Bertoia’s breaks own house record with $4.2M Kaufman debut sale

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A rare circa 1909 hand painted Marklin Fidelitas clown caravan measuring 37 1/2 inches long greatly exceeded presale expectations to become the star of the auction.

VINELAND, N.J. – The March 19-21 no-reserve sale premiering the Donald Kaufman antique toy collection rang the register at more than $4.2 million and set a new house record for its producer, Bertoia Auctions. The high-energy event, which was the opener for an ongoing series of sales to disperse the massive Kaufman collection, reminded many of the great auctions of 20 years ago. The three-day gross slightly surpassed Bertoia’s previous house record – also in the range of $4.2 million – which had been set in 1998 when the New Jersey company auctioned the Stan Sax bank collection.

Toy industry veterans concurred that the affair was the “best-attended toy auction ever.” Bidders were quick to reserve seats in the main sale room, which overflowed into the adjacent gallery. Additional competitors worldwide kept the phone bank and Internet console buzzing with bids.

The sale’s grand-prize winner was a rare circa-1909 Marklin Fidelitas clown caravan measuring 37 1/2 inches long. A stunning hand-painted toy made by prewar Germany’s premier toy manufacturer, it had been estimated at $30,000-$40,000 but well exceeded expectations with a selling price of $103,500 (inclusive of 15 percent buyer’s premium). The buyer was a private collector from Europe.

Nearly three dozen toys achieved individual selling prices in excess of $20,000, a result Bertoia Auctions’ owner Jeanne Bertoia called “phenomenal, especially in light of the current economic climate.” In addition to the Fidelitas, the top five lots included: a Hubley Royal Circus revolving monkey cage, $97,750; a 22 1/2-inch circa-1907 European tin luxury limo, possibly by the Spanish firm Hispania, $80,500; a 9 1/2-inch Gunthermann tinplate open phaeton with four passengers, $62,100; and a 10 3/4-inch Hubley clockwork cast-iron Say it with Flowers delivery motorcycle, ex Hegarty collection, $59,800.

Apparently the fine-art world is awakening to the beauty and artistry of antique toys, as evidenced by specialist art dealers spotted in the audience at the Kaufman sale. “Some of them had never before attended a toy auction, and they were buying,” said Bertoia.

Beginning collectors and dealers with resale in mind had many opportunities to acquire mint/boxed examples at affordable prices, Bertoia noted. “With any market there are highs and lows,” she said. “You have to open your eyes and step outside the box and identify something beautiful that you like. In this sale, many mint examples of toys were available for a few hundred dollars. Even at that price point, many were rare toys, and because they were from the Kaufman collection, their condition was as nice as you would ever hope to find. The upgrading had already been done for buyers.”

Bertoia’s will continue its auction series exclusively featuring the Donald Kaufman antique toy collection on Sept. 25-26, 2009. For more information visit www.bertoiaauctions.com or call 856-692-1881.

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