VINELAND, N.J. – Bertoia Auctions welcomed spring with a 2,462-lot auction of toys, dollhouses, miniatures and Christmas antiques that attracted global bidding and intensely competitive bidding on top-tier selections. The company’s $1.8 million Open House Sale held April 17-19 achieved the predicted overall high estimate, with a superb, early Erzebirge-style ark stealing the show as it sailed past expectations to settle at $36,800 (all prices quoted are inclusive of 15 percent buyer’s premium).
The 27-inch-long ark, hand painted and accompanied by an army of more than 200 wonderfully carved animal pairs, had attracted widespread attention prior to auction. “The size of the ark, the quality of the paint and the number of animals made it very desirable,” said Bertoia Auctions’ co-founder Jeanne Bertoia. “There were 53 bids on that lot. Many people were taken by its folk-art charm.” She revealed that the buyer was none other than Fred Cannon, a renowned collector of Christmas antiques, who had consigned his own famous collection to the very same sale. “He said he had always wanted an ark and thought this one was fabulous – he said he had to have it.”
The subject of a feature article in Delaware’s largest daily newspaper, a lavishly appointed scale-model roombox inspired by the formal dining room in the home of the late Jean Austin du Pont completed a full circle to return to the state’s most famous family, for $16,100. The custom-built tableau encased in a mahogany display cabinet had been specially commissioned by Mrs. du Pont and was furnished with exquisite miniatures, silk draperies, and a Georgian dining table with 12 hand-carved mahogany dining chairs placed on hand-pegged hardwood flooring. The winning bidder was a granddaughter of Mrs. du Pont, who remembered seeing the piece at her grandmother’s house as a child. “It had sold at the Jean Austin du Pont estate sale, but the granddaughter wasn’t old enough to purchase it at that time,” Jeanne Bertoia explained. “She was actually present at our auction and bought three articles that were from the du Pont family, one for each of her three children.”
Like the du Pont dining room, the scale model of a historic 18th-century Philadelphia residence named Fairmount Park had come from the Delaware Toy & Miniature Museum, which closed in November. Designed in 1916 by noted architect Charles Borie, the dollhouse featured multi-paned Palladian windows, a sweeping stairway and outstanding architectural appointments throughout. An investor purchased the lot for $13,800.
A Hubley 9-inch cast-iron Popeye figure in impeccable condition was the star of the auction’s doorstops section. “It was from a very seasoned collector who collected only the best,” said Jeanne Bertoia, herself a respected doorstop expert and reference book author. “Even some of our competitors who saw the Popeye doorstop displayed at our booth at Atlantique City commented that it just doesn’t get any better than that. The buzz was that it was going to fly at auction, but how high? We thought maybe tennish, but it ended up selling for $17,250.”
A very rare example of a hand-painted tin horse-drawn open sleigh was a shining example of why the Rock & Graner name is so highly sought after among collectors. The highly detailed 14½-inch-toy – a graceful depiction with horse in trotting mode – reached the midpoint of its estimate, at $14,950.
Another fine German toy, a Marklin hand-painted tin gazebo with original striped cloth canopy and girl doll on a swing, was headed back to its country of origin. An advanced collector of Marklin toys who had inspected the toy in person lodged a successful $12,650 bid by phone after returning home to Germany. “He had a hard time believing it was as wonderful as the catalog photo showed,” Jeanne Bertoia remarked. “It was near mint and all original, down to the miniature flowers in the flower boxes.”
The Fred Cannon collection of Dresden and glass ornaments, and other superior-quality holiday antiques garnered “huge attention,” according to Jeanne Bertoia, with many Europeans chasing the most coveted lots. “Fred has the eye of an artist. He always collects the rare, the unusual and the beautiful. Christmas has been an incredibly strong market over the last few years, and the fact that Fred is so well liked and respected among his fellow collectors in the Golden Glow club added a special provenance.” Among the many Christmas highlights was a German clockwork trade stimulator depicting a beautifully clothed Santa riding a donkey. The 23-inch-tall display piece reached an above-estimate price of $9,200.
Entered in the sale with a $3,000-$4,000 estimate, a Radiguet 19-inch-long clockwork ocean liner led a fleet of boats at $12,650; while a circa-1929 Chein tinplate Hercules Ready Mixed Concrete truck with Art Deco styling and a revolving drum earned a solid $9,200. The 18-inch-long vehicle, which made nearly five times its high estimate, had come from the prestigious automotive collection of the late Bob Smith.
Bertoia Auctions associate Rich Bertoia noted that the Internet was “very active” throughout the sale. “In every auction we hold, Internet bidding grows, both in the number of participants and the average amount of dollars paid per item. People are not afraid to bid on $5,000 items through the Internet any more. Two years ago it wasn’t like that. Now they’ll look at a piece they know is great, bid on it, buy it, pay for it with PayPal and say, ‘Let’s do it again.’ The customers tell us, ‘We trust your estimates, and we trust you. We don’t need a consultant. It pays for me to do it this way.’” Rich added that the increase in absentee methods of bidding – Internet, phone and left bids – is not confined to U.S. auction houses. “We have an intern working with us whose family owns a premier auction company in Germany. She said their experience is exactly the same. Bidding in the gallery may be dwindling, but it’s more than made up for with remote bidding.”
Rich Bertoia continued: “This was a very global sale. We were calling all over Europe, where the currencies are very strong against the dollar. Thanks to our intern Pia Seidel [whose family owns Ladenburger Spielzeugauktion in Ladenburg, Germany], we were able to communicate with German phone bidders in their own language. Still, the Americans were doing a lot of buying. In today’s market, better pieces are bringing much higher prices, whereas less-significant pieces are softer.”
Bertoia Auctions is gearing up for a major announcement regarding the Don Kaufman Toy Collection, which will be offered by Bertoia Auctions in a series of sales commencing in March of 2009. Rumors about this fabled collection coming to auction have been swirling around antique shows for some time, and Bertoia’s can now confirm that the Kaufman toy collection will be auctioned, in its entirety, in a series of sales at the firm’s gallery in Vineland, New Jersey. An upcoming press release will announce auction and preview dates, times and other relevant details.