of only two examples known to Bertoia’s experts, it was a fresh-to-the-market estate find. Pristine and 100% authentic, it sold for a five-alarm price of $31,200 against a $7,000-$10,000 estimate.

Bertoia Auctions co-founder and reference book author Jeanne Bertoia is regarded as one of the visionaries who established a place in the toy market for antique cast-iron doorstops. To that end, Bertoia’s has long served as the go-to auction house for these wonderful figural collectibles. One of the top lots in the November sale was, in fact, a rare doorstop – a Hubley three-dimensional cast-iron Giraffe. Standing 13 inches tall and acknowledged as one of the great beauties of the doorstop realm, it galloped past its $6,000-$9,000 estimate to settle at $18,000.

Cast-iron banks made their presence known, both in the still and mechanical subcategories. An extremely rare Columbian World’s Exposition still bank, originally a souvenir at the 1893 exposition, rose to $10,800 against an estimate of $3,000-$5,000. On the mechanical bank side, a Shepard Hardware Mason bank formerly held in the Heath Hurlbert collection showed off exceptional original paint and was described in the auction catalog as “a solid upgrade for the advanced collector.” Guided by an $8,000-$12,000 estimate, it sold for $18,000.

During the November 17 session, many rarities from Europe’s golden era of toy production attracted above-estimate prices. An 8.5-inch KiCo (Germany) 2-cylinder tin motorcycle – a rare variation with an interior-mounted windup motor – crossed the finish line at $14,400 against an estimate of $3,000-$5,000. Aeronautical toys from the renowned Bob Davis collection were also airborne. A boxed Louis Maugin (France) L’Aeroplane in all-original, pristine condition landed at $13,200 against a $2,500-$4,500 estimate.

European automotive toys included a boxed Lehmann (Germany) fabric-topped Berolina that retained two original instructions sheets. The stylish motor car glided to $10,200 against an estimate of $2,500-$4,500. From Italy, a boxed Ventura battery-operated tinplate Alfa-Romeo was complete with its unusual hand-held controller designed in the form of a steering wheel. The bright-red 15-inch coupe sold for $6,600 against an estimate of $1,500-$2,500.

A charming circa-19th-century American painted wood toy, an Engine House No. 2 with fire pumper attributed to Reed and/or Merriam, is believed to be one of three complete examples in existence. All original and featured in the Barenholtz/McClintock book American Antique Toys, it sold for $7,200 against an estimate of $3,000-$5,000.

A throng of energetic bidders turned out for the festive December 1 Holiday Exclusive sale and competed aggressively throughout. Christmas fans appreciated the fine artistry of a clockwork reindeer fashioned as though resting on the ground in a serene pose. Measuring 13 inches long and 8 inches high, and in working order, the elegant deer was covered in realistic fur hide and wore a Dresden-trim collar. No apologies were needed for its pristine to near-mint condition, and it sold for a hefty $19,200 against an estimate of $2,500-$4,500.

A parade of Santas appeared in dozens of design iterations and color schemes. A 52-inch clockwork nodding Santa in a reindeer-drawn, moss-covered sleigh, possibly a store window display at one time, sold for its high estimate of $18,000. Another imposing Santa, a 34-inch-tall candy container capable of holding literally pounds of candy, changed hands for $16,800 against an estimate of $4,000-$6,000. Another terrific German Santa candy container, an 11-inch-tall figure wearing blue robe trimmed in faux ermine fur, delivered the goods at $12,000 against an estimate of $2,000-$3,000.

A 34.5-inch-high Santa sleigh store display made by the Old King Cole Papier Mache Co. (Canton, Ohio) depicted the Christmas gift-giver in a “griffin sleigh.” Its motif cleverly incorporated an image resembling the winged mythical creature said to be half lion/half eagle. Authentic and in excellent condition, it sold for $10,800 against an estimate of $4,000-$6,000.

There was unexpectedly strong competition for a 25-inch-tall pulp Santa Claus roly poly. The rotund Santa toy handily exceeded its $800-$1,200 estimate to retire at $14,400.

When something genuinely rare appears in the marketplace, no matter what its category may be, collectors will battle to own it. A prime example is the humorous nodding scarecrow trade stimulator with a composition jack-o-lantern head, which not only led the Halloween section but also topped the day’s prices realized at $22,800 against an estimate of $3,000-$5,000.

The ultimate “Sunday toy,” an extraordinarily large, 30-inch painted-wood Noah’s Ark was accompanied by a splendid array of 300 animal passengers arranged in pairs. In pristine condition for its age, it encountered welcoming auction waters, selling for $10,200 against an estimate of $4,000-$7,000.

To discuss consigning to a future auction at Bertoia’s, please call 856-692-1881 or email [email protected]. All enquiries are kept strictly confidential. Visit Bertoia’s online at www.bertoiaauctions.com.

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