Great prices for great toys at Bertoia’s $1.8 million November auction

Teddy Roosevelt’s aim was true in Bertoia Auctions’ $1.8 million Toys for All Seasons sale, as an early Schoenhut boxed set titled “Teddy’s Adventures in Africa” swept top-lot honors in the $1.8 million event (all prices quoted inclusive of 15 percent buyer’s premium). The Nov. 7-9 auction featured 2,516 antique toys, banks, dolls, dollhouse furniture, automata and Christmas antiques, with several prestigious private collections anchoring the bountiful array.

The Roosevelt set, dating to the early 20th century and featuring painted-wood figures, a lithographed scenic backdrop and a multitude of safari-theme accessories, was numbered 20/84. The early playset from Schoenhut’s Humpty Dumpty Circus Toys range was in immaculate condition, an added enticement that carried the lot to a winning bid of $34,500.

A curious European toy that attracted very heavy bidding was the fur-covered Vichy rabbit with cabbage automaton. Capable of playing two French melodies, the smartly dressed 19-inch rabbit featured multiple movements, while the cabbage had its own trick: opening to reveal a monkey that opened and closed its mouth. “A large field of active bidders eventually boiled down to two people who really wanted it,” Bertoia Auctions associate Rich Bertoia said. “It went far beyond its estimate ($8,000-$12,000), and finally sold for $28,750.”

Another surprising performance came from a circa-1896 Britains clockwork bicyclist toy of painted die-cast metal. Its cloth-dressed rider bore a striking resemblance to the irascible puppet show character “Punch.” Entered with hopes of achieving $1,000-$1,200, it streaked to $21,850.
The priciest of German tin toys in the sale was a 20 1/2-inch-long Fleischmann clockwork battleship equipped with a full complement of observation decks, turrets, stacks, masts and guns. Estimated at $4,000-$5,000, it dropped anchor at $11,500.

A 16-inch Steiff  “rod” bear that had come to be known as “A-Rod” was probably the most publicized entry in the sale. The turn-of-the-20th-century cinnamon mohair bear had been X-rayed at a local veterinarian’s clinic to confirm the presence of desirable metal rods, which function as joints. His adventures at the Bertoia family vet’s office appeared in many antiques and collectibles publications. His distinguished pedigree validated, the long-limbed charmer finished near the top of its estimate range at $17,250.

The array of Christmas antiques from the collections of Fred Cannon and Mary Lou Holt was “merry and bright,” and prices rose higher than Santa’s sleigh on a rooftop. A late entry to the sale, a 30-inch German Father Christmas display of molded composition, holding a feather tree and cloth sack, slid down the chimney to land at $9,200.

There were noteworthy highlights in virtually every section of the sale. A boxed Yonezawa Space Man robot traveled to a stratospheric $9,200; while early American toys were led by a boxed 23 1/2-inch-long Carpenter horse-drawn ladder wagon with two firemen figures, which blazed to $6,325.

Cast iron was especially strong, painted banks in particular. A pristine 1881 Turnbull Squirrel & Tree Stump bank, designed so the squirrel springs forward and deposits a coin from his front paws into a stump, exceeded estimate at $9,200. In the still (i.e., non-mechanical) category, a colorful three-dimensional depiction of the Boston State House – 5 1/8 inches high and made in the late 1800s by Smith & Egge – hit the jackpot at $12,650 against an estimate of $7,000-$9,000.

Some of the sale’s consignors had wondered if the recent economic downturn would hold back the bidders. Clearly, that was not the case. “One of the consignors of cast iron told us he couldn’t believe the prices on his toys. He told me, ‘I didn’t lose money; I made money,’” Bertoia said. “I told him that he had some really good things, and that bidders paid great prices for great toys. Seasoned collectors are not going to let an exceptional piece slip through – not in any economy.”

While Wall Street’s recent unpredictable turns had some people sitting back and letting the correction take its turn, there were many others who were eager to jump in and compete, Jeanne Bertoia said. “The strength of the merchandise attracted bidders who were skittish about being in the stock market and wanted other ways to invest.”

Bertoia’s now turns its full attention to the Donald Kaufman Antique Automotive Toy Collection, which will be auctioned in a series of semiannual auctions to be spread over two to three years. The auction series will premiere March 19-21, 2009, with fall dates confirmed for Sept. 25-26, 2009. For more information call 856-692-1881, e-mail toys@bertoiaauctions.com or visit www.bertoiaauctions.com.

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