NEW HOPE, Pa. – Whether the object of their fascination is Old Master paintings or baseball cards, collectors agree on one point: knowledge is king. And it was knowledge that led to a very sweet return for the consignor of a Marklin gauge 1 train set in Noel Barrett’s $955,000 Spring Auction held on May 1-2 in New Hope, Pa.
The top-selling lot – comprised of a Marklin American steam profile 0-4-0 clockwork locomotive with tender, boxcar and two passenger cars with hinged lids – was hand painted in a scarce maroon and red color scheme. “The consignor bought it cheaply on eBay, where it sat for two or three days before the seller accepted a ‘buy it now’ price – the seller wasn’t sure the paint was original, but the buyer suspected it was both correct and unusual. He was right,” said auction house owner and Antiques Roadshow appraiser Noel Barrett.
Barrett is an antique train expert who is known for having auctioned one of the most famous train collections of all time, that of the late Disney animator Ward Kimball. There are few examples of trains he has not either brokered through his auctions or viewed in private collections. Barrett said that even from looking at photographs of the potential consignment, he knew the Marklin train was not a repaint. Once the consignment was actually in his hands, Barrett was able to positively confirm its authenticity.
“It’s an extremely rare color that has been pictured in a couple of reference books. A few repaints are known to exist, but this was not one of them,” he said. Estimated at $15,000 to $20,000, the train set attracted overseas bidders by phone and Internet but ultimately went to a collector in the room for $34,500 – a price that Barrett said was “right where the smartest money said it was going to go.” All prices quoted include 15 percent buyer’s premium.
A pricey train accessory came in the form of a red Marklin railroad ticket dispenser made for the American market. Elaborately enameled and embossed, the stand dispensed heavy paper tickets for travel between several U.S. cities. Against an estimate of $2,500 to $3,500, it sold to a local collector for $8,625.
The auction’s centerpiece was the advertising and Americana collection of the late Gordon Stark, a pioneer dealer/collector from Kansas City. Bidding was aggressive on signs that boasted top condition and nice graphics. A small, lithographed-tin sign advertising Blizzard Storm Front Covers included a central image of a horse-drawn carriage with its storm cover in place. The rare 15 1/2- by 11 1/2-inch sign in excellent condition breezed past its $200 to $300 estimate to settle at $4,600.
A double-sided tin diecut sign touting Pennsylvania Bicycle Tires and featuring a colorfully dressed rider hunched over the wheel of his bike had been estimated at $4,000 to $5,000. It crossed the finish line at $9,200.
Barrett said he was “pleasantly surprised to see prices on European mechanical tin back to where they used to be 10 years ago,” and noted that most of the buyers for rare, French-made Martin toys – the majority of which came from the Kathy and Athel Spilhaus collection – were Americans. “Maybe it’s because the Euro is down, but I had expected more European bidders for these toys,” he said. A Martin mechanical tin Shoeshine Boy had been entered in the sale with a $1,000 to $2,000 estimate. It had no trouble eliciting $14,950 from a New York bidder.
Tinplate Japanese cars from the collection of the late Ford Motor Company designer William F. Weart included a friction-drive version of Marusan’s 1954 Chevrolet. Detailed to perfection, the boxed 11-inch car in near-mint to mint condition cruised to a new garage for $4,095.
It only takes two determined collectors to send bids flying, and that’s what happened when an extremely rare painted cast-iron still bank replicating an old-fashioned bank building and embossed with the words “Park Bank” was introduced. Estimated at $4,000 to $5,000, it rang the register at $7,187.
The bank was one of a number of toys and American relics that had been selected for consignment to Barrett’s auction during a “treasure hunt” through the archives of the Morris Museum in Morristown, N.J. “The consignment came as the result of an unexpected call from the museum. What a thrill it was to be able to ‘pick’ the attic of such a fascinating storehouse of antiques,” Barrett remarked.
The Morris Museum deaccessions included a Marklin enameled-tin mountain with twin tunnel train accessory, $2,587; a charming 15-inch painted-tin and cast-iron horse-drawn carriage, $4,600; and an exceptional Ives clockwork toy depicting an African-American preacher at the pulpit, $5,175. The museum’s archive even produced a deluxe model American National pedal car, which made the midpoint of its estimate at $5,462; and a double-sided 1892 Benjamin Harrison and Whitelaw Reid Presidential/Vice Presidential political campaign rattler, which sold for $3,450.
The renowned collection of the Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester, N.Y., has boosted its holdings in the rare games section with the addition of a folk art Monopoly game created in the second decade of the 20th century by John O. Heap of Altoona, Pa. The framed, 30-inch-square game once served as a court exhibit in a trademark infringement suit involving the now-classic game of real estate and chance. It sold at Barrett’s for $10,350 and now resides at the Strong Museum together with an important hand-painted oilcloth pre-production version of the Monopoly game that the museum purchased at Barrett’s in April 2008 for $48,875.
Barrett noted that the auction attracted not only the largest crowd he could recall in recent times for a general toy sale, but also very strong Internet participation. Online buyers purchased 50 percent of the sale by lot and 20 percent of the monetary gross.
Another big turnout is expected over the weekend of Nov. 20-21, 2010, when Noel Barrett Auctions offers the collection of the Old Salem Toy Museum of Salem, N.C., and toys from the Tom Gray collection.
The museum’s collection of more than 2,500 toys includes primitive examples dating from as early as 225 A.D. through to about 1925.
The Old Salem Toy Museum was established in 2002 by Tom Gray and his mother, Anne P. Gray, who are members of a well-known family of North Carolina philanthropists. The Gray family fortune descended from Tom Gray’s grandfather, James A. Gray and great-uncle, Bowman Gray Sr., both former chairmen of the board of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company.
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