FAIRFIELD, Maine – Julia’s recent Toy, Doll & Advertising auction was a success, grossing nearly $2.1 million (nearly a half million dollars over a presale estimate of items sold).
The Malcolm Deisenroth collection of early American tin toys was touted as the finest and most significant of its type to ever come to auction (and sales results confirmed that). His collection alone, offered totally unreserved, brought approximately $1.04 million against expectations of around $870,000. Topping the list was an exceedingly rare and desirable clockwork Santa and sleigh with goats by Althof Bergmann. This toy is considered the most significant of all early American toys.
There are three examples known; this is considered to be the finest. Featuring the jolly old elf at the reins of his elaborate tin stenciled sleigh driven by two galloping goats, the offering of this historical piece has been the buzz of the toy collecting world for months preceding the auction. It did not disappoint. Following an enthusiastic drive that narrowed from a handful of serious players to a bidding battle between a phone bidder and a collector in attendance, it went to the gentleman in the auction hall for a phenomenal $161,000 (estimate $100,000 to $200,000). As a result, it is the most expensive American tin toy sold in the last 15 years. It is also the most expensive toy of any type sold at auction in the last 2 to 3 years anywhere in the world.
Over the last 30+ years, Deisenroth amassed an incredible array of early American tin toys. This Renaissance man, an oil-and-gas geologist, banker, rancher, and patriotic philanthropist began his interest in tin toys in the 1980s, attending shows, seeking out the rarest and most sought after pieces available. He was first drawn to these toys by their delicate, whimsical charm. He traveled the length and breadth of the country, passionately and energetically acquiring additions for his collection.
In our present economy, it is very difficult to predict what auction results will be, but this sale proved that fresh-to-the-market, quality goods that are reasonably estimated are still bringing strong money. The auction, which was hugely attended and saw a tremendous amount of absentee and Internet activity, was full of rare opportunities one will likely never see again in this lifetime. The sale featured an incredible and unprecedented offering of horse-drawn clockwork omnibuses to ever come to auction. Seeing one come to auction happens every so often, but to have six from one collection, in one location at one time is absolutely unheard of. But quality goods will always seek out their appropriate level at auction. A fanciful example by Bergmann stenciled “Rail Road Omnibus” with japanned horses and its original removable (and typically absent) driver took off like a rocket to $48,875, well beyond its $17,500 to $27,500 estimate.
A brilliant yellow George Brown clockwork omnibus stenciled “Broadway & 5th Avenue” was likewise well received. This bombé style carriage, completed by delicate stenciling and an American eagle and shield, soared to the upper end of its $20,000 to $40,000 estimate to sell for $37,375.
Sometimes toy companies produced toys for export. Such was the case with a truly phenomenal and rare Stevens & Brown Victoria clockwork omnibus. This example, consigned from a separate collection (and sold immediately after the Deisenroth Collection) lived a most interesting history and journey. Over the years it made its way to India and has recently returned to its country of origin. Its yellow body similar to the aforementioned example was found in all-original, untouched condition, and was purported to have once belonged to the Maharaja of India. It, too, neared the better end of its $30,000 to $40,000 estimate to finish off at $37,950.
Other highlights from the Deisenroth collection included another unmatched offering, a stellar grouping of tin paddle wheelers and ferryboats. Two similarly styled wide base Bergmann ferryboats, the Columbia and the Niagara sold for $40,250 and $28,175, respectively and each nearing the top of their pre-auction forecast. Bergmann’s America, one of the largest American tin boats ever manufactured and the only known example brought $23,000.
The Deisenroth collection continued to amaze with a parade of tin platform and bell toys and other fine playthings, many of which boasted provenance to Barenholtz, Perelman, and Hertz or were the very examples used in their books. An American tin equestrian platform pull toy attributed to Bergmann that featured three animated horseback riders was a rarity among rarities. To have two figures is considered scarce, but to have three is in the league of hen’s teeth. Estimated to bring $10,000 to $30,000, it crossed the finish line at $26,450. An articulated horse-drawn girl on platform bell toy attributed to Merriam was a rare combination of tin and cast iron. A hollow bodied tin prancing horse pulls a girl striking a large bell suspended above an iron grillwork. This marvelous piece sold for $20,987 against expectations of $15,000 to $25,000.
