DENVER, Pa. – A show of force from European steam toy buyers, several of whom flew in to bid in person, drove Morphy Auctions’ Winter sale beyond the $2 million mark (inclusive of 15 percent buyer’s premium) over the weekend of Dec. 10-12, 2009. Part I of the extensive Pat and Lowell Wagner lifetime collection of antique steam engines and toys – abundantly stocked with examples by Marklin, Weeden, Doll et Cie., and Bing – proved an alluring drawcard, especially to German enthusiasts.
“There were at least 100 people specifically pursuing the steam toys, including three or four Germans who were very active bidders,” said Dan Morphy, owner and chief operating officer of Dan Morphy Auctions. “One thing I found surprising was that Europeans who collect steam toys also buy the full-size steam engines – they appreciate both categories. That’s not typically the case with American steam toy collectors.”
Morphy admitted he had been a bit concerned about the market’s ability to absorb 545 lots of steam engines and toys at one go. “But three or four days prior to the sale, I knew that section was going to ‘catch fire’ because of the unusually high number of absentee bids coming in via the Internet and by phone,” he said. “It wasn’t just the high end that was attracting bids, either. Marklin always tends to take care of itself and was very strong in this sale, but we were amazed at how much action there was in the low to mid range. Internet participation was substantial.”
The auction’s top lot, a Marklin No. 4135 twin upright steam or marine engine described in the manufacturer’s 1904 catalog as a “hammer engine” featured a well-detailed faux-brick housing and chimney on a japanned base measuring 13 1/2 inches by 17 1/2 inches. It blew away its $2,000-$4,000 estimate to settle at $46,000 after a prolonged and heated battle between two deep-pocketed bidders.
A fine 22-inch Radiguet live-steam boat featuring an early “ram” front and with slight restoration noted to the bottom of the hull sailed past expectations of $5,000 to $8,000 to drop anchor at $14,500.
Morphy said there was considerable crossover buying, which helped bolster results in nearly every category of the 3,200-lot sale. “It was a very well-attended event. We had close to 1,000 registered in-house bidders over the three days, with as many as 100 people in the gallery at any given time.”
The auction drew one of the largest turnouts of marble fanciers in Morphy’s history. “There were several collectors who carpooled and drove all the way from Indiana (a 9- to 10-hour drive) to bid on the marbles. It was their first time to our gallery – they loved it.
Two minutes after the sale concluded, another marble collector consigned several very good pieces from his collection to our Spring Auction. Marbles are definitely becoming a category with a big following at our sales.” Pricewise, both handmade and machine-made marbles fared well. A complete box of 100 colorful machine-made Peltier marbles known as the “National Rainbo Line” well exceeded its estimate in achieving $3,800.
A small selection of Christmas antiques drew enthusiastic bids, especially the belsnickles. A superb 30-inch-tall German Santa candy container with bisque face and unusual blue “coat” that previously had been part of a private collection in Germany rang the register at $13,800, near the upper end of its estimate range. “When a candy container stands 2 1/2 feet tall, it actually enters the realm of being not just a candy container but also a figure or statue,” Dan Morphy noted. “There were six people on the phones bidding for that piece, and two of them called after the sale to say they were sorry they hadn’t gone higher.”
Another standout lot was the Lionel prewar standard gauge No. 378W passenger train set with its original set box and individual boxes. Finished in lime green with yellow-frame windows, the ensemble was described in the auction catalog as “possibly the finest known example of this train set, showing no play wear whatsoever.” Against an estimate of $15,000 to $20,000, it reached its final destination at $31,050. A Voltamp No. 2120 United Electric transformer-type trolley with original circular track and paper-labeled wood box realized an above-estimate price of $18,400.
An all-original circa-1890 penny farthing bicycle that almost missed inclusion in the sale surprised its consignor when it wheeled across the finish line at $9,800. “When we went to pick up a collection in the Midwest, we noticed it in the garage and loaded it onto the truck. It ended up making the most money of any of the items in that particular consignment,” Morphy said.
Other top lots included a circa-1910 Carette 12-inch hand-painted tin, clockwork limousine, $15,000; an 1894 popcorn and peanut wheeled vending machine, $7,500; a circa-1936 painted wood Fisher-Price No. 740 Push-Cart Pete toy, $9,200; and an Indian Rock Ginger Ale porcelain soda fountain syrup dispenser with original pump, $11,500.
After the auction, whose third session did not conclude until 10:30 p.m., Dan Morphy expressed both his pleasure with the $2 million result and relief over the way his auctions have consistently weathered the economic challenges of the past 18 months. “The market is different than it was before, but it’s just as unpredictable on the upside as it is on the downside,” he said. “If anything, my experts tell me they know less about pricing now than they ever have. Collectors will continue to determine what the prices should be.”
Dan Morphy Auctions will conduct a 2,100-lot auction on Feb. 26-27, 2010, featuring historical antiques, firearms and militaria; jewelry, toys and antique advertising. For additional information call 717-335-3435, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or log on to www.morphyauctions.com.
Photos courtesy Dan Morphy Auctions.
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