Donal Markey collection unveils 1,000 lots of near-flawless antique toys


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Cast-iron woman at sewing machine, attributed to Sandt, rear lever activates head and hand motions when turned; side of chair actually holds spool of string for sewing cloth items. One of very few known examples. 7 1/2 inches high. Estimate $8,000 to $10,000.

VINELAND, N.J. – The late Donal Markey was one of an elite circle of illuminati who bought and sold the rare antique toys 25 years ago that are now considered masterworks of their category. Markey’s own immaculate personal collection of antique toys, folk art, and mechanical and still banks is now headed to auction in a March 25-26 sale organized by Bertoia’s, the firm his old friend the late Bill Bertoia co-founded. More than 1,000 lots will be presented in the two-day auction.

Functional man-turning-lever whirligig, circa 1920s, painted wood, 24 inches high by 13 inches wide. Estimate $2,000-$2,500.The common thread in all of Markey’s collections was color, especially reds, various shades of green, and yellow. Multicolored pieces were his favorite. “Every item Donal bought was for display. He lived with all of it in his home, and the cardinal rule was that it had to have color and visual appeal, whether it was a clock, a whirligig or a framed mirror – and the condition had to be as close to perfection as possible,” Bertoia said.

Functional man-turning-lever whirligig, circa 1920s, painted wood, 24 inches high by 13 inches wide. Estimate $2,000-$2,500.

Markey also favored pieces with a folk art quality. His collection includes such highlights as a cabinet and small 4-drawer chest with carved floral and botanical designs; tramp art picture frames and mirrors with delicately carved floral corners, amusement wheels, trade signs and hand-painted sleds with exquisite images of pelicans and other birds. A desirable horse theme typical of early folk art is seen on Markey’s early, decorative wall shelves and other pieces.

Also among the folk art highlights is a framed, carved-wood die-cut of a hand holding a placard that says “Made by J.P. Brown, Invalid.” Its decorations include butterflies, a dog, and a cat blowing a horn. Another unique article is the early hand-painted ballot box with four candidates’ names and slots for depositing ballots. Probably late 19th century, the ballot box is an exceptional work of art whose detailing is of a very high standard.

Before he became a full-time antique dealer, Markey was a menswear retailer in New York. Many of the old painted-wood advertising signs in his collection are an homage to his previous profession and publicize clothing, shoes and other products aimed at 19th-century men, e.g., cigars and other tobacco products. An imposing highlight is a 6 1/2-foot-long, double-sided sign that says “Positively No Smoking.” Originally displayed in a train station, the sign features bright, eye-catching “Donal” colors.

Donal Markey’s name was always closely associated with mechanical banks. Bertoia’s will present approximately three dozen examples in the auction, even including a few banks that Markey was in the process of buying or had committed to buy at the time he fell ill last year. “Condition wise, they’re so beautiful, they look like their paint is still wet from the production line,” Bertoia remarked. Highlights include a superb yellow-dress version Mammy with Child, old store-stock Elephant banks in super-mint condition, and an “unbelievable” example of an Uncle Sam bust bank.

For additional information, call 856-692-1881 or e-mail Toys@BertoiaAuctions.com. Visit Bertoia’s online at www.BertoiaAuctions.com. All forms of bidding will be available for Bertoia’s March 25-26 auction, including live via the Internet through LiveAuctioneers.com.

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More Images:

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Ives Cutter Sleigh with walking horse, cast iron, 1890s, 22 inches long. Estimate $30,000 to $40,000.
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Early wood Monopoly game board, circa 1920s, hand-painted property markers and corner landing squares, reverse side has similar graphics, 24 inches square. Estimate $3,500 to $4,500.
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Diamond Dyes cabinet, copyright 1912, double-sided lithographed-tin panels. Estimate $800 to $1,000.
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Circa-1900 hand-painted tin sign from train station, "Positively No Smoking," 73 inches wide. Estimate $1,500-$1,700.

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