Other tin included a large and rare tin “Pegasus” locomotive attributed to Stevens & Brown. What is unusual about this piece is its articulated driver who rocks and rings the bell as the toy is propelled forward. Collectors were all aboard this rarity. One of two known, it pulled into its $30,000 to $50,000 estimate to sell for $37,375. A scarce and marvelous George Brown clockwork hoop toy in which the central figure carries an American flag and stands between two offset wire wheels sold for $21,275 within a presale estimate of $15,000 to $25,000.
Deisenroth’s interest in toys included a number of fire-related toys. A favorite and the most famous of all early American tin toys was the Bergmann clockwork tin fire pumper. The very fire pumper gracing the cover of Bernard Barenholtz’s renowned book “American Antique Toys 1830-1900,” this clockwork piece with large tin boiler, full bodied horses, and charming figures changed hands at $26,450.
An enchanting small hose reel pull toy by Bergmann, formerly of the Louis Hertz collection, that was emblazoned with gold japanned lions and affixed with a small bell approached the midpoint of its $10,000 to $20,000 estimate to sell for $14,375. The subsequent lot was a spectacular unique hose reel (also ex-Louis Hertz) with similar lions on the left and right below American shields with a lantern at the front. Being pulled by two hollow bodied firemen, the piece was a delight to witness.
Cataloging for the Deisenroth collection was accomplished by Jay Lowe (Julia’s toy consultant) and Mark Olimpio, early American toy specialist, restorer and personal friend of Malcolm Deisenroth. Considerable effort was made to prepare fair and honest descriptions of each lot. But “naysayers” with different opinions can sometimes detrimentally affect a sale price. Such was the case with this lot. Despite a condition report in the catalog to the contrary, at least one “naysayer” professed the toy to be a fabrication. A longtime toy collector was not convinced by these negative remarks and was extremely pleased to have acquired it for only $23,000.
Two days later Mark Olimpio, who had originally done some restoration work on the toy many years earlier, reviewed his files and discovered photographs he had taken of the toy as it was discovered before his restoration. The photo proved the toy to be exactly as described in the catalog and of course made the purchaser twice as happy as he was two days earlier. Before, during and after the auction, Julia’s received numerous compliments about their honest and forthright descriptions in the catalog.
Malcolm’s diversified interests delved into pressed steel and included some scarce examples. A rare Keystone “World’s Greatest Circus” ride-on truck was made even rarer by the fact that its condition showed limited use and proper care from its previous owner(s). Decorated with delicate paper lithography inside and out, it was highly susceptible to damage. However, not only did this example retain a lion’s share of its paper, it also retained all six of its interior cages, increasing its play value and desirability. As such, Julia’s set a new world auction record with this piece when it sold for $17,250 against an estimate of $4,000 to $7,000. Speaking of circus related pieces an unusual six-piece circus set (ex-Barenholtz) whose maker is somewhat of a mystery had magnificent folk art appeal and was a joy to see in motion. Consisting of interchangeable absurd, disproportionate figures performing impossible feats as they rotate atop the platform, this set sold for $12,075, exceeding expectations of $4,500 to $8,500.
Standalones included a rare Ives General Grant smoker showing the Civil War hero taking a brief respite to enjoy a smoke. An internal bellows mechanism would draw in the smoke from an actual lit cigarette and exhale it through a hole in Grant’s mouth, making for an entertaining feat of mechanics. It saw action to the $12,650, just inside its $12,500 to $17,500 estimate.
In Deisenroth’s 30 years of collecting, he occasionally ventured into the realm of European tin toys and managed to acquire some rather remarkable pieces. One such example was a marvelous French clockwork two-man tricycle. Their articulated legs would move with the forward motion of the cycle, making for whimsical realism. Expected to bring $2,500 to $4,500, it pedaled its way to $10,350. Other European delights included an unusual Spanish marked double decker bus. Driven by a most unusual coil spring motor and decked with details wrought by a fastidious craftsman, this piece will now reside in a museum overseas having reached a final selling price of $7,475 against an estimate of $2,500 to $5,500.
