Morphy Auctions reports blockbuster year with 2021 sales exceeding $50M
Highlights: Colt Buntline single-action Army Revolver with 16in barrel, $288K; 4 French & Indian War powder horns, $216K; Shoot the Chute mechanical bank, $156K; Keith Haring vase, $84K
DENVER, Pa. – Morphy Auctions is pleased to report a year of unprecedented new-buyer interest and stellar results across all categories in 2021, with gross sales surpassing $50 million.
“Throughout the year, we witnessed unwavering enthusiasm and willingness on the part of collectors to invest in high-quality antiques and historically important objects,” said Morphy’s founder and president Dan Morphy. “The market for exceptional pieces with great provenance was very strong, even in the midst of the second wave of the pandemic. Against all odds, the auction trade held fast and continued to evolve into a powerful microeconomy of its own.”
Morphy’s year of estimate-topping prices began with the February 27 sale of Bob and Judy Brady’s prized mechanical banks. The 40-year collection featured some of the most elusive, high-condition banks known to exist. In total, the 184 banks realized $2 million and were led by a J & E Stevens “Shoot the Chute” depicting early comic strip characters Buster Brown and his dog Tige. In superior condition and with provenance from the late Donal Markey, the bank also appears in Dan Morphy’s landmark 2007 reference book The Official Price Guide to Mechanical Banks. It swept past its $80,000-$120,000 estimate to close at $156,000.
The gallery was abuzz during Morphy’s May 11-15 marathon auction series, which grossed $5.4 million. The attraction was a 3,400-lot array of rare antique and vintage items that ran the gamut of American amusements, from 19th-century railroad memorabilia and antique coin-op machines to mid-20th-century petroliana and automotive signs. Collectors brought their A game and competed aggressively for such rarities as a Stanocola-liveried 10-gallon visible gas pump with a built-in oil dispenser, which sold for $87,600 against an estimate of $25,000-$50,000; and an extremely rare and coveted Esmeralda 5-cent fortune-teller driven by an Edison cylinder record player, which more than doubled its high estimate to reach $78,000.
The spring season was also distinguished by a May 18 Early Arms & Militaria Auction. The widely publicized event was topped by a Kentucky long rifle presented by the Marquis de Lafayette to his trusted Tuscarora Iroquois Indian guide Chief Tunis in 1824. During and after the American Revolution, Chief Tunis led his good friend on expeditions across 24 of the United States. As an expression of gratitude, Lafayette gifted the chief with the flintlock rifle, which was profusely engraved, decorated and inscribed: Presented to Chief Tunis by Lafayette at Kingston NY 1824. The firearm’s unbroken chain of provenance could be traced all the way back to Chief Tunis and his common-law wife Ruth Yaple. It sold within estimate for $210,000.
The same sale included a group of four cased, engraved French and Indian War map powder horns, three of which had belonged to Lt. Col. Archibald Montgomerie (1726-1796). Previously, they were acquired at a 1925 auction held at Eglinton Castle, Scotland. Two of the horns bore the Royal Arms, and one of them displayed the Arms of the Earls of Eglinton. The quartet sold for $216,000 against an estimate of $100,000-$300,000.
On June 8-9, a dazzling array of fine and decorative art drew an international contingent of bidders to Morphy’s. Alongside a formidable selection of Tiffany Studios stained-glass lamps, classical art, silver, jewels and luxury timepieces, one very rare and important ceramic stood ready to attest to the strength of modern design in today’s auction arena. Created by Pennsylvania native Keith Haring (1958-1990), the vibrant 15½-inch vase was signed twice on its underside and displayed some of the artist’s iconic motifs, including the crawling baby and dancing man. With provenance from a major Scottsdale, Arizona, collection, the densely-decorated vase flew past its $20,000-$30,000 estimate to settle at $84,000. After the auction, Dan Morphy remarked: “It’s extremely uncommon for a large, original Keith Haring ceramic to appear in the marketplace. Many people had inquired about it and were watching its status online prior to the auction, so we felt confident it would surpass expectations, but the final selling price was still a very pleasant surprise.”
On September 29, Morphy’s auctioned the revered Bill Myers collection of antique firearms, edged weapons and early militaria. The 163-lot boutique auction was devoted exclusively to Myers’ holdings, which had been carefully acquired and scrupulously researched over several decades. An extraordinary historical relic rose to the top of prices realized: a circa-1780 inlaid pipe tomahawk that had belonged to Sir Alexander Mackenzie (Scottish, 1764-1820), the first European to reach the Pacific Ocean [in 1793]. The tomahawk pipe was featured in numerous prestigious reference books, not to mention Mackenzie’s own journals. Offered together with a first-edition copy of a relevant Mackenzie book, supportive ephemera, and the silver medal it won in the NRA’s “Ten Best Weapons” competition in 1984, the tomahawk garnered $156,000.
An exciting array of antique and vintage automobilia, petroliana and railroadiana powered across Morphy’s auction block on October 3 and 4. More than 1,100 premium-quality lots were offered, including 471 gas/oil signs, 59 gas pumps and 53 globes; 40 branded product cans, and approximately 50 breathtaking neon signs. A 1930s Mohawk Gasoline circular porcelain neon service station with the image of a Native American brave lit up the gallery and sold for its high-estimate price of $120,000. At the same sale, a circa-1920s Bruinoil and Bruin Gasoline double-sided die-cut tin flange sign with the image of a ferocious bear presented in near-immaculate condition. It roared at $96,000 against a pre-sale estimate of $35,000-$50,000.
Morphy’s Coin-Op & Antique Advertising series – a collector favorite – never fails to deliver a connoisseurs selection of utmost quality. Their November 4-6 auction included 1,500 choice lots that included coin-operated slots, ingenious European music machines, and early forms of visual entertainment; plus fine advertising signs of the 19th and early 20th centuries. A circa-1931 International Mutoscope Reel Co., “Grandmother Predictions” coin-operated fortune-teller machine foretold an auction price of $20,000-$30,000 but went on to realize $57,600.
The talk of the November 17-18 Extraordinary Firearms Auction was a fabled treasure from the collection of the late Mel Guy: a Colt Buntline Special single-action Army Revolver with a distinctive 16-inch-long barrel. A dedicated collector of more than 300 antique Colt six-shooters, Guy had spent decades trying to track down an elusive Buntline – a model linked to a legend involving famous lawmen of the Old West, including Wyatt Earp. Shipped from the Colt factory in 1884 and accompanied by extensive provenance and experts’ letters attesting to the firearm’s authenticity and originality, Guy’s Colt Buntline sold at Morphy’s for $288,000.