Whoever said ‘history never repeats itself’ might have had a change of heart, had they attended Bertoia’s March 9-10, 2019 Spring Signature Sale. Many who were there commented that the atmosphere felt like an auction of the go-go 1990s and early 2000s, when collectors would travel halfway around the world to bid on toys from fabled collections.
“You could feel the electricity. There was a larger crowd than we’ve seen over the past few years, and so much enthusiasm,” said Michael Bertoia, president of Bertoia Auctions. “Many international bidders took part. Some came weeks in advance to privately preview particular toys they wanted to bid on, but after viewing all of the pieces on display, they would discover other toys they liked and ended up bidding on them, as well.”
The $2.3 million auction (inclusive of buyer’s premium) featured four premier collections: Frank Mohr’s 60-year collection of Fernand Martin and early American tin and clockwork toys (Part II); Douglas Jackman’s 40-year still bank collection (Part II), the multi-generation estate collection of Sam Downey Jr., and Michael Bertoia’s fine boutique collection of approximately 100 penny toys.
Over the last three years, Bertoia’s has auctioned three major collections of Fernand Martin French clockwork toys, with Mohr’s being the third. This has created an unusual windfall for collectors, since Martin toys are ordinarily in short supply in the international marketplace. At the March sale, the Mohr assemblage was led by a boxed L’Intrepide Jockey (Intrepid Jockey) on a hobby horse carrying a Mona Lisa painting under his arm, which sold for $12,000 against an estimate of $5,000-7,500. Following closely behind was a Cherif on Camel, which rode to $11,400 against a $3,500-5,500 estimate.
Toy racers and motorcycles have remained very strong in the collector market for well over a decade. Some rare and very desirable pieces were scooped up on auction day, including an early Gunthermann wind-up racer in an unusual turquoise and gold motif, with two figures. With provenance from the Donald Kaufman collection, it more than doubled its high estimate in reaching $29,400. Also by Gunthermann, a rare wind-up depiction of a primitive racing motorcycle, its driver leaning forward in an aggressive position, took $24,000 against an estimate of $4,500-$7,500.
In other early automotive, an Ernst Plank live-steam open car with a small vertical boiler beneath its rare seats, carrying a driver and two passengers, sped to $13,200; and a 16-inch hand-painted deluxe Carette limousine – the largest of the Carette auto series – was driven well past its estimate range to $12,000.
Other European tin toys of note included a Gunthermann 11-inch ‘Bleriot’ tin windup airplane – an early “pusher” style – which was bid to an astonishing $42,000 against an estimate of $1,200-1,800; and two Ferris wheels, both purchased via the internet. A 19-inch-high Doll et Cie., Ferris wheel with flags and composition figures, earned $16,800 ($6,000-9,000 estimate). Of unknown manufacture, a superb 19-inch Ferris wheel steam accessory with great turn of the century charm, realized $13,200.
Many train lots flew past their estimates. A Marklin Clockwork Congressional Limited gauge one set more than doubled its high estimate at $16,800; while a Marklin gauge two pair of American Eagle cars reached its destination at $12,000. Among the American trains, a Carlisle & Finch 2-inch-gauge nickel-finish electric locomotive fared best, at $10,200.
The American clockwork category included several important Ives toys. A See-Saw patented in 1873, with a hand-painted base, boy and girl figures, and stencil decoration, sold for $10,800. Made around the same time as the See-Saw, a rare Boy on Perambulator, with a cloth-dressed figure on a wheeled hobby horse, raced to $7,800.
The Jackman collection of American banks offered collectors the opportunity to acquire many rarities in exceptional condition. One of few known examples of a “Cross” still bank, estimated at $2,000-3,000, prevailed at $7,200.
The prestigious German manufacturer Marklin produced imposing ocean liners and military vessels that were pricey a century ago and are incredibly expensive today. The top lot of the sale was a 25-inch-long live-steam Marklin cruiser Bremen, which sailed to $57,000 (estimate: $20,000-40,000). A 46-inch ocean liner Augusta Victoriamade by Marklin around 1910, with provenance from the venerable Malcolm Forbes collection, sold within estimate at $54,000; while a powerful 30-inch-long Marklin Torpedo Boat swept past its $15,000-25,000 estimate to dock at $42,000.
The penny toy collection that Michael Bertoia had amassed since childhood was one of the most asked-about categories of the sale. “The prices realized on his toys validated that he had done the right thing by always buying the best available examples,” said Michael’s mother and Bertoia Auctions’ owner Jeanne Bertoia. Top performers included a Meier Walking Rabbit, $6,000; Fisher Tri-Cycle Rickshaw, $5,400; Mary and Her Lamb, $4,800; and a Ferris Wheel, $5,700.
A selection of automata charmed bidders, especially Le Buffet Magique, which realized more than twice its high estimate at $9,000. Another nice surprise was the circa 1907 Teddy Roosevelt “Rough Rider” mohair bear in its original clothing, which ignited a bidding war that concluded at $13,200. It had been estimated at $600-1,000.