A fresh to the market selection of other fine toys complemented the Deisenroth offering. Included was an outstanding untouched first series 34-inch Marklin battleship “New York.” Directly from a New Hampshire attic, this toy had never seen the public marketplace. Surpassing its presale estimate of $20,000 to $40,000, it ultimately sold to a bidder in attendance for $48,875. A restored Marklin one meter ocean liner intended more to be a display item at an early 20th century travel agency than used as a toy came in as an eleventh-hour consignment. Discovered in a Midwest house, it found a buyer at $13,225 against a $10,000 to $15,000 estimate. Another last-minute consignment sailed in, a 24-inch Fleischman ocean liner. Elaborately decked out, it must have been a treat for a boy of any age to run it around the lake. Estimated for $6,000 to $8,000, it sold for $9,200.
An exceedingly important recent discovery and offered for the first time at public auction was the extremely rare clockwork George Brown articulated tiger cage wagon. This polychrome clockwork cage being pulled by a prancing white horse in its original paint was an extraordinary find. Estimated at $35,000 to $65,000, it brought a solid $51,750. An outstanding Ives Horse head perambulator with clockwork motor driving a papier maché headed lad in his three-wheeled vehicle went to a bidder in attendance who was thrilled with his purchase. An unusual component of this highly sought after toy was a delightful decal of a watermelon on the rear ledge. In allover stunning condition, this piece brought $16,387, midway through its $14,000 to $18,000 estimate.
German innovation has long been a favorite among collectors of antique toys. Among the offering at Julia’s was a select grouping of near mint Lehmann windup toys, many of which retained their original boxes. An unbelievable German postal car with its original box. The truck, lithographed in red with a small image of a black eagle and a Nazi swastika emblazoned on the sides, was estimated for $4,500-6,500. It delivered, bringing $7,475. And then came a New Century cycle with its original box; one would be hard pressed to find a better example. It sold for $2,702 versus an estimate of $1,500 to $2,500.
Toys of a slightly later vintage included an exceedingly rare Japanese made 1964 Chrysler Imperial friction car with its original box. Seldom seen, this rare red example that was nearly mint from front to back and sold at the upper end of its $9,000 to $12,000 estimate for $11,500. A selection of gas powered racers included a 1940s yellow example consigned by the original and only owner. A veteran of several races in which it was the victor, including one in which it hit the World Record Setting speed of 70.86 mph, the lot including the trophies it won sold for $6,325, just above its $4,000 to $6,000 estimate.
A large troupe of approximately 100 cast iron mechanical banks proved that condition is paramount to value. Predominantly from one Western collection, those in which condition was strong, so were the prices. An excellent Stevens’ Reclining Chinaman with great paint saw active bidding in-house to end up at $10,350 against a $2,000 to $4,000 estimate. Rarity also helped play a part. An extremely scarce Harlequin mechanical bank, even though a second casting, was one of the standouts, selling for $6,727 against a $3,000 to $6,000 estimate.
Collectors were delighted with a quality selection of fine dolls that included some exquisite examples from a Midwest collector. A gorgeous as well as rare Oriental Bru Jne bebe with almond cut brown eyes, bisque lower limbs, and a flowing blue silk kimono changed hands at $23,000, within an estimate of $20,000 to $30,000. Seldom seeing the market was an exceptional and large 34-inch wood body French fashion with blue paperweight eyes, closed mouth, fine modeling, and a darling embroidered silk dress. Estimated for $20,000 to $25,000, she went out at $20,125. Other highlights included a charming cabinet size Circle Dot Bru with sublime facial features, a hint of a tongue, and her original dress. Another fresh from the attic find, she went well beyond expectations of $6,000 to $8,000 to finish up at $14,950. And an early “10 over E.J.” bebe by Jumeau on an original 8-ball jointed wood and composition body went for $8,050 against a $6,500 to $8,500 estimate. A couple candidates for restoration comprised a lot of two damaged and disassembled Jumeau dolls, but one of them was wearing an original dress and both were wearing nice original shoes. Sometimes a sum of parts will make a lot estimated for $1,800 to $2,800 sell for $4,140.
