Beton Indian Story: A collector’s tale of recovery and renewal

Beton, also known as Beton/Bergen, was a company located in Hackettstown, N.J. The

The once buried Beton Indian figure, circa 1948, with missing arm and stand, recovered from beneath an apartment building in Brooklyn. (Photo courtesy Robert Rentzer)

firm began doing business in 1938, producing various miniature figures. Their earliest were of Cowboys and Indians and later, Army men.Their prime sales were from 1948 to 1958 when they closed their doors due to American and foreign firms copying their figures. The Indian figure described in this article was listed in Beton’s original catalogue as Item BT-19 #127. Their figures were made of hard plastic and sold in packages, primarily in what was once referred to as “dime stores.”
When I was 8 or 9 years old, my dad gave me a dime store package of the Beton Indian figures. Eventually they all met the same fate as the real Indians of the West (going to the Happy Hunting Grounds), with one exception: A one-armed Indian who was carefully laid to rest. Perhaps, sorry for his loss of a limb, I decided to put him to rest in a mausoleum of sorts. I lived on the first floor of a six-story apartment building in Brooklyn, N.Y. My front door was adjacent to the stairs, and just below the first flight landing was a stairwell that I would “hide” in from time to time. In a corner of that stairwell was a narrow crack in the cement, perhaps no wider than an inch or two and no more than 6 to 8 inches deep. So my Indian was lovingly placed to rest there. That was back in 1948 or 1949.

As I grew up, I forgot all about my Indian; while in my teens I moved to California. Some 55 years later, I had occasion to return to New York with my wife. Wanting to show her where I grew up, we paid a visit to my old apartment building and even dared knock on the door. The new occupant was kind enough to let us in; after a quick tour, we thanked him and left.

Then, while walking out and seeing the stairs and stairwell, I suddenly remembered my Indian and decided to visit his resting place. Stooping to clear the low ceiling and bending down to gaze into the crack I once had to stand on tip toes to reach, I was able to see a

A Beton Indian in original, complete condition, gifted from collector John Rio. (Photo courtesy Robert Rentzer)

dark shadow, which I probed with a paperclip that I bent into a hook. To my amazement, I was able to exhume my Indian, somewhat faded and shrunken, but just as I left him that half-century earlier. I put him in a clear pill vial and, when returning home, sat him on my computer desk where he remained for the past five years.

Recently, I got to wondering what the complete original had looked like and set about to see if I could locate a picture of an original Beton Indian. My search took me to a collector named John Rio, who sent me a photo. Later he shocked me by breaking up his own collection to actually make me a gift of that complete Indian. So now, along with this story, my Indian and his brother proudly stand in a wall display for me – and all who come visiting – to enjoy.

Author’s Note: Special thanks to John Rio, who provided background on Beton and who made me a gift of the intact Beton Indian.

 About the author: Robert Rentzer began his career as Bob Dennis appearing on live TV, Broadway and then touring the U.S. in the Broadway show. When the show closed he moved to California to act on TV and in the movies, interrupting his acting career to marry, raise a family and enter law school. After graduating he became a Deputy District Attorney before going into private practice. You can see more about Bob’s legal career by visiting www.lawcal.com. Rentzer now divides his time between law, pursing his first love acting, and writing, including a book about an intriguing true account of a bizarre murder case he once prosecuted and which he hopes to have published.

Rentzer’s prized display holding both his original Benton miniature Indian figure and the gifted example. (Photo courtesy Robert Rentzer)

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