Rarities commanded estimate-smashing prices at Milestone’s $850K debut of Elmer’s Toy Museum auction series
Bidders worldwide competed fiercely for postwar Japanese tin motorcycles, with a 12-inch ‘Romance’ bike leading the pack at $25,830
WILLOUGHBY, Ohio – Elmer’s Auto and Toy Museum in Fountain City, Wisconsin, achieved legendary status long before its doors closed in 2022, after 28 years of operation. While the rambling rural museum is now history, the late Elmer Duellman’s tangible legacy – his mind-blowing assemblage of 25,000 antique and vintage toys – will live on. Bolstered by pop-culture fans of all ages, the fabled collection took its first step into a new era at Milestone’s October 28 sale, the first in an ongoing series of quarterly events featuring the Duellman toys. With intense media interest and lively toy-hobby chatter as its catalysts, the single-day auction debut realized $850,000, with estimate-crushing prices paid by bidders across the globe.
Without question, the auction’s top spotlight grabbers were the postwar Japanese tin motorcycles, one of Elmer’s favorite toy categories. A rare, 12-inch-long I Y Japan tin friction “Romance” motorcycle, known to collectors as the “large blue version,” depicts a young couple out for a spin, with a boy driver and girl passenger. Bright, colorful and in excellent condition, it outdistanced its formidable pack of two-wheeled challengers to sell for an astonishing $25,830. The pre-sale estimate was $2,000-$3,000.
Another distinctive I Y Japan production, a 12-inch-long tin friction “Condor Motor Cycle” in beautiful all-original condition was offered with its rare, original pictorial box. The exciting box graphic shows a helmeted driver on a speeding bike with the striking image of a condor in flight on the gas tank. The coveted toy sold for $9,300 against an estimate of $2,000-$4,000.
A rare Marusan Japan tin friction “Indian Motor Cycle” with the brand name “Indian” and a graphic of a feather-bonneted Native American chief on the gas tank had visual appeal to spare. Together with its scarce original pictorial box, whose artwork faithfully replicates the toy’s appearance, it raced past its $2,000-$4,000 estimate to cross the finish line at $19,065.
In the 1950s and ‘60s, visionary Japanese toy manufacturers dreamed up imaginative, futuristic designs that were unrivaled by any from the Western world. Elmer Duellman owned examples of many of the most elusive Japanese toys of that period, including a Yonezawa tin friction #58 Atom Jet Racer with gorgeous colors and graphics, and many fine details. “The Atom Jet Racer is one of the wildest-looking automotive toys every created,” said Miles King. “It has a huge, undulating tail fin, bullet-form headlights and tail lights, and an unusual cockpit encasing the driver.” In working condition, including the motor sound it makes when activated, the exotic 26-inch-long automobile sold for $18,450 against an estimate of $3,000-$5,000.
Another popular entry was an Alps Japan tin friction Lincoln Futura, which sports a low-slung design and prominent fins, both front and back. All original and in excellent condition, the bright-red 11-inch-long bubble-top car changed hands for $6,150 against an estimate of $2,500-$3,500.
Midcentury Japanese toy designers were not afraid to combine absurdly dissimilar themes in a single production, with the resulting hybrids falling somewhere between the humorous and the bizarre. Picture a battery-operated toy called “American Circus Television Truck” that looks like a modified ice cream truck with a circus-clown driver and graphics that include planets, stars, musical notes, and a seal balancing a ball on its nose while riding atop a rocket labeled “Space Patrol.” Elmer owned just such a toy which, together with its profusely illustrated original box, sold for more than six times its high estimate, settling at $5,289.
A great-looking Linemar Japan tin Mechanical Casper (the Friendly) Ghost Tank, all original with a working windup mechanism, was doubly desirable with its amusing original box which even retained its original 98¢ price sticker. The box illustrations show not only Casper raising a military tank, but also his cartoon stablemates Baby Huey, Little Audrey, Katnip (of Herman and Katnip fame) and more. Bidders didn’t “ghost” this lot. Estimated at $300-$500, it went for more than five times the high estimate, closing at $3,690.
American post-WWII toys were made to be rough, tough and ready to “work.” A rare Tonka #210 Road Builders set containing a Big Mike dump truck, a second dump truck, lowboy semi truck, steam shovel, road grader and plow appeared never to have been played with. Quite likely it was new/old stock. Retaining its crisp original box with inserts, and described by King as “possibly the nicest of all surviving sets of its type,” it bulldozed its way to $19,800 against an estimate of $6,000-$10,000.
Another boxed beauty, a Metalcraft Pure Oil Airmail Toy Airplane showed off wonderful original paint and decals. Designed true to scale and accompanied by its very rare original box, it also ranked as the finest example of its type that Milestone’s toy experts had ever seen. It landed at $4,305 against a $2,000-$3,000 estimate.
From the pre-war era, an original 21-inch-long Cor Cor Graham automobile dealer paint-sample model was intentionally finished in a split blue and green paint scheme to show how a life-size Graham might look in either of the two colors. The model was constructed with wheel discs rather than tires, as was the consistent method for the manufacturer’s dealer models of that period. It sold for $6,150 against a $1,000-$1,500 estimate.
Three of Elmer Duellman’s six adult children were present at the live gallery event, including Les, who was there with his wife Patti; Eric, who arrived with his wife Chelsea and their two daughters; and Brad. All of the Duellman siblings – including sisters Melissa and Amanda, who were unable to attend – had made the joint decision to entrust their late father’s collection to Milestone Auctions.
After the October 28 session concluded, Les Duellman expressed gratitude to co-owners Miles King and Chris Sammet, stating: “On behalf of our whole family we would like to thank Miles, Chris, the whole staff at Milestone Auctions, and the myriad of buyers worldwide for a great auction. The end result exceeded what we at Elmer’s, and Milestone, had expected, and we are looking forward to the next two auctions that are currently in the planning stages for the first half of 2024.”
Miles King commented: “We were thrilled that so many members of the Duellman family were able to join us as the first of Elmer’s toys passed to new owners,” said Milestone’s co-owner Miles King. “Quite a few toys are now en route to collectors in other countries as well as throughout the United States. Antique toys know no territorial boundaries, and collectors everywhere wanted to own a piece of toy history from Elmer’s incomparable museum.”
Milestone’s next auction featuring Elmer Duellman’s museum toys will take place in early 2024. Watch for details to appear soon on Milestone’s website. To discuss consigning to a future Milestone Auctions event, call 440-527-8060 or email [email protected]. All enquiries are kept strictly confidential. Online: www.milestoneauctions.com