In addition to the variety of toys was a grand selection of coin-op arcade, vending, and slot machines. Clearly, items that are all-original and fresh to the market will generally create a feeding frenzy as evidenced by an all-original, as found untouched 5-cent Caille Double Puck slot machine. Directly out of a Kentucky barn with its original music, these uprights are seldom found in such untouched condition. It had been in the same family for nearly 50 years and keeps the dream alive of hidden treasures like this still surfacing. The machine sold for $80,500, surpassing an estimate of $45,000 to $65,000. Complementing this fine gambling item was an all-original Mills upright single reel Dewey in marvelous condition. This rarity weighed in with an $18,000 to $22,000 estimate, going out at $23,000. A machine that is never a gamble (one inserts their money and they hear a tune), an exceedingly rare Encore automated banjo presented yet another singular opportunity. A banjo inlaid with mother of pearl is contained within a tall oak case, and is plucked by a series of wire “fingers.” A paper roll similar to a player piano would “tell” the fingers where to go. This restored example brought $54,625 within an estimate of $50,000 to $70,000. Other coin-op music included two nickelodeons such as the Seeburg KT Special with leaded front window and a virtual orchestra for your listening pleasure. It brought $12,650 against an $11,000 to $15,000 estimate.
Perhaps by today’s standards, the unusual “Poison This Rat” game by Groetchen is not politically correct, but in its time period was a huge moneymaker capitalizing on the American’s intense animosity toward the Axis powers. Another as-found, untouched machine, the game depicted Hitler in full dress uniform with his face contorted clutching his throat. This skill game tests the player’s agility in maneuvering a small poison “pill” into the mouth of the fuehrer through a series of shelves. Occasionally these games are seen in reference books, but almost never come to auction. Bidders sent it to $7,475, exceeding a $5,000 to $7,000 estimate.
A rare Caille Mayflower cast iron trade stimulator in which the player would pull the lever to receive a poker hand would venture to win cigars, circumventing the gambling laws of the day. It went out at $8,050, just inside its $8,000 to $12,000 estimate. And a last minute addendum consigned from a local home just down the road from Julia’s was a scarce animated gum vendor featuring Yellow Kid. This early spokesperson from the early 20th century for a variety of products is highly sought after by collectors. This all original machine sold for $10,350 against a $9,000 to $11,000 estimate. It is presumed, the owners who were offered $1,600 for it by a dealer a few years ago are happy they chose to call Julia’s.
Trains included a handful of examples from a New England estate that had literally been stored in a closet until being consigned to Julia’s. Their absolutely marvelous condition resulted in some rather strong prices. A Lionel Hudson 5344 engine and tender, estimated for $2,250 to $4,250 sold for $4,312. A Lionel 763E engine and tender estimated for $1,750 to $2,750 brought $2,875. And a Bassett Lowke live steam Flying Scotsman brought $3,737 against an estimate of $1,500 to $2,500.
A fine grouping of antique advertising helped to close out the sale. Included was a scarce figural clock in the form of a Nebo cigarette emblazoned with the face of a smiling balding gent. Manufactured by the Gilbert Clock Company, it exceeded its $4,000 to $8,000 estimate to finish up at $8,050. An unusual reverse on glass light up countertop display for South Bend watches shows one of their pocket watches frozen in a block of ice as a testament to the strength of their product. It hit the midpoint of its $4,000 to $5,000 estimate to sell for $4,600. A self-framed tin sign for Brookfield Rye features a diaphanously clad woman contemplating a bottle of the product. Sex in advertising was big even then. It sold within its $2,500 to $3,500 estimate for $3,162.
Soda advertising included a large offering of Moxie items. Highlights included a most unusual Moxie radio with its original box. Modeled after their famous “Horsemobile” it is one of the first of its type to surface. It sold for $2,587 against an estimate of $2,500 to $4,500. A die-cut cardboard sign showing an attractive Victorian woman tickling a Moxie delivery man with a feather after he has fallen asleep on the job sold for $1,265 against an $800 to $1,200 estimate.
And a select grouping of salesman samples included a sickle bar mower by B.M. Scott. In brass and wood construction, it brought $7,762 versus a pre-auction estimate of $4,000 to $8,000. It was joined by a sample fertilizer distributor that had great patina and form. It brought a solid $7,130 against a $2,500 to $3,500 estimate. Other highlights in this segment included a miniature sawmill by James Sadler. This highly elaborate “working” model came from a Midwest collector with a $2,500 to $4,500 estimate to sell for $11,500. And a salesman sample hay rake beat out its $800 to $1,200 estimate to bring $3,105.
Julia’s upcoming auctions include their annual End of Summer antiques and fine art auction in August while a phenomenal firearms and military memorabilia auction will be held in October. Julia’s next toy and doll auction as well as their rare lamp and glass auction will follow in November. Julia’s is currently accepting consignments for these and other upcoming auctions. Call immediately for inclusion in these exciting sales.
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