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

An exquisite boxed Teddy Roosevelt Adventures in Africa set made by Schoenhut would be rare in any condition. The figures and many accessories that came with this particular set - including optional lithographed cardboard scenery - display immaculate original paint. The top-finishing lot in the sale, it made $34,500.

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 or visit

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More Images:

Ready to venture out on the high seas, a well-detailed Fleischmann battleship measuring 20½ inches long sailed into drydock with a winning bid of $11,500.
This very rare and unusual 17-inch-long Britains toy of painted metal features a whimsical hand-painted figure with a striking resemblance to the puppet show character "Punch." The cloth-dressed fellow rides in a circle on a two-wheel bicycle attached by a wire support to a heavy base. A popular entry, it concluded its auction outing at $21,850.
A fine example of a 1950s Japanese skirted robot, this boxed 9½-inch-tall Yonezawa Space Man brought out the collectors, who bid it to $9,200 - 15 times its high estimate.
From the French maker Vichy, this wonderful musical clockwork rabbit with cabbage automaton is covered in rabbit fur and has glass eyes. When activated, a monkey emerges from the cabbage. Against an estimate of $8,000-$12,000, the whimsical entertainer outperformed at $28,750.
A crowd favorite, this rare turn of the 20th century Steiff cinnamon mohair teddy bear with internal metal rods realized $17,250 at Bertoia's.
Bertoia's associate Rich Bertoia commented that still banks with a painted or japanned finish, like this late 19th-century Boston State House made by Smith & Egge, are in great demand with collectors. This example, in the desirable small version at 5 1/8 inches, cashed in at $12,650 against an estimate of $7,000-$9,000.
Complete with its original factory box (not shown), a 23½-inch-long horse-drawn cast-iron Carpenter ladder wagon retains its two original firefighter figures and beautiful paint. Its bidding run was extinguished at $6,325.
Collectors of Christmas antiques chose from an array of hundreds of early items from the Fred Cannon and Mary Lou Holt collections. A 34-inch-tall die-cut Santa store display of the holiday gift-giver with a basket overflowing with toys sold for an above-estimate price of $4,025.

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