VINELAND, N.J. – Part II of the Donald Kaufman antique toy collection, auctioned by Bertoia’s Sept. 25-26, 2009, provided yet another golden opportunity for collectors to dip into the most enticing toy box of all time. Following on the heels of the initial $4.2 million sale of Kaufman toys held March 19-21, the 1,129-lot September event added another $3 million to the ongoing series’ tally so far (all prices quoted inclusive of 15 percent buyer’s premium).
Blazing into the top slot was a German automotive prize that featured the classic detailing that could mean only one name: Marklin. A superior example of the company’s circa-1912 live-steam fire pumper commanded $149,500 against an estimate of $40,000-$50,000. A masterpiece of craftsmanship, the 18-inch-long pumper featured a vibrantly hand-painted open frame with exposed boiler and intricate gear work. One of only five known examples, the Kaufman pumper sold to a European collector.
Runners-up in the sale included an early 1930s boxed Tippco (German) Mickey and Minnie Mouse on Motorcycle clockwork toy, which flew past its $40,000-$60,000 estimate to finish at $71,300; and a circa-1904 Bing (German) four-seat touring car that more than doubled its high estimate at $59,800.
Many, if not most, of the international bidders who had come to the Kaufman premiere in March returned to the United States for a second round of buying. To everyone’s delight, Don and Sally Kaufman attended portions of both the preview and sale, chatting amiably with fellow collectors.
Bertoia Auctions associate Rich Bertoia observed that the second Kaufman sale might even have been stronger than the first sale. “Everything did well across the board, with some categories, such as penny toys, performing better than they had done in several years,” he said. “Toy collectors are more motivated than ever to buy, now that we’re approaching the midpoint of the collection.”
The traveler who had come the longest distance, Peter Cooke of Fairlie, New Zealand, arrived with his good friend Bob Yurick, of Meriden, Conn. A collector of “full-size motor cars,” Cooke said he had never been to a toy auction before and was “curious to see what it’s all about.” Cooke’s two-month U.S. itinerary included attending the auction at Bertoia’s, the fall antique auto show at Hershey, Pa., and a vintage car auction. “It makes it a nice trifecta,” he said.
Three generations of toy collectors from the Swaney family had convened at Bertoia’s – Don Swaney Sr. of Uniontown, Pa., and his son Ron Swaney and grandson Zach Swaney, both of Fredericksburg, Va. Don had his eye on pressed steel and pedal cars, noting that he had begun collecting the latter specialty as a boy. As the Swaneys would soon see for themselves, premier examples of pressed steel were in great demand. A circa-1930s Toledo Pierce-Arrow pedal car in red and maroon cruised well beyond its $12,000-$15,000 estimate range to stop at $20,700. An appealing 1920s American National Buick pedal car barber’s chair on porcelain riser hammered $29,900.
In the smaller-scale pressed steel, a boxed 1927 Kingsbury for J.C. Penney “Little Jim” delivery truck tripled its high estimate by capturing a top bid of $17,250; while a circa-1935 Buddy ‘L’ ice truck with provenance from the collection of former Buddy ‘L’ president Richard Keats rumbled past its $8,000-$9,000 estimate to settle at $16,100.
European tin automotive is arguably the crowning glory of the Kaufman collection, and its second appearance at auction brought out the big guns in toy collecting. A circa-1904 Bing four-seat tourer described in the auction catalog as “one of the earliest and certainly most elegant in Bing’s line of touring cars” boasted button-embossed seating, headlamps, rubber tires and an appropriately “dressed” driver. An American buyer claimed the toy for $59,800 against an estimate of $18,000-$22,000.
A circa-1905 Marklin hand-painted open tourer glided to $40,250, while a circa-1920s clockwork delivery truck with eight miniature oilcans stamped “Marklin” finished its workday at $39,100.
Made by Carette, a circa-1911 rear-entrance tonneau with two liveried drivers and two female passengers easily surpassed its $10,000-$12,000 estimate to realize $20,700. A French circa-1905 hand-painted tin “Torpedo” car made by Pinard, with exotic styling and folding canopy top, garnered $18,400.
In Kaufman part I, bidders fought tooth and nail over the selection of Gordon Bennet-style racers. Clearly, toy collectors can’t get too much of a good thing, as the very rare, small-scale (6 1/2-inch) tinplate Gordon Bennet racer by Gunthermann offered in part II, complete with two driver figures in classic hunched-forward pose, brought a terrific price of $27,600 against an estimate of $4,000-$5,000.
In other categories, a boxed postwar Yonezawa Atom Jet racer earned $21,850; a 1930s Hubley Indian “Flower Shoppe” motorcycle delivery van achieved $36,800; and a circa-1925 William Crawford Rolls-Royce biscuit tin closed its lid at $10,350.
In retrospect, although bidders had come primarily to bid on blue-chip toys from a fabled collection, Bertoia’s offered auction attendees an added incentive by hosting a Thursday evening wine-and-cheese party and a catered Friday evening barbecue.
“Our guests remarked that the barbecue was a festivity fit for a king…and Don was the king,” said Bertoia Auctions’ owner, Jeanne Bertoia. “We do our utmost to make our auctions more than just a sale – we want collectors to view them as entertaining events. They have told us they really enjoy the opportunity to have a meal together and discuss what they bought at the sale. This sort of camaraderie adds a lot of fun to our auctions, and it’s something we plan to continue doing as the Kaufman series continues.”
Commenting on the October sale’s results, Jeanne Bertoia said: “At nearly three million dollars, the sale topped the high catalog estimate and proved once again that great collections and great presentations trump any economic forecasting. We’re already getting excited about part III, set for April 9-10 of next year. That’s when we’re going to roll out Don Kaufman’s incredible comic character toys.”
Note: After this postsale report was written, the Bertoia family was deeply saddened to learn that Donald Kaufman had passed away at his Massachusetts home, on Oct. 12, 2009.
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