Bertoia’s Annual Spring Auction held April 19-20, 2024, offered bidders a wonderfully varied selection from collectors throughout the United States and abroad. Just over 1,000 lots were presented, with categories that included cast iron mechanical banks, automotive and horse-drawn toys, pressed steel and tether cars, European automotive and wind-up toys, trains, and aviation toys of every imaginable type. Additionally, there were rare spelter banks from the Jim and Genia Willett collection (Part II) plus holiday antiques, which climbed to dizzying prices.

The top lot of the sale was a 37-inch-tall rabbit candy container that was quite likely intended for use as an Easter holiday store display. An impressively modeled piece with riveting glass eyes, whiskers, and realistic molding to simulate fur, the fetching fellow in pristine condition leaped to a winning bid of $33,600, more than seven times the high estimate.

Christmas collectors were in a competitive mood as well. A rare 17-1/2-inch German candy container depicting the holiday gift-giver Belsnickel – traditionally known as a companion to St Nicholas – featured a glass icicle beard and was “dressed” in a hooded robe. An authentic example that glistened with mica “snow,” it was bid to $15,600 against an estimate of $8,000-$12,000. But if calculated by dollars per inch, there can be little doubt that the overall winner of the two-day event was a Meier (Germany) tin penny toy of Father Christmas pulling a sled. Atop the sled and traveling as its cargo was a metal “basket” with a removable lid from which a child could access candy. At a mere 4 inches long, this charming toy that originally would have sold for only one cent achieved an astonishing $9,600 at Bertoia’s against a strong presale estimate of $3,000-$5,000.

An array of cast iron mechanical banks was led by a rare J & E Stevens cast iron “National Bank,” so named because it depicts an early brick bank building. Tan with crimson and forest-green trim, the bank retained its original interior cardboard figure which is viewable through the front-door teller’s window. This bank had passed through a number of important collections, including those of FW Weider, Bill Norman, and Stan Sax. It cashed out at Bertoia’s for $18,000 against an estimate of $7,000-$10,000.

Even seasoned collectors of spelter banks were amazed at what was available to them in Part I of the Jim and Genia Willett collection (Bertoia’s, November 17-18, 2023), and clearly they were ready for more. The Willetts had spent decades amassing their whimsical, ornately detailed banks, all of which rated very highly for condition. The top prize in the April sale was an English spelter bank depicting a robin on a “basket” cart with a motif incorporating holly leaves and berries. A stunning example in pristine to near-mint condition, it swept past its $1,000-$1,400 estimate to “nest” at $4,800.

No other nation rivaled Germany for its production of exquisite toy automobiles in the early 20th century. A beautiful example of European craftsmanship of that period could be seen in a Gunthermann tinplate windup vis-à-vis with its correct hand-painted driver figure. An original toy in excellent condition, it sold for $9,000 against an estimate of $5,000-$7,500.

A prized Althof Bergmann suffragette tin bell toy, made circa 1874, was hand-painted with a clockwork mechanism, heart-motif wheels, and three female figures – two marching and one riding the vehicle and holding a cloth display flag. This great American toy previously resided in the Covert Hegarty collection and, later, the Max Berry collection. In very good to excellent condition, it sold above its high estimate for $10,800.

Also boasting provenance from the Max Berry collection, a circa 1895 Wilkins racing scull pull toy was an attractive production, 10 inches long with yellow star-pattern wheels and figures representing a coxswain and four oarsmen. In beautiful condition, it more than doubled its high estimate, crossing the finish line at $10,800.

Train fanciers had a surprise in store when a Carlisle & Finch (Cincinnati) electric freight train set in sought-after 2-inch gauge crossed the auction block. Consisting of a locomotive, tender, two cars and a caboose, the set in VG to excellent condition rolled to a stop at $12,000 against an estimate of $1,000-$2,000.

Collectors of cast iron vehicles generally prefer their toys to be weighty and large. A very rare Arcade “White” shovel-nose gasoline truck fit the bill. At 14 inches long and in pristine condition with bright original red paint, it breezed past its $5,000-$7,500 estimate to secure a top price of $12,000. Cast iron in another form, that of a doorstop depicting a marching soldier, displayed the bas-relief logo of El Capitan Coffee. It is possible that the 8-inch-tall doorstop was given out by the company as a premium item. It sold for $3,300 against an estimate of $400-$700.

Bertoia Auctions is currently accepting high quality toys, banks, holiday antiques, and collectibles for their future sales. Bertoia Auctions’ President Michael Bertoia can discuss the consignment process with collectors, whether they have a single piece or an entire collection. All enquiries are kept strictly confidential and there is never any obligation to consign. He can be reached at (856) 692-1881 or email toys@bertoiaauctions.com. More information is available at www.bertoiaauctions.com.