Prewar Japanese toys dominated top lots in Mosby & Co. auction debut

FREDERICK, Md. – A realistically carved circa-1910 Looff “jumper” carousel horse with a ruffled mane and patriotic symbols on its saddle crossed the finish line in first place at Mosby & Co’s May 15 auction premiere. The 63-inch-long figure, with real horsehair tail and a custom-made, wheeled platform left the gate with a $5,000 bid and closed at $8,525 in the 10-day phone, mail and Internet auction. All prices quoted are inclusive of a 10 percent buyer’s premium.

“I expected the Looff horse to be our top lot,” said Mosby & Co.’s owner, Keith Spurgeon, “but there were some very strong prices on prewar Japanese and German toys as well. An Issmayer penny toy paddleboat that had a minimum bid of $275 ended up selling for $3,300. There were two very serious bidders competing for it.”

The 4 1/4-inch-long Issmayer boat was unusual in that it was of hand-painted brass rather than the usual tin seen in penny toys, and it had both a male and female passenger, spinning side wheels, and its original box.

Japanese celluloid toys made prior to World War II brought outstanding prices. A 9-inch-tall Betty Boop with molded blond hair, separately crafted red hoop earrings, and original fur ruff wrapped around her neck sold to a Singapore museum for $2,805. The same buyer purchased a mint/boxed celluloid wind-up toy known as Kojin-Butsu, or “Mr. Big Head.” Manufactured in 1930, the red, white and blue-costumed character was created as an unflattering satirical depiction of an American. The 9 1/4-inch toy, which was in perfect working order, hammered $3,191.

Among the prewar Japanese toys combining celluloid and tin, two were standouts. A whimsical Kuromachi Uncle Wiggily Crazy Car in excellent-plus condition made $3,630, and will join Betty Boop and Kojin-Butsu in a Singapore museum. A scarce circa-1935 celluloid boy with goggles driving a steerable, tinplate open car rode off to a new U.S.-based owner for $1,815.

A selection of monster, superhero and Big Daddy Ed Roth Rat Fink kits found no shortage of interested bidders. The same collector snapped up three lots of 1963 Roth creations, including several Rat Finks and a Drag Nut, for $666. Another American buyer paid $1,760 for a 1963 Aurora Superman model still sealed in its box with original cellophane. A rare 1964 boxed Gigantic Frankenstein model kit was another overachiever, settling at $1,320.

A large single-owner collection of carnival sideshow banners had been consigned, and according to Spurgeon, they attracted more phone queries than anything else in the sale. A racy circa-1940 depiction of a nude woman dancing in the desert with a skeleton, emblazoned “Dance of Death,” led the banner group at $3,355. Another oddity, a 48-inch-square banner featuring “Lady Viola the Tattooed Woman” ended its bidding run at $963.

Antique and vintage board games included McLoughlin Bros.’ 1892 Parlor Football Game, which scored a closing bid of $688; and an even earlier (circa-1850s) McLoughlin Yankee Pedlar game with Uncle Sam theme that sold for $390.

A small but select grouping of art glass lamps was not overlooked amid the colorful toys and collectibles. A dealer in Florida paid $2,805 for a circa-1913 Handel reverse-painted boudoir lamp with seascape shade, while a Connecticut dealer secured a Richard Runge-designed reverse-painted Handel table lamp with Teroma (“chipped ice”) glass shade for $4,500.

“Regardless of the category, the best items consistently drew the most interest and sold for the most money,” said Spurgeon. “We had bidders participating from all over Europe and Japan, in addition to Singapore and the United States. It was our first sale, and we’ll be working very hard to make sure our next event, which will be in November, is even more exciting. We have some very nice Americana lots lined up, included an important 36-star American Flag made around 1865.”

To contact Keith Spurgeon, call Mosby & Co. at 781-771-3998 or e-mail View the entire May auction catalog with prices realized at

Photos courtesy Mosby & Co.