Tales Behind the Gavel: The Susan Kilgore Wiley Collection Part 1 Auction at Ladenburger Spielzeugauktion GmbH
The Susan Kilgore Wiley Collection Part 1 auction will take place on January 21, 2023 and will be sold by Ladenburger Spielzeugauktion GmbH of Ladenburg, Germany. This breathtaking estate collection of vintage to antique Teddy bears, animals, and dolls made by leading manufacturers Steiff, Schuco, and Bing was lovingly curated over three decades. It includes many museum-quality rarities and one-of-a-kind items. Part 2 of this sale will also be managed by Ladenburger Spielzeugauktion in July of 2023. Auction Daily had the opportunity to speak with Mrs. Wiley’s son and daughter about her legacy, collecting priorities, and meticulous record keeping, and their family’s upcoming sales.
Auction Daily: The first half of your Mother’s collection of vintage to antique toys will be sold later this month at auction. Please give our readers a brief overview of the collection.
Wiley Family: Mom’s collection grew to include 2,000+ Steiff items dating from the turn of last century through around 2020. She also had great interest in antique Schuco and Bing toys– especially unusually colored, wind up, or clockwork pieces. Bears, rabbits, and novelty items from the 1920s were her favorite categories. She displayed all of these fantastic toys in playful ways throughout her Raleigh, NC home. She would put more common, contemporary items next to extreme rarities if she felt they had presentation “chemistry.” What was really important to her were their personalities and the joy they brought her and others who visited her home or shared her passion.
Mom also had a great eye and had many Steiff one-of-a-kind or absolute rarities in her collection. These included novelty bears on wheels; a fully jointed, tail moves head Circus bear; an uncatalogued, orange tipped rabbit rattle; animated pull toys; and Teddy bears in rare colors. The sale on January 21, 2023 includes many of these treasures. The second half of her collection will be sold this summer in Giengen, Germany as part of the Margarete Steiff GmbH annual Steiff Sommer festival. This summer sale will include other world-class Steiff examples from her collection including a 1910-era prototype doll bear; a turn-of-last century Teddy bear marionette; an undocumented musical clown bear; and the pride and joy of her collection… a 1912 black mohair “Titanic” Teddy bear in all but pristine condition.
When we started to plan on how we would deaccession the collection, the first thing we did was to find a current expert in the Steiff category. They helped us understand the rarity and value of the collection, gave us a full appraisal and valuation for estate purposes, and sourced the perfect auction house to sell the collection. Admittedly, even they were blown away by the size, scope, and quality of Mom’s collection, having seen nothing like it in their nearly 50 years of Steiff experience. We highly recommend this step to any family looking to move along an inherited specialty collection in any category.
Auction Daily: When did your Mother start collecting antique plush toys? And was there a “trigger” that got her started down that collecting path?
Wiley Family: Mom started seriously collecting antique plush bears, animals, and dolls in 1986. She was a lifetime antique enthusiast, and lover of all things related to childhood. She purchased some Steiff replica items in the early 1980s because they called to her on many levels.
Mom always loved to hunt for antiques and relished a good challenge. As such, she decided then that she’d start collecting the real thing– turn of last century Steiff and other premier European toys made by Bing and Schuco. In September of 1986, she learned of an appealing antique Steiff Ted on offer at an antique store in Timonium, MD. Her youngest son John, who was in school in the Baltimore area at the time, drove her to the store to view the bear. It was love at first sight, but John had to talk Mom into purchasing the bear, even though she could afford it and it really called to her. This purchase literally opened Mom’s collecting floodgates, and the rest is history.
This bear, whose name is Sotheby, was one of the items that John kept from Mom’s collection to honor her, and her “breakthrough” collecting moment.
Auction Daily: How did your Mother keep track of and/or catalog her collection?
Wiley Family: Our Mother really excelled with record keeping and cataloging. This made the deaccessioning process infinitely easier and manageable. It’s mind boggling to imagine what it would have been like to have to sort through this huge and important collection without her notes, receipts, timelines, and full transactional records. Her insurance documents were also extremely helpful in managing her estate valuation and accounting tasks.
Mom balanced her checkbook to the penny every month, and it was the same with her antique plush collection. She would keep precise records in regards to every purchase that she made. For each item, she would note the price paid, where it was purchased, from whom, a brief description with a condition report, and other key details. She would also do additional research on historical or unusual items, and would keep print-outs of web pages, letters, photos, correspondence, and other communications along with each item’s paperwork. So we also had the provenance on many items, thanks to her comprehensive documentation efforts. Much of this information was kept, often redundantly, in hanging folders or file boxes, organized by category, dealer, and/or era.
After our Father died about ten years ago, we celebrated his life with a family lunch. We specifically discussed at that gathering what a nightmare we feared we would face when Mom passed away, given her extensive collection. That nightmare did not happen at all, thanks in part to her extraordinary recordkeeping and careful records. We are all so grateful for that!
Auction Daily: Did your Mother talk with the family about deaccessioning her collection after she passed? Did she leave any collection-specific instructions in her will?
Wiley Family: When she was alive, she had no interest in discussing what to do with her collection in general once she passed away. She had a few conversations with various family members about very specific items, and she did tell us what objects in the collection were her favorites, or were valuable or important from the collectors’ perspectives. She loved everything in her collection and only turned over a few things over the years for upgrading or space purposes.
Her instructions in her will gave us some direction but a lot of flexibility to do what we thought would be best for the items, and for the estate. She suggested that we each take pieces in a fair and equitable way that were meaningful to us, but to sell the remainder at auction. She mentioned Christie’s or Sotheby’s in her instructions, probably because she had purchased items from those auction houses in the past. Today, we discovered that these two companies do not have dedicated toy divisions and would not have been a good fit for our needs.
Auction Daily: And finally, your Mother’s collection will be sold through Ladenburger Spielzeugauktion GmbH, a premier auction house in Germany specializing in antique European toys. How do you think she would feel about that?
Wiley Family: We think she’d be absolutely thrilled about that, for three key reasons. First, she loved Germany and some of her happiest and most memorable times were spent in that country as part of her collecting activities. She toured the Steiff factory several times, and had relationships with members of the Steiff family and people who worked for Steiff. So selling her beloved collection in Germany brings her life full circle in very meaningful ways.
Secondly, family owned and managed businesses were very important to her. Our Mother’s family ran a company in Raleigh, NC and supporting other family businesses was a lifetime priority. The fact that Ladenburger Spielzeugauktion is a family owned auction house, and that members of that family actually traveled to her home in the United States from Germany to admire, document, and catalog her collection, would make her extraordinarily proud and happy– and very pleased with our choice of auction houses to handle her materials.
And finally, she would be over the moon happy to know that her precious items are going to end up in the arms, and hugs, of collectors who will cherish them as much as she did. We did our research and found that Ladenburger Spielzeugauktion was one of just a handful of universally recognized “Steiff hubs” in the world. It seems that practically every Steiff collector on the planet is aware of their legendary button-in-ear sales. We wanted the eyes of the Steiff community on the collection, and the auction house we selected seemed ideal to meet our emotional, business, and deaccessioning needs.
For more information on The Susan Kilgore Wiley Collection Part 1 auction, visit Ladenburger Spielzeugauktion GmbH.
Are you interested in shrinking or selling a collection? Here are some options to consider when the collecting thrill is gone.