PITTSBURGH – Collectors of antique toy soldiers and figures have long known that good things come in small packages, and that ever-growing legion of enthusiasts helped push the total for Old Toy Soldier’s Nov. 21 auction to $193,000 – the company’s highest sale total to date. Leading the charge in the 644-lot sale was an army of figures from the German manufacturer Heyde (pronounced “High-dee”).
“The Heyde lots really got the momentum going,” said Old Toy Soldier Auction USA’s owner, Ray Haradin. “There was a tremendous amount of interest in them, and in all the German-made figures, for that matter.”
Haradin explained that collectors are attracted to Heyde figures because they are highly realistic and do not look mass produced. “Their sets are very fanciful. They tend to have 20 pieces in them, with all 20 being different, so they display very nicely. Also, Heyde made their figures in a larger scale than Britains did, so they tend to cross over more with toy and train collectors.”
The top-selling Heyde set in Old Toy Soldier’s November sale was an 1890 ensemble of 15 pieces featuring Frederick the Great on his white mount, flag bearer, guards and two African drummers. Estimated at $700-$1,000, the grouping was bid to a hefty $4,425 (all prices quoted inclusive of 18 percent buyer’s premium).
Other Heyde lots that finished well above estimate included an extremely rare, boxed circa-1910 Old Volunteer Corps comprised of officer drummer and 10 men, $3,835; and a set called the Napoleonic Old Guard, $1,416.
Britains is the brand that has the largest collector base of all the toy soldier companies, and Haradin said that more than 100 “regular, very active collectors” of Britains participate in his sales. “Because Britains produced so many sets, it takes persistence if you want to be a ‘completist,’ but that’s what makes it so enjoyable,” he said. “In this sale we saw a lot of bidders going after the pre-World War I sets from the renowned collection of Deutschebank managing director Vincent C. Banker.” Mr. Banker’s premier collection of figures was previously featured in Town & Country magazine.
Among the Britains auctioned on Nov. 21, a Life Guard Band in red achieved $2,714 against a $700 high estimate, while a civilian figural pair known as the Lambeth Walk Dancers achieved $1,770. An exceptionally rare H.R.H. The Prince of Wales in the uniform of the Welsh Guards, made around 1939, retained its original box indicating it was made exclusively for the souvenir shop at Madame Tussauds in London. It garnered an above-estimate price of $2,360.
Few Britains productions rival the charm of their 1937-1941 Noah’s Ark with figures of Noah, his wife and 22 animals. With a box ingeniously designed to double as an ark, the set drew a throng of bidders who sent the lot sailing to a closing price of $5,900.
A much-anticipated highlight of the sale was the late Dr. James “Doc” Wengert’s collection of figures, vehicles and other scale-model toys related to military medicine. A third-generation physician, Dr. Wengert served as a U.S. Navy flight surgeon during the Vietnam War. Because of his profession, he chose to specialize in medical figures – doctors, nurses, orderlies, stretcher bearers, wounded soldiers – and all the accoutrements that a collector might desire in setting up a miniature M.A.S.H unit, like operating tents, field kitchens, rescue dogs and emergency vehicles.
“Many new people with a connection to medicine – notably physicians and dentists – heard about this unique collection and decided to bid in the sale. They couldn’t have picked a better way to get started in this specialty collecting field,” said Haradin, noting that there “strength all across this part of the sale. The prices weren’t huge numbers, but they were consistently above estimate.” A very rare circa-1890 British medical ensemble made by T. Krause (Germany) and featuring 20 pieces was the highest-priced lot from the Wengert collection. Featuring a medical tent, tinplate horse-drawn medical wagon, medical officers, nurse, and other figures and accessories, it sold for $2,124 against a high estimate of $1,200.
Single figures that were made by special order at the Britains factory in 1938 included two khaki-attired medics – one with a forage cap, the other with a peaked cap. They sold well above estimate at $767 and $798, respectively. A circa-1934 Johillco brand 5-piece Abyssinian Red Cross Unit with original red-and-white-labeled box made $650.
Together with the antique and vintage pieces that form the core of his sales, Haradin always offers a selection of later soldiers and figures to encourage new collectors. “If you don’t want to dive right into the earlier market, buying quality pieces from the 1980s is a great way to get your feet wet and become involved in the hobby,” Haradin said. He noted that even the more recently made military miniatures are seeing a “nice spike in value” at auction. In the November sale, a 1980s King & Country TK011 Austin K2 Ambulance, gloss green version and one of only 20 made, sped past its $400-$600 estimate to apply the brakes at $1,416.
On May 1, 2010, Old Toy Soldier Auctions USA will conduct an absentee, phone and Internet auction (through LiveAuctioneers.com) from its home base in Pittsburgh. The event will feature the premier Britains collection of brothers Don Thompson and the late Bill Thompson, as well as part III of the John Graham collection. Additional select properties, including a San Francisco collection of coveted 1950s Courtenay knights, will round out the auction offering.
For additional information, call 412-343-8733 or 800-349-8009; or visit Old Toy Soldier Auctions USA online at www.oldtoysoldierauctions.com. Watch for the fully illustrated electronic catalog at www.LiveAuctioneers.com.
Photos courtesy Old Toy Soldier Auctions USA.
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