Eggnog, cookies, even jolly old St. Nick added spirit to Bertoia’s Nov. 13-15 auction

VINELAND, N.J. – To many, the holiday season officially launches on Thanksgiving Day with the legion of colorful parades held in major American cities. But ask antique toy collectors where and when the party started this season and they’re likely to say Nov. 13-15 at Bertoia’s auction gallery in southern New Jersey. Over that weekend, Bertoia’s held its $1.5 million Holiday Toy Trimmings sale, which featured, alongside several other showcased collections, the final installment of Christmas antiques from both the Fred Cannon and Mary Lou Holt collections.

“We were inspired by the two holiday collections to create an atmosphere reflecting an old-fashioned Christmas,” said Bertoia Auctions’ owner, Jeanne Bertoia. “We knew many members of the Golden Glow of Christmas Past collector club would be attending, so we put up a 10-foot-tall tree decorated with antique ornaments, played Christmas music and served cookies, eggnog, hot apple cider and coffee. Jim Morrison, a Golden Glow member who operates a Christmas museum in Pennsylvania, came dressed as Father Christmas, and with his own long beard, was very convincing. Even Tim Luke, one of our two auctioneers, showed his Christmas spirit by wearing a Santa hat at the podium. Everyone had a good time.”

Toys go hand-in-hand with Christmas, and the three-day auction featured a bountiful array that included the Dick Ford Airflow toy auto collection and part two of the Dick Sheppard still bank collection.

Cast iron was first out of the gate, with one the auction’s top 10 entries – an impressive 27-inch-long Pratt & Letchworth 4-seat brake with driver and six passengers – rolling past its estimate to settle at $23,000. In pristine condition with beautiful paint, it sold to a collector from the Midwest. Another Pratt & Letchworth production, a 14-inch-long hose reel wagon drawn by a “galloping” white horse and commandeered by a firefighter figure, came to a halt at $7,475, more than twice its high estimate. “There was a lot of interest in the piece,” said Bertoia Auctions associate Michael Bertoia. “It was relatively small compared to the 4-seat brake but was finely cast and very appealing. It went to a New Jersey collector.”

Automotive cast iron followed a predictable leader – a Hubley “TrukMixer” replicating a Mack cab with revolving cement drum body. Well detailed and sporting an unusual red-and-green color scheme, the truck’s balloon-style white rubber wheels helped it speed to a $9,200 finish against a presale estimate of $4,000-$5,000.

Of the cast-iron mechanical banks offered, an 1887-patent Shepard Hardware Mason bank proved its perennial popularity by knocking down a winning bid of $13,800 against an estimate of $6,000-$8,000. The top seller amongst the still banks was an example of the very rare Old South Church, which realized $6,900.

Bertoia’s has long led the auction market for cast-iron doorstops. It is a category the company has cultivated for many years primarily because of Jeanne Bertoia’s expertise and high profile within the specialty-collecting field. “Prices in our November sale were as strong as the market has seen in many years,” said Jeanne. “There was a lot of bidding activity. The phones stayed busy throughout the doorstop segment.”

The highest doorstop price – $6,900 – was paid for a 12 1/2-inch-tall Hubley Giraffe. A recent find, the appealingly hand-painted creature was only the second such example ever offered by Bertoia’s. With competitors on all phone lines, the lot sold to a collector of cast-iron banks and doorstops.

Many collectors were excited over the prospect of bidding on toys from the prestigious Dick Ford Airflow toy auto collection. “One man e-mailed us and said he had always admired Dick’s collection and had been waiting 20 years to have a chance to buy some of the toys,” Jeanne said.

Although Dick Ford’s toys would make many bidders happy at the auction, the lot that stole the show was his own 1934 Chrysler Imperial Airflow CV in all-original condition with only 35,000 original miles. Its classic Art Deco styling, gangster whitewalls and straight-8, 323.54-cubic-inch engine spoke volumes, but its pedigree didn’t stop there. The car held 72 official records and was once confirmed to be the fastest closed stock car. A phone bidder from Chicago claimed the automotive prize for $43,700.

The second session featured an extensive array of European tin toys, with a top highlight being a 12-inch tinplate Gordon Bennet racer with clockwork chain drive, the largest size ever produced by Gunthermann. Estimated at $12,000-$15,000, it crossed the finish line at $25,300.

A pleased consignor was actually in the room watching as bidders vied for his superb 1875 Rock & Graner Furst Bismarck steam-driven toy ship. The vessel had been found 15 years ago in South America and is the very one depicted in R.T. Claus’ reference The Allure of Toy Ships. As it turned out, an Internet bidder from Germany would win the lot for $23,000.

Among the other European toys that chalked up five-figure prices was a boxed circa-1880s Britains mechanical Velocipede. Possibly the only extant example, the toy comprised of a painted hollow-lead figure in cloth attire came with its original box marked “Remers German Toy Warehouse.” A New York bidder purchased the clockwork rarity for $23,000.

A French clockwork bicycle race game with four bisque-head figures on high-wheel bikes had been estimated at $8,000-$10,000 but sold to the floor for $16,000. “The American buyers had seen it in a collection before and were thrilled to have it for their own collection,” said Bertoia Auctions associate Rich Bertoia.

Yet another early European toy with a cycling theme was the Punch riding a 10½-inch-long, hand-painted three-wheeler. With a composition head, the Punch character was dressed in an ornate, lace-trimmed suit and hat. It sold above its estimate range for $23,650.

The phone bank once again lit up when a circa-1905 Vielmetter clockwork Clown Artist toy with five cams (templates) was introduced. With a clown figure capable of drawing pictures at the easel, the ingenious toy is a crowd-pleaser anytime it appears at auction. The example in Bertoia’s sale attracted a winning bid of $5,462 against an estimate of $1,200-$1,500.

The third session of the sale attracted Bertoia’s largest crowd ever for a Christmas offering. While the Christmas lots were not as “high ticket” as the toys, there was plenty of bidding activity, especially on the Dresden ornaments. A three-dimensional Dresden bat with 4-inch wingspan was painted gold with red highlights and featured protruding, lifelike veins on its wings. It flew to $2,588 against an estimate of $250-$300.

Other premier Christmas lots included a 32-inch-tall German Santa store display figure that realized $4,600 (estimate $900-$1,000); and a 29-inch German clockwork Santa nodder with a woven basket at his waist, fir sprig in his hand and original wind-up key. Described in Bertoia’s catalog as “a real showstopper,” the latter entry lived up to its description by selling well above estimate for $4,887.

Jeanne Bertoia said she was gratified to hear that the Sunday session was the talk of Renninger’s Antique Market the following weekend. “Some people were saying it was the most fun they had ever had at an auction. We loved hearing that because it’s something we think distinguishes Bertoia’s sales from others. We want to continue to bring back the fun that collectors remember from years ago.”

On April 16-17, 2010, Bertoia Auctions will present part three of the legendary Donald Kaufman antique toy collection, containing a featured selection of the late Mr. Kaufman’s comic character toys. For additional information, contact Bertoia’s by calling 856-692-1881 or e-mailing View or download prices realized for all past Bertoia sales online at

Photos courtesy Bertoia Auctions